Yesterday marked the 5-year anniversary of Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hitting the biggest shot in basketball history. You know the shot I’m talking about. You’ve seen it a million times. 4.7 seconds, Ryan Arcidiacono dribbles the length of the court, flips it backwards to a streaking Jenkins who buries a deep three at the buzzer to win the Wildcats’ first national title in 31 years.
I was lucky enough to be working at Villanova at the time. Here’s a rambling account of my experience and the debauchery that the season evoked.
I guess to tell the story of the 2015-16 season you need a little background. The previous two seasons Villanova kicked the shit out of everybody in the regular season. They entered the 2014 tournament at 29-4 (No. 2 seed) and the 2015 bracket at 32-2 (No. 1 seed). The ‘Cats were winning more games than the 76ers at the time and playing 30 games less.
But they couldn’t get it done in the big dance. Villanova lost to No. 7 UConn, who was the eventually national champs, and No. 8 NC State, respectively.
When I started at Villanova I knew a little bit about the team but couldn’t match names to faces. I knew they had a scrappy white dude that had been there for upwards of a decade and a giant 7-foot center. Other than that I didn’t know shit.
The first day on campus a couple of co-workers and I go lunch at the dining hall and in walks the biggest, blackest, most physically imposing dude I’ve seen in my life. I’m like, ‘Oh shit, that’s gotta be Daniel Ochefu.’ No more than a minute later a taller, blacker and more imposing guy walks into the same dining hall as if to say ‘Nah cuzzie, I’m Daniel Ochefu.’ Largest human I’ve ever met.
The man of mistaken identity turned out to be none other than defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon, who recently won the Super Bowl with the Chiefs. At that moments I knew we weren’t at Mount Union anymore.
A couple weeks later the athletic department was set to have a press conference to announce the hiring of new AD Mark Jackson. All the local media was lined up and ready to start. Then out of the darkness arose a majestic creature. A perfectly tailored blue pinstriped, three-piece suit, a little salt and pepper in the hair, commanding the room without saying a word.
Fuckin’ Jerold Taylor Wright Jr. Meeting Jay Wright for the first time was a religious experience. The way he handled the media was impressive. And he heard it the whole season. Can’t-win-a-big-game this and early-tournament-exits that. Miss me with that bullshit. It’s fucking hard to win games in the NCAA Tournament, much less six in a row.
About midway through the season a bunch of friends and I were out drinking, as we did on occasion, and I was hyped about how the season was going. We were on a winning streak, thunder punted Xavier by a zillion, and were the hotter than dick sauce. But the doubters will still there. A coworker of mine, let’s call her ‘Liz’ for the sake of anonymity, was one of them. I remember her telling me not to “drink the kool-aid.” In her defense, she had every reason to doubt. She worked at Villanova through the previous disappointing ends to season. Why would 2016 be any different? But I was hook, line and sinkered.
They picked against ‘Nova in every round. They picked Iowa. They picked Miami. They picked Kansas. They picked Oklahoma. They picked North Carolina. Little idiots. Idiots!
There was a play in the Miami game when I knew this team was different. Jenkins caught the ball about 40 feet from the rim and had to launch with the shot clock winding down. There was no doubt that it was going in. Everything was going their way.
“Jay Wright couldn’t find the Sweet 16 with a map and a navigation system.” What a dumb fuck. He’s lucky he’s a nobody because if I knew his name I’d never let him live that down. “Buddy Hield is next level. 30+ from Buddy Hield and it’s gonna happen. He’s going to score 35 points.” Fucking clown.
The couple of days leading up to the Final Four were chaotic. There was a palpable buzz on campus. You could feel it. It felt like a Saturday morning in the Big10 before a big football game. It was different. They were greasing the light poles in preparation for the anarchy that would ensue.
About eight of us went to a local watering hole called the Garrett Hill Ale House for the Oklahoma game. Myself and a friend of mine, let’s call him ‘Sean’, were frequent visitors of the establishment. So much so that we have engraved plaques on the bar and happy hour prices for life. You know, mogul shit. Anyways, all of us were planning on getting after it and having a good time, win or lose.
‘Nova and Oklahoma actually played each other earlier in the season in Hawaii and it did not go well. OU handled us pretty well which was a cause for concern but it was a weird, open-aired venue with a bunch of Pearl Harbor memorial tributes during timeouts and stoppages. Not your normal CBB game. Hopefully the national tournament would be different.
Spoiler alert, Villanova beat Oklahoma by a record 44 points. Buddy Hield had just nine points, 26 less than the aforementioned dumb fuck predicted. Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges ate Buddy’s soup all night. The ‘Cats only missed five shots in the second half. At one point they went on a 34-7 run. The drinks were flowing back in eastern Pennsylvania and they were already writing hype songs.
After the game ended the party was on. Sean and I were mangled and on a mission. We were heading to the Pavilion. On some Forest Gump shit, we just started running. There were people from the surrounding neighborhood in the streets joining the celebration. I chest bumped an eight year old. Police officers were in riot gear and on horseback. Somehow Sean got blood on his jeans. We were 2/3 the way to blood, sweat and tears.
Wait, what? You chest bumped an eight year old? Yea dude, that happened. Wild.
April 4, 2016. Villanova vs. North Carolina for the National Championship. Probably the day I peaked in life.
What a fuckin’ day. All of the senior staff in the athletic department was in Houston so everybody else in the athletic department stayed back on campus for the watch party. As they say, the inmates were running the asylum. About 5,000 drunk college kids packed the Pavilion for the game. Nerlens Noel and TJ McConnell made an appearance as well.
I do a pretty good impression of legendary Pavilion PA voice Jim Bachman so after a few beers I belted out the starting lineup in the Bachman voice. The arena was so loud I had to yell and by the time I got through Arcidiacono I about fuckin’ passed out. There’s video of it somewhere. My buddy ‘Tom’ and I updated the scoreboard through the game. There was a hired MC to keep the crowd entertained during the breaks. We didn’t know we were about to watch the best CBB game of all time.
Phil Booth played his nuts off. Career-high 20 points in the biggest game of his life. It’s crazy that he was the fifth or sixth scoring option on that team. Phily hit a pair of free throws to go up 10 with 5:29 left and this fuckin’ hired MC says “Nova Nation, you’re five minutes away from winning a National Championship.” I immediately put my face in my hands. I was absolutely sure that he just jinxed us in the ass. If Villanova lost that game, my first murder was a possibility. I’m just saying, a death was in play.
Carolina was one of the best teams in the country so of course they weren’t done. The comeback started and UNC hit big shots. With just a few minutes left, one of the guys from our facilities department, let’s call him ‘Chuck’, comes over to us and suggested that we move. Win or lose, being in the middle of the stampede is nowhere to be, so we exited stage right to go next to the big screen.
And you know what happens next. Hart hits two clutch free throws, Marcus Paige hits a ridiculous three over Arch, timeout, Jenkins game winner. BANG!
Kids flood the streets. We had fatheads of the five starters; they were immediately stolen. Couches and mattresses burned in the middle of campus. There was a 40-something year old man that climbed a tree drinking beer. The Villanova baseball team went shirtless for the next month and change. There were 13 arrests between the two celebratory nights. Mostly for the dumb shit. You know, disorderly conduct, public urination, etc. There was one for assaulting a police officer. Someone punched a horse. Not kidding.
The reaction videos started rolling in and they were awesome. The one of the Dean Dome is the funniest shit I’ve ever seen.
Looking back at it, for the biggest possession of the season, the Wildcats had a future National Player of the Year (Jalen Brunson) and a future NBA lottery pick (Mikal Bridges) on the bench. That’s fucking incredible. The epitome of a team.
The pomp and circumstance in the coming weeks was awesome. KJ had to wake up at the asscrack of dawn to go on First Take. The team’s flight home was greeted with the ceremonial water cannons and a police escort back to campus. Arch and D.O. threw out first pitches at a Phillies game. Dana O’Neil wrote a book and Jay later did as well.
Two stories from the team’s return party really stood out and reminded me that these guys were still 19-21 year old kids.
When the team landed it was much colder in Philadelphia than it was when they took off in Texas. My guy Darryl Reynolds was freezing getting off the bus so somebody handed him the world’s least masculine blanket to keep warm. Seeing D-Rey, every bit of 6-foot-8, with his jacked, tattooed arms clinched in a pink Dora the Explorer blanket was quite funny. Darryl was the lone Wildcat to not go on to play in the NBA but he was my favorite.
After the team’s media availability some of the players were hanging out in the Pavilion and Ochefu was holding the championship trophy with his championship hat backwards and a piece of the net attached. A few of us took pictures with him and the hardware. Finally, he sheepishly said that everybody was taking pictures with him but he didn’t have any pictures of himself with the trophy. That was all that needed to be said. We grabbed his phone and went on a full photoshoot. Just a giant dude that couldn’t be a nicer guy.
Then we had the championship parade in downtown Philly. I don’t remember much of what happened on the parade day. To my recollection, I had one beer and went home.
Maybe the craziest thing that happened was the stars aligning around the number 44. You ready to have your fucking mind blown?
I wore number 44 in high school and kinda became superstitious with the digits. Not a little stitious but superstitious. Like, too much. When I change lanes on the highway my blinker flashes four times. When I go through a yellow light I tap the windshield four times. Volume on the tv or radio? Factors of four. I understand it’s crazy.
Villanova beat Oklahoma in the Final Four by 44 points in their 44th tournament game since winning the title (1985). The championship game was played on April 4, 2016 or 4/4/16. Sixteen of course is 4×4. Last time Villanova was in the Final Four they played on April 4th (4/4) against …. North Carolina. The championship game was Ryan Arcidiacono’s 144th game at Villanova, a school record. The starting lineup jersey numbers added up to 44 (1+2+3+15+23). Mikal Bridges had a dunk in the second half to tie the title game at 44-44. Villanova never trailed from that point forward. With 2:44 left in the game UNC’s Justin Jackson (#44) was fouled but missed both free throws. There was 4.7 second on the clock and Jenkins released the ball with 0.3 on the clock so the final play took 4.4 seconds. And when the team went to the White House after winning who did they meet? BITCH, YOU GUESSED IT! The 44th POTUS Barry Obama.
Two years later the ‘Cats won another championship. They boat raced everybody, winning all six tournament games by double digits and covering the spread in each one. ‘Nova capped it off in San Antonio by beating the brakes off of Michigan in the final. There is now a frequent argument about which National Championship team was better. 2016 or 2018?
I’ll say this. The 2018 team was better but the 2016 team wasn’t losing.