Larry Flynn
Monday October 31st, 2016

Last season, 33 banners hung in the rafters of the Pavilion in Villanova, Pa. On the north side, 24 retired numbers rest near several Big East Championships and a 1994 NIT championship.

Yet all alone, tucked in the south corner of the stadium, hangs the most important banner in the arena. Now more than three decades old, the banner’s minimalism is striking: “1985 NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions,” it reads in navy lettering. It evokes a simpler time when there was no three-point line, no such thing as a “stretch-four,” no Kris Jenkins.

Villanova’s newest banner looks different than its predecessor. It resembles a bright blue bookmark—narrow and pointed. Let’s call it sleek, perhaps even “Smoove.”

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Along with the new banner came a celebration. Friday night, Villanova’s “Hoops Mania” festivities honored the past and ushered in a new era of basketball on Philadelphia’s Main Line. The Pavilion, sold out to more than 5,000 students, hosted a ring ceremony, a scrimmage and a musical performance from Wiz Khalifa.

After remarks from coach Jay Wright, some shenanigans from the mascot, Will D. Cat, and a musical performance from Villanova graduate Matthew Guzman, it was finally time to pass out some new bling.

Before giving rings to the nine returning members of the 2016 title team, Wright gave a national championship ring to the man responsible for the 1985 banner—former coach Rollie Massimino. For the only time during the night, Wright teared up. He told the story of the legendary Massimino giving Wright a 1985 championship ring. Now, it was the protégé’s opportunity to return the favor.

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Massimino wasn’t the only legend in town. Ryan Arcidiacono, a member of the winningest class in Villanova basketball history and the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, marched onto the court with the trophy raised above his head.

“I’m telling you, we’re going back-to-back,” Arcidiacono screamed into the microphone.

“That’s a lot of pressure, right there,” Wright said, patting his former captain on the back.

Then Wright passed around the rings to Tim Delaney, Eric Paschall, Donte Divincenzo, Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, Darryl Reynolds, Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart. A team known for its business-like mentality and boring old adage, “we just play Villanova basketball,” was as loose as ever, grooving with the dance team and hyping up the crowd.

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Before the fun and games, Villanova touched a serious note. Led by senior Darryl Reynolds, the Wildcats quoted civil rights activists, sharing a unified message about social inequality.

“Our lives matter,” said Reynolds. “We are one country under God. We are one Villanova community. We are one ‘Nova Nation.”

Then, back to basketball. First, the team participated in the three-point shootout, won by senior Josh Hart, followed up by a slam-dunk contest (which Reynolds won). Arcidiacono and Jenkins recreated the game-winning play—“Nova”—which they executed to perfection in April. Instead of Jenkins shooting the three, however, he threw an alley-oop lob to Reynolds.

Finally, after seven long months, Villanova students saw their team in action yet again in the blue-white scrimmage. As tradition goes, fans threw streamers in the air after the first basket—a dunk from redshirt freshman Omari Spellman (who was ruled ineligible in September)—flushed through the hoop.

Like every home game at the Pavilion, the students and the team joined together to sing the Villanova fight song. “Throw up your Vs,” Wright said to the crowd, ending the basketball-segment of the evening and welcoming Wiz Khalia onto the stage.

There’s an old saying on campus: Party like it’s 1985. Friday night, however, officially welcomes an era of Wildcats who can say, “Let’s party like it’s 2016.”

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