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Jay Wright Never Wore the Same Suit in the Same Gym Twice

Photograph: Getty Images; Collage: Gabe Conte

During his 21 seasons at the head of the Villanova University men’s basketball program, Jay Wright was known for two things: winning and looking good. Wright brought the Wildcats to four Final Fours and won two national championships, making him one of just 16 coaches in the history of men’s college basketball to bring home multiple titles. And Jay GQ, as he was known to fans, also had the deepest and sharpest suit rotation in the game. When he retired after the 2022 season, college basketball lost its best-dressed coach.

But now that he’s analyzing college basketball on television, Wright is regularly suited and booted again. This also allows him to take a bird’s eye view of the sport, keeping tabs on every team rather than just the ones on his schedule. Ahead of this year’s NCAA tournament, Wright talked suits, basketball, and plenty more.

This time of year when you catch a glimpse of a calendar and you see March, does that still put a little feeling in your chest? Does March still mean a little bit more to you than the other months?

It really does. What’s really cool is that now I’m going through this tournament with CBS and TNT, so I actually get to watch the whole tournament! When I was coaching, I was so dialed in that I didn’t get to experience it. It was just the next game. Being in the studio, you go all the way through the tournament without losing! When I would lose in the tournament, it was devastating. I would act like I was okay, but I couldn’t watch the other games. It just ate me up and I wanted the tournament to be over.

Now that I’m doing it for TV, it is so much fun! I always knew it was the greatest sporting event in our country—it envelops our country for a whole month. But being a part of it with CBS and TNT, seeing every game, and not losing, or having to go out recruiting afterward? It’s awesome!

When you’re watching teams this time of year, what are the things outside of raw talent that tell you they can make a run?

When teams are on the road in a tough environment and they get down, how do they respond? It’s not even whether they win or not, but do they crumble? There’s a lot of great home environments in college basketball. I don’t think people understand the impact that fans have on the game unless you’ve been in it as a player or coach. For instance, this year I did a game where Kansas played at Iowa State. Iowa State played out of their minds, the crowd was insane, and they couldn’t put Kansas away. Kansas ended up losing a close game, but I said to myself, “If you can handle that, then you can handle that situation in the tournament.”

It’s a different kind of adversity in the tournament because it’s almost like a panic. You get down in the second half in the tournament and you start thinking to yourself, My season could be over. Your ability to handle that as a team is what gets you through, because there’s going to come a time when you’re down and you have to fight through to find a way to win.

What about the flip side of that? When you see a team full of lottery picks, but something tells you that they’re not built for March, why is that?

I always look at the best players on the team and what they do when the team is up and they have a chance to score, but the right play is to make a pass. If they still make the right play, I say to myself, “These guys are going to be good because their best players are making the right play.” If you see a guy who hasn’t scored a lot and now he’s starting to take shots just to get his points, then I say, “If he’s thinking that way now, when that guy gets in the tournament, he’s going to think I gotta show what I can do.”

Really, to be successful in the tournament, you have to get on the big stage and say, I’m gonna do what we do, whether I’m the star or not. Whatever it takes to make sure we play our game.

Sounds like Jalen Brunson to me!

Exactly right! He had one of the greatest examples [of that] in ‘18. On Sunday before the national championship game he won all the Player of the Year awards. He had to go and accept all these awards, so I was thinking going into the game, Is he going to try to prove that he deserves this on Monday night against Michigan? He got two fouls in the first half: one blocking out and one trying to take a charge. So he had to sit in the first half, but he set the tone for our team that he was going to be unselfish, play defense, rebound, and do whatever it takes to win.

From a coach’s perspective, how much of the tournament do you believe is randomness? What goes into a true upset? Because from a fan’s perspective, sometimes it just feels like the one seed had a bad day.

I don’t think the media does a good enough job explaining how close these teams are. The Fairleigh Dickinson team last year that beat Purdue, in the regular season those teams would have played at Purdue with Big Ten officials that just assume Purdue is going to win. They don’t mean to do that, but it happens. When you go to the NCAA tournament, the officials are not from the conferences that the teams are, you’re at a neutral site, the underdog has nothing to lose and they’re coming off a great season, so all the pressure is on the favorite.

This happened to us. We played at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia as a one or two seed against Monmouth. Monmouth was making a run at us in the second half, and the whole place turned on us—in Philadelphia! I looked around the arena like, Are you kidding me? Everybody wants the underdog. So, next thing you know, the whole crowd is against you and the other team is playing with great confidence. The teams are really good! To go through your conference tournament at the mid-major level, you gotta be so good. There’s not that much of a differential between the teams, and we don’t talk about that enough. You don’t say it, but there’s a fear when you’re the one or two seed when that game gets close in the second half. Everyone has it. I’ve been there!

Who are some teams that you like this year?

I really think that Houston, Purdue, and UConn are on a separate level. I really do. Recently, Houston lost Joseph Tugler, their backup center, a freshman who I think is really good. He’s more impactful than people know, so I want to see how they play without him.

Then I look at Tennessee, Arizona, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas. That’s the next tier. Then there are some teams below that like Iowa State, Baylor and Marquette. All those teams could sneak in there. It’s amazing to me that no one talks about Iowa State! They’re the best defensive team in the country to me and could really surprise some people. Marquette is interesting because [point guard and potential first-round pick] Tyler Kolek is injured. He’s got a swagger—and I hated to say this as a coach—but they feed off his swagger. He’s so cocky in a good way, and he’s talented. Without him, they’re a completely different team.

In addition to doing TV now, you’re also a spokesman for [salon chain] Great Clips. How did that happen?

It’s been fun because Great Clips is such a great supporter of March Madness. We’re coming together to try and teach people the “Wrights and Wrongs” of preparing for the tournament. The first thing you gotta do is look clean, look good. You gotta get a nice haircut! There’s a lot of pressure on me now for my hair to look good all the time.

Don’t do anything crazy at the tournament. Don’t let your buddy shave your head because you think that’s good luck, or get upset because your team loses and get bangs. Don’t do that! Being too emotional and messing up your hair doesn’t work. Get a nice, clean cut. Do the Wright thing, not the wrong thing.

During your career, you were known for your sideline attire. Lots of immaculately tailored suits. Did it take a part of your soul when you realized that coaches are probably never going to wear suits again?

You know, I had a great tailor, Gabe D’Annunzio, who passed away during COVID. He took so much pride in every little stitch of my clothing. The inside lining on my vest, the back lining on my vest. I like nice clothes and nice suits, and now that I’m on TV I get to wear them again! But toward the end of my career, I had these really expensive suits and guys were sweating on me. I started thinking that it was a little crazy to be wearing those during games, so I’m actually okay with the guys wearing more relaxed coaching outfits.

At your peak, how many suits do you think you had in the closet?

At my height, probably 35. I used to keep a list of what suit I wore for what game and where, because someone started a website called Jay Wright’s Suits, and they would analyze every suit that I wore. I knew if I wore the same suit or matched it with the same tie, I would get criticized for it! So, I made sure I never wore the same suit twice.

I would literally keep the lists from year’s past, because I knew they were analyzing everything. I could never wear the same suit back to the same arena or even for the same team. No one has ever asked me that before! I’ve never said that.

Did you have special ones that were only for March?

No, no. Not special ones, but my favorite ones. In the tournament, I would wear a suit that I wore during the regular season, but I’d pick my favorite ones. When we played in Madison Square Garden—especially if it was a Friday or Saturday night—I always liked to wear darks. Navy, black, I just felt like it was New York City, Broadway, it was like a black tie affair!

Speaking of New York City, the Nova Knicks are the talk of the town! [Note: The Knicks currently have three players—Brunson, Josh Hart, and Donte DiVincenzo—who played for Wright at Villanova.] How gratifying is it for you to see them not only playing together in the NBA, but playing so well?

It’s awesome. I don’t get to watch the NBA as much, especially this time of year when I’m so intent on college basketball. But because those guys are in New York, and [former Villanova Wildcat] Kyle Lowry is in Philly, everybody’s sending me clips and I see the highlights on local news. I’m in New York a lot, and it’s been a lot of fun. Villanova’s largest alumni base is the New York metropolitan area, so they’re going crazy! I just told Jalen the other day that I can’t handle all the clips people send me about his crazy podcast. I hope I can get on there, because they’re funny, and I’m proud of how they’re playing! I was blessed to have those guys, man.

Originally Appeared on GQ