Villanova's Wright sees Iowa assistant as a 'superstar'

Chad Leistikow

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — A little more than 10 years ago, Jay Wright took a chance on a determined young man named Andrew Francis, giving him a video intern position on his Villanova men’s basketball staff.

And Francis took a chance, too, quitting his two jobs as a Division III women’s basketball coach and salesman of fitness-club memberships in New York City to get his foot in the door with Wright.

“I was just so impressed how a grown man who had a good job, really loved ball and had a great deal of humility,” Wright said, “and would take the lowest job on the staff and have great enthusiasm about it.”

Francis diligently worked for two years at Villanova, which led Wright in 2007 to recommend him to the Siena coaching staff, then directed by his friend Fran McCaffery.

Villanova's Jay Wright will oppose his good friend, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, and his former video intern Andrew Francis in  Sunday's NCAA Tournament game.

“I just said, 'Look, I'll give you my word,'” Wright said. “'This guy's going to be good.'"

The story comes full-circle Sunday, when Wright’s Wildcats (30-5) take on McCaffery’s Hawkeyes (22-10), with Francis in his sixth year on the Iowa coaching staff

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To this day, Francis is thankful for Wright’s confidence.

“It meant a lot,” he said Saturday from the Barclays Center, site of Sunday’s 11:10 a.m. CT tip-off in a second-round NCAA Tournament game. “I always look at coach Wright — you always need somebody to believe in you. And he was one of the first people to believe in me.”

This isn’t the first time Wright and Francis have been on opposite benches. Wright’s Wildcats got the best of the McCaffery/Francis Hawkeyes in the late-2013 Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, an 88-83 overtime shootout.

Like he was two seasons ago, Francis was assigned to scout Villanova.

Wright has no doubt Francis’ report will be thorough. A spot in the Sweet 16 on the line for both programs.

“The longer he worked for us, I saw his character. I saw his intelligence, his basketball IQ, his ability to relate to players, and I knew he'd be a superstar,” Wright said. “No one else could know that when you're a video guy. You don't see him on the road. But when I told Fran that, I think he trusted me on that, and I think Fran's seen what a great coach Andrew has become. I think he'll be a great head coach one day.”