Mike Jensen: Casual Jay Wright gets mixed reviews, but he loves it | Nation

GQ Jay has been replaced by Casual Jay.

Villanova’s men’s basketball coach knows a lot of people miss him wearing the finest double-breasted suits, maybe silk woven into the inside of the jacket. Jay Wright hears about the switch to casual, including from his boss.

“Our president doesn’t like it,” Wright said Monday about the switch to wearing high-end workout gear during games. “He always is telling me he likes the suits.”

Father Peter Donohue, Villanova’s president, is just offering a fashion opinion, not trying to force the issue.

“That’s why I have a great job, right?” Wright said. “He always jokes with me about it, like ‘Hey, for the Big East Tournament, how about a suit? For the NCAA Tournament, how about a suit?” He hasn’t hit me yet with ‘Final Four, how about a suit?’ But he jokes about it.”

This Saturday against Kansas at the Final Four in New Orleans, don’t bet on GQ Jay reappearing. Wright said he appreciates that he is allowed to keep it casual.

“We actually discussed it,” Wright said, explaining that it was worth discussing with the school president since Donohue’s opinion counts more than anyone’s other than his wife.

“Patty likes the casual look,” Wright said. “I do get from a lot of alums, let’s go back to the suit. The suit thing was always for me — as much as I do like nice clothes — it was always about respect for the game. If that’s what we do in the game, I’m going to respect it and do it.”

Wright said he was never trying to make a larger statement about his wardrobe, was always uncomfortable when he’d read someone online actually rating the ensemble. Maybe it also provided a little cover. Until the national titles, that was Wright’s calling card, not so bad for recruiting, while at the same time Wright could get in the practice gym in basic attire, work on the important matters of the game.

Any time there was a list of best-dressed list and Wright topped it, he always credited his tailor, Gabriele “Gabe” D’Annunzio, who died last year of complications from COVID-19.

“It was all him,” Wright said over the phone a couple of days after D’Annunzio died. “It wasn’t me. I’d pick something simple. He’d say, ‘Oh, no… we need something that’s going to pop.'”

After the pandemic hit, and college teams played in near-empty arenas, coaches collectively realized it looked absurd to wear suits. The whole sport took to wearing practice gear. When the crowds came back, most coaches stayed casual. But what would the recognized fashion plate among them do?

“I want to do what the other coaches are doing,” Wright said. “I just want to be a part of the game. I want to keep it that simple.”

Within the Big East this season, crowds back, there were differences of opinion. Kevin Willard stayed dressed up at Seton Hall. Dan Hurley tended to go business casual at Connecticut, forgoing the tie.

“Kevin Willard was always funny,” Wright said of the coach who has just left Seton Hall to take over at Maryland. “In our coaches’ meetings, he would always say, ‘Jay’s the one; whatever Jay says, that’s what we’re going to do.’ Other guys would say, ‘I don’t care what Jay does,’ … Then I went casual, and he went to the suit.”

Wright isn’t guessing about how all this went down about attire.

“It was comical, we literally had coaches’ Zoom meetings about it,” Wright said. “I think the NBA guys were the impetus for all of us — when they voted on it and went to [casual looks], I think all of us respect the game. We’re going to do what everybody in the game is going to do.”

Given Wright’s current state, maybe he provides cover for some coaches whom he has never met — say some coach at a small school in Texas whose president might want him in a suit. Maybe he can come back with, “Jay Wright isn’t wearing a suit.”

It’s not like Casual Jay is ever going to be Sloppy Jay. You are not going to catch Wright in Belichick-like “Eh, this is good enough” gear. Nike sends its flagship programs seemingly endless supplies of the finest Swooshed-up apparel.

“Mike Nardi is in charge of that,” Wright said of his assistant coach, making sure the whole staff has the same gear on. “He literally has a rack in his office of all the different combinations. It’s harder for me getting dressed this way than it was with a suit because we all have to match. He sends us pictures of the shirt, the pants, the shoes. … I have to match them up with my phone. The color, I can’t tell. I’m more nervous about what I wear now, that it’s the same as everybody else.”

For a Coaches Vs. Cancer observance game this season, Wright said, there was a specific sneaker to wear, “but you had to wear yellow laces for Coaches Vs. Cancer. Then the next time we wore those sneakers, everybody changed their laces back to blue. ‘t want to change my laces, so I had yellow. Everyone else wore blue.”

You put Nardi or any assistant in charge of something, he’s going to take the task seriously. The next time those sneakers were to be worn, Nardi sent a manager to go “into my bag and change my laces,” Wright said. He went for his shoes the next day, grabbed them. Give him points for noticing, “I didn’t do this.”

Yep, big-time basketball.

“Everybody used to think I put a big deal into my suits before,” Wright said. “Nothing. I would just pick out a suit. It was easy because I could do whatever I wanted. Now…”

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame does have the suits Wright wore in the 2016 and ’18 NCAA title games.

“I still have all my suits — looking for a chance to wear ’em,” Villanova’s coach said.

After his tailor died, Wright had to adjust.

“The beginning of the year, it was like a treat for me to get all my new suits,” Wright said. “So I went to Boyds this year, got my suits from Boyds.”

The new suits simply join the rest in the closet, waiting to break out.

“I haven’t even worn them,” said Casual Jay.


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