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September 08, 2021

Jay Wright's Hall of Fame induction unites Philly's rich basketball history

A quartet of local legends will stand beside the Villanova head coach as he's enshrined into Springfield this Saturday

When Jay Wright officially enters the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame during this Saturday's induction ceremony in Springfield, Massachusetts, he will be representing many both on and off the court.

His two alma maters, Council Rock High School North in Newtown and Bucknell University. His first head coaching stop at Hofstra University on Long Island. His forever home at Villanova University. The old Big East. The new Big East. USA Basketball. And of course, his beloved tailor in Newtown Square who helped turn Wright into GQ Jay.

But it will be Wright's deeply-rooted and long-cherished connections to Philadelphia's rich basketball history that will be most on display when he is enshrined into the Hall of Fame this weekend.

Wright's connection to the City of Brotherly Love began when he was born and raised in Bucks County. His childhood was marked by the early years of the Big 5 and the Sixers winning the NBA championship in 1967. 

The 59-year-old Wright's ties to Philadelphia grew only stronger when he began his coaching career in the 1980s. After one year as an assistant at Drexel, Wright joined Rollie Massimino's staff at Villanova for five seasons.

Wright became forever tied to Philadelphia basketball when he was named the head coach at Villanova in 2001. Over the last 20 years, Wright has turned the Wildcats into the preeminent basketball program in the area, leading Villanova to 12 Big 5 titles. Not to mention his 15 NCAA Tournament appearances, eight Big East regular season titles, four conference tournament titles, three Final Four appearances, two national championships and one Olympic gold medal with the U.S. men's basketball team. 

So, naturally, Wright picked four Hall of Famers with deep ties to Philadelphia basketball at the professional or collegiate level to present him for induction this weekend. When Wright gives his enshrinement speech Saturday, Charles Barkley, Billy Cunningham, Herb Magee and George Raveling will appear alongside him.

The selection of four Philly basketball legends to serve as Wright's Hall of Fame presenters wasn't just a coincidence, Wright said.

"Growing up in Philadelphia and being part of the Philadelphia basketball world, the Philadelphia basketball family had such an impact on me," Wright said. "I wanted to go with the guys from my hometown that were a part of my Philadelphia basketball upbringing. So that's exactly why I picked the four of them, in different ways. Herbie Magee just being a legend and having recruited me out of high school and I learned so much from him. Charles being a good friend and one of the greatest Philadelphia basketball players ever. Billy [Cunningham], great friends with Coach [Rollie] Massimino, bringing a championship to Philly. And George Raveling being Mr. Villanova...that's really what I wanted to do."

As the two-time Naismith College Coach of the Year himself mentioned, it was Magee who first encountered Wright when the latter was a star basketball player at Council Rock High School North in the 1970s. 

At the time, Magee was coaching at Philadelphia Textile in East Falls. The school would later be renamed Philadelphia University before merging with Thomas Jefferson University in 2017.

When he started recruiting Wright, Magee had suffered only one losing season in his decade-plus with the Rams. He had captured the NCAA Division II national championship in just his third season on the job in 1970, as Philadelphia outscored its opponents in the tournament by an average of nearly 24 points.

Even though he recruited Wright to play his college ball in Philadelphia, the 80-year-old Magee said he knew that Wright already had his sights set on Bucknell. 

But despite missing out on him as a player, Magee said that Wright's understanding of basketball and composure on the floor showed that he would be a successful coach someday.

"Everything he did showed his knowledge and control of the game of basketball," Magee said.

As Wright began his coaching career, his relationship with Magee grew too. One of their bonding moments would come every year at the Final Four, when Wright would sacrifice his tickets to the national semifinals for an opportunity to watch the games with Magee and other Philadelphia basketball coaches in their hotel. Magee said those experiences embodied the connection that the city's basketball community has with each other.

"The guys who have coached in the Big 5, the guys who have coached at the smaller schools, they all know each other and they all get along with each other and they have fun with each other," Magee said.

Magee said he was already planning to head up to Springfield this weekend to support Wright's induction, but that was only solidified when the six-time Big East Coach of the Year called him and asked if Magee would be one of his presenters. Magee said he was excited to receive the call.

"I've admired [Wright's] career and I think he's well-deserved to be in the Hall of Fame and I consider him a good friend," Magee said. "He's a great basketball coach, and he's even a better guy. He's a terrific guy to be around."

Wright's ability to develop his players is what makes him a Hall of Fame coach, Magee said.

"You look at his players when he gets them. Obviously he's getting four and five-star players. But they all get better, as evidenced by the fact that he's got a number of guys that are in the NBA," Magee said. "They all develop into better shooters. [Wright] does a terrific job teaching shooting."

Shooting is something Magee knows more about than almost anyone else; he's been dubbed the Shot Doctor for his ability to teach shooting to basketball players at all levels of the game.

There are few coaches and players who are more intertwined with Philly's rich basketball history than Magee.

Born and raised in Philly, Magee starred at West Catholic High alongside future coaches like Jim Lynam and Jim Boyle. Magee then went on to play college ball at Philadelphia Textile, where he scored over 2,000 points and was a two-time All-American. The team went 75-17 during Magee's college career.

Despite being taken by the Boston Celtics in the 1963 NBA Draft, Magee stayed home and returned to Philadelphia Textile as an assistant coach for four years. Magee was then named the head coach of the program at age 25 in 1967.

Magee, who will be retiring from coaching at the end of the 2021-22 campaign, has won 1,123 games in 53 seasons as a head coach. That's the most wins all-time in Division II history and second only to Mike Krzyzewski for the most in NCAA history. Magee is one of only five men's college basketball coaches to win over 1,000 games, one of only four in NCAA history to coach at least 50 seasons and only the third to ever do it at one school.

Magee has racked up 31 NCAA Division II Tournament appearances, 13 conference titles, 37 20-win seasons and 12 25-win seasons. He's only had three sub-.500 seasons ever, the last of which came 23 years ago. 

Magee was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1979 and the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.

"Coach Magee is one of the greatest coaches in the history of Philadelphia basketball," Wright said. "He is an educator on and off the court, as well as a legendary winner. Coach has also mastered teaching the art of shooting like no one else in the game. Through the years, he has done it all with incredible integrity. No one in coaching has combined teaching, mentoring, winning and class as proficiently as Coach Magee."

When Magee was inducted into Springfield in 2011, it was legendary coach Dr. Jack Ramsay who presented him for enshrinement. So to Magee, it's a big deal that Philadelphia will be featured prominently this weekend as Wright is inducted into the Hall of Fame.

"I think it's important for Philadelphia basketball," Magee said. "It's really a terrific thing for everybody associated with Philadelphia basketball."

It was 1984 when Charles Barkley arrived on the Philadelphia basketball scene after he was taken by the Sixers with the No. 5 overall pick in that year's draft.

The Hall of Famer settled into a house located just a short drive away from Villanova's campus and quickly got to know many others in the Philly basketball family. 

Among those was a young assistant coach named Jay Wright. Wright had returned to Philly in 1986 to serve as an assistant at Drexel before joining the staff at Villanova a year later.

Both young in the game of basketball and single at the time, Wright and Barkley spent lots of time out together at local bars. In fact, Barkley's wife Maureen went to high school with Wright.

"I honestly don't remember if Jay had the style then that you see now," Barkley recalled in Wright's 2017 best-selling book "Attitude." "I just remember a good young guy who loved basketball."

Both Wright and Barkley left Philly for the West Coast in 1992. Barkley was traded away to the Phoenix Suns after eight seasons with the Sixers. Wright followed Rollie Massimino to UNLV as an assistant coach. But the two remained close friends as they went their separate ways.

After two seasons in Las Vegas, Wright got his first head coaching job at Hofstra University in 1994. During his seven seasons on Long Island, Wright was a two-time America East Coach of the Year and earned regular season and conference tournament titles in both 2000 and 2001. 

It was Wright's ability to find coaching success away from Philly that impressed the 58-year-old Barkley the most.

"The thing I liked most about Jay was that he went away and made a name for himself on his own," Barkley said in Wright's book. "A lot of assistant coaches move up to the top spot. They may not even deserve it. But Jay went away and made his own name."

"The best way I can describe Jay is that he is successful in life, not just as a basketball coach," Barkley continued. "For a lot of players, their success in life is dictated by how great they are at basketball. For a lot of coaches, it's measured by how many games they win. To me, you don't define Jay that way."

Barkley's daughter graduated from Villanova, and it was because of Wright that she wanted to attend the school, Barkley said. So the Turner Sports analyst knows personally just how much Wright's presence at the school means.

"Understanding the responsibility of Villanova is, in my mind, Jay's greatest leadership quality," Barkley said in Wright's book. "If you go to Villanova, you aren't going to a place where basketball is the most important thing. You are going there for an education. Jay is a great caretaker of the Villanova culture."

When Villanova won the 2016 national championship on Kris Jenkins' game-winning three at the buzzer, Barkley famously danced around and celebrated on the Turner Sports set. Why? Because it meant that nobody could question Wright anymore as a coach.

"It's a terrible thing when people tell you that you haven't won the big one," Barkley said in Wright's book. "I'm on that list of people who didn't win a championship. It's something you have to live with. I tell people all the time that I root for the guys who haven't won the big one. When that shot dropped I was thrilled for Jay. He was off the list. But to me, Jay has always been about a lot more than any list. He's a great leader."

For Barkley, the man who he knew as a young single guy in his 20s in Philly during the 1980s is the same one entering the Basketball Hall of Fame this Saturday. 

"The guy has not changed in thirty years," Barkley said in Wright's book. "Even with the success [Wright] has had, culminating in a national championship, he's the exact same guy."

George Raveling made a name for himself at Villanova before Wright was even born.

The 84-year-old Raveling, who Wright has called "one of the great Villanova legends of all-time," starred on the Main Line from 1956-1960, as he helped lead the Wildcats to two NIT appearances in his junior and senior seasons.

But Villanova wasn't the first Philly school to offer Raveling a scholarship. In fact, it was Dr. Jack Ramsay and St. Joseph's that originally pursued him, Raveling once revealed in an interview with Wright.

Raveling said he ultimately chose Villanova because of its priority on education and graduation ahead of basketball. Raveling described Villanova as "the greatest opportunity of my lifetime" because he was the first person in his family to go to school.

"I thoroughly enjoyed my four years at Villanova," Raveling told Wright in an interview recorded last year. "It was truly a gift."

Raveling earned his keep at Villanova on the glass, as he pulled down 835 rebounds during his four-year career. But what he was most proud of was the opportunity to compete in the Philadelphia Big 5. Villanova shared the city title with its Holy War rival St. Joseph's in Raveling's senior season.

"The Big 5 was amazing competition and it brought out the best in all of us," Raveling told Wright last year. 

Raveling returned to Villanova in 1963 as an assistant coach, which he said was the least he could do for all that the school had given him. He served on former head coach Jack Kraft's staff until 1969, when he went on to serve as an assistant at Maryland from 1969-72 and became the first Black basketball coach in the ACC.

During his head coaching career, Raveling earned 337 wins and six NCAA Tournament appearances at Washington State, Iowa and USC. He also was an assistant coach on the gold-medal winning U.S. men's basketball team at the 1984 Olympics.

Raveling broke more barriers at each of his three head coaching stops. When he got the gig at WSU, Raveling was the first Black basketball coach in the Pac-12. He also became the first Black basketball coach at both Iowa and USC.

After his coaching career ended, Raveling served as an executive for Nike, where he was primarily responsible for expanding basketball globally.

But despite all the places he's coached and worked at in basketball, Raveling credits his Villanova experience for making him the person he is today.

"I arrived at Villanova as a boy, and in four years, they transformed me into a responsible adult," Raveling said during his Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech in 2015. "The priests, the professors, the coaches, the players, each of them fueled me with an imagination, knowledge, and the skills, as well as the discipline, the passion and the confidence that I needed to be somebody when I never in my life ever believed that I would be anybody."

When Wright is inducted into Springfield this Saturday, he and Raveling will now share three unique experiences together: Villanovans, gold medal-winning Olympic coaches and Basketball Hall of Famers.

Wright was just a young boy when Billy Cunningham was becoming a household name in Philadelphia. Alongside stars like Wilt Chamberlain and Hal Greer, Cunningham helped lead the Sixers to the 1967 NBA championship over the San Francisco Warriors. 

From 1968-1972, Cunningham averaged a double-double and was both a four-time All-Star and All-NBA team selection. Billy C's No. 32 now hangs from the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center.

From 1977-1985, Cunningham led the Sixers to the playoffs every year when he was the franchise's head coach. Cunningham's coaching tenure was highlighted by three NBA Finals appearances against the Los Angeles Lakers, the third of which resulted in the Sixers' most-recent championship in 1983.

Cunningham racked up 454 regular-season wins, the most in franchise history, and 66 playoff victories during his eight seasons as a head coach. His .698 winning percentage in the regular season is second only to Phil Jackson for the highest in NBA history. Cunningham was then inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1986.

The 78-year-old Cunningham considers Wright a friend, a friendship that likely developed through the former's long-standing relationship with Wright's mentor, Massimino. Massimino led Villanova to its first national championship in school history by shocking Georgetown in 1985 as Cunningham had already made the Sixers a perennial contender in the NBA.

So when the greatest basketball players and coaches of all-time gather in Springfield this weekend for this year's Hall of Fame induction, four men with a unique bond and connection to each other will stand beside Wright as the latter is enshrined. All four men who proudly play a part in the City of Brotherly Love's beautiful basketball story.

It will be a proud moment for Philadelphia basketball, just as it was when all four presenters were each enshrined into the Hall of Fame. And it will be an even prouder moment for Wright, who has only further enriched the city's gloried basketball history during his tenure at Villanova over the past 20 years.

Editor's note: It was announced after this story was published that Cunningham would no longer serve as a presenter for Wright's Hall of Fame induction.

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