NEW YORK — Villanova coach Jay Wright was so uncertain of Ryan Arcidiacono’s health entering this season, that he brought in two guard transfers just in case the freshman couldn’t go.
Arcidiacono, a 6-foot-3 point guard from Langhorne, Pa., missed his entire senior season at Neshaminy High School because of back surgery and it was unclear how his freshman year of college would play out.
“I don’t think it’s a secret, we went out and got two transfers,” Wright said Thursday after his Wildcats held off Purdue, 89-81 in OT, in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden thanks, in part, to Arcidiacono’s 18 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds and 7 turnovers and two OT 3-pointers from James Bell.
“We never take transfers because I wasn’t even sure he was going to be able to play. So we were just protecting ourselves.”
As a senior in high school, Arcidiacono was suffering from back pain due to overuse combined with a weak core and hamstrings.
His doctor said he was “an accident waiting to happen.”
At first he got “a couple [cortisone] shots” for his back but they didn’t alleviate the pain.
“So we decided — my family and I and the coaching staff at ‘Nova — in November to have back surgery,” he said.
After the December surgery, he was laid up in his house for two weeks with nothing to do but watch hoops on TV.
“Basketball,” he said. “I just watched basketball, 24/7.”
After averaging 20.4 points and 5 assists as a junior, missing out on his senior year was understandably frustrating.
“Yeah, it was definitely frustrating,” said Arcidiacono.
Still, there was a bright side.
He spent a lot of time hanging out at Villanova and learning the way things are done.
“I just had a good attitude,” Arcidiacono said. “I was up at ‘Nova a lot, just to see how they played and I just got accustomed to the attitude and how everything had to be all about the team. I was just coming in ready to work. I had no spot or anything like that.”
“There’s a positive to this because he was around us all the time because he couldn’t play,” Wright said. “He came to all our games, he’d come to practices. We were talking all the time.
“He watched everything we did. At halftime, he’d be in the locker room with us, him and I would be talking about what happened. After the game, we’d be talking about what happened so he really got to learn before do.”
Still, Arcidiacono’s road back wasn’t smooth.
In June, he was cut from the USA U18 team in Colorado Springs, Colo., along with some other big-name prospects like Andrew and Aaron Harrison (Kentucky), Troy Williams (Indiana) and Kris Dunn (Providence).
“They said he’s a step behind, that was early in the summer,” Wright said.
But he kept working his way back into form and now, a year after surgery, the man they call “Ryan Arch” has given the Wildcats (3-0) a big boost.
Entering Friday’s final against Alabama, Arcidiacono is averaging 18 points, 5.3 assists and 3 rebounds.
He is the starting point guard and the Wildcats are so set at the guard spot now, that sophomore Ty Johnson of Plainfield, N.J., opted to transfer.
Wright, who’s coached many great guards in the past, says Arcidiacono reminds him of another former Villanova point guard, Mike Nardi.
“He does a lot,” Wright said. “He’s got the same kind of work ethic, the same kind of respect for all his teammates. And Mike has been working out with us because he hurt his foot, so he’s been with us. He’s going back to Italy soon but he’s been with us, he’s been kind of mentoring him. And he’s had a big impact on Ryan.”
“I’m definitely grateful,” he said. “I missed basketball my senior year of high school. I wish I could’ve played.
“Now I’m back. I haven’t thought about surgery. I never think about it. So I just feel like I’m back to where I was junior of high school.”
JENKINS, HART SIGN WITH WILDCATS
Guard Josh Hart of Sidwell Friends School and forward Kris Jenkins of Gonzaga High School signed Letters of Intent with Villanova.
The 6-5 Hart averaged 20.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game as a junior in 2011-12. The versatile swingman played his AAU basketball for Team Takeover.
“Josh Hart is a complete player who can play any position,” Jay Wright said. “He and his family will be great Villanovans for life. Josh is an outstanding player and student coming from Sidwell Friends and having been coached by Eric Singletary.”
The 6-6- Jenkins is ranked No. 73 in the ESPN top 100 listing of the class of 2013. As a junior, he averaged 20.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per outing. The native of Washington, D.C. played his AAU basketball for D.C. Assault.
“We’re thrilled to have Kris Jenkins join the Villanova family,” said Wright. “He brings incredible skill, toughness and great basketball IQ. He comes from a tremendous program with a great coach in Steve Turner. He will be a favorite of the Nova Nation.”