It was meant to be a taunt, but when Pittsburgh fans began
chanting "N-I-T! NI-T! N-I-T!" in the second half of a 71-59
victory over Villanova last February, it had an unintended effect
on Wildcats coach Jay Wright, whose team was 12-6 at the time.
"I heard them yelling," he says, "and I turned to one of our
assistants and I said, 'God, I hope they're right. I'd love to go
to the NIT.'" Wright laughs, then says, "This year's gonna be a
It certainly is. After finishing 19-13 and winning two games in
the NIT, Villanova no longer has the luxury of low expectations.
To a core of four returning starters the Wildcats add their
finest recruiting class ever, a sextet of gangly freshman, four
of whom--Randy Foye, Jason Fraser, Allan Ray and Curtis
Sumpter--are ready to make an immediate impact. (The other two,
Baker Dunleavy and Michael Claxton, are raw but boast NBA
bloodlines.) Among the newcomers, Fraser, a 6'10" McDonald's
All-American, has Villanova fans the most excited, bringing them
out en masse for a Midnight Madness celebration in which the
freshmen foursome received the biggest roar. Long and athletic
with flypaper hands, Fraser will start right away, giving the
team a low-post presence and allowing bruising senior power
forward Ricky Wright to float out to the perimeter on occasion.
If Villanova supporters have made Fraser feel welcome, he has
returned the favor. His first week on campus he wandered around
his dorm, dropping in on his floor mates. "I'd just walk in and
sit down and talk to somebody," says Fraser, whose rich baritone
and worldly manner suggest James Earl Jones trapped in Alonzo
Mourning's body. "I like to open a dialogue with people, talk to
them as Jason Fraser the person."
No doubt his classmates will appreciate the gesture, but it is
Fraser the basketball player who has students on the suburban
Philadelphia campus buzzing. After watching a recent practice,
former LaSalle coach Speedy Morris, now a high school coach at
Philadelphia's St. Joe's Prep, nodded in approval and made the
following pronouncement about the team: "Sweet 16."
Coach Wright can only hope this prediction turns out as well as
the last one.
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN POST PRESENCE Fraser is the most heralded of the Cats' superb freshman class.
POS. PLAYER HT. CL. KEY STAT
SF Andrew Sullivan 6'7" Sr. 52.9 FG%
PF Ricky Wright 6'7" Sr. 13.7 ppg
C Jason Fraser 6'10" Fr. 25.0 ppg*
SG Gary Buchanan 6'3" Sr. 17.8 ppg
PG Derrick Snowden 6'0" Jr. 3.9 apg
*As high school senior
2001-02 RECORD: 19-13 (7-9, 5th in Big East East)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Temple in 3rd round of NIT
Career free throw percentage of Gary Buchanan, who's on pace to
break the Division I record of 90.9%, held by Greg Starrick.
Blending the star freshmen in with the veterans could be a
"The interesting thing is going to be watching how coach Jay
Wright works everybody into the rotation. He lost only one
starter from a team that won 19 games last year, and the four
freshmen are getting a lot of hype. Those veterans have to be
thinking, You know, we're pretty good too.... Jason Fraser is
really long and active. He's a little raw offensively, but he'll
be able to play volleyball off the backboard.... Ricky Wright is
hard to contain. He's a little undersized, but he posts up well
and explodes to the basket.... They need to take much better care
of the ball. Derrick Snowden had to be their point guard last
year, but this year it's going to be one of the freshmen, Randy
Foye or Allan Ray.... If they cut down on their turnovers, they
could be really good.... Gary Buchanan is a good offensive