Plenty of college kids around the country are going to have a homecoming this week as they return to the places they grew up for the Thanksgiving holiday. The homecoming came early for Villanova forward JayVaughn Pinkston, as the Brooklyn native out of Bishop Laughlin High School put up 15 points (13 in the first half) to lead the Wildcats past VCU, 77-53, in the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center.
The journey for Pinkston has been a long and winding one after being named a McDonald’s All-American and Player of the Year in New York during his senior season in high school.
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He was suspended his first year at Villanova after being charged with simple assault and harassment following a fight at an off-campus apartment in November of 2010. From a story by ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil, he stayed in Philadelphia rather than going home and waited his time to get back to school:
"The question was how to deal with it. Both [JayVaughn’s mom] Kerry and [Villanova coach Jay] Wright agreed that sending him home, with no basketball and no job, was a bad idea. But he couldn't stay on campus either, and at 18, he couldn't very well live on his own. Under NCAA rules, the university could do nothing to support him. NCAA rules also prohibited Pinkston from receiving assistance from a booster or anyone associated with the school.
"After careful consulting with the compliance office, and what Wright called a lengthy search, Pinkston moved in with Matt and Christy O'Reilly, people who knew nothing about him and whose only attachment to Villanova was through Wright's kids -- they all attended school together.
"Pinkston got a job at a nearby warehouse stacking boxes, hired a driver to get him back and forth, and paid rent to the O’Reillys."
Pinkston came back to Villanova and averaged 9.6 points as a freshman and 13.3 points as a sophomore. In the summer of 2013, he contracted a staph infection in his leg and returned to average 14.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game for the Wildcats.
This season, the senior, who turns 23 on Thanksgiving, is joined by a veteran-laden squad that returns four starters from last year’s 29-5 team that won the Big East. Behind Pinkston, and guards Ryan Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard, Villanova was picked to win the conference again this fall.
As guard play goes in college basketball, no team might be consistently better at it over the past few seasons than Villanova. It seems like every year, without fail, the Wildcats have a never-ending supply of capable ballhandlers. The same can be said about the Rams and long wing players, who can make a 40-minute game seem like at least twice that when you’re on the floor with their ability to suffocate a team defensively from end to end.
Villanova handled VCU’s “Havoc” defense well, refusing to speed up what they were trying to do even when the Rams were putting extra heat on Villanova. The Wildcats only turned it over three times in the first half and nine times overall.
There were 11 lead changes in the first half with ‘Nova taking a 32-30 lead. Both teams shot an identical 41.4 percent from the floor. Even Wright was impressed with how evenly matched both teams seemed.
“It’s a good game, man,” Wright told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman at the halftime break.
The strong back and forth game was at odds with a quiet and only partially filled Barclays Center. Even the commentators brought it up on air, with Dan Dakich mentioning that this was a “marquee” game for seeding come March.
The Wildcats wrested control of the game away from the Rams with a 13-0 run over just two minutes of play to get a 45-36 lead with 16:34 remaining. VCU coach Shaka Smart took a timeout to try and settle his guys down, but the run extended, as Villanova put up 16 unanswered in all before a pair of free throws by Jordan Burgess stopped the bleeding.
If an experienced Villanova team can do this to VCU, one of the most frustrating defensive teams in the nation, that’s a good sign for the Wildcats’ chances to repeat in the Big East regular season.