VILLANOVA, Pa. — With the appropriate combination of affection and disgust, Josh Hart describes the “ugly form” he’s used for so many years to shoot a basketball.
“We all know Kris (Jenkins) has a beautiful shot,” Hart says. “At the other end of the spectrum is my shot. It went in, so no one really complained about it too much. But that’s just one thing I wanted to work on.”
Hart laughs again. He has been playing basketball since he was 7, and he finds it funny that he can reinvent something as significant as his shot now, at 21.
“I’m trying to be more square,” Hart says. “A lot of times, whether it’s coming off a screen or from running full speed, catch a ball, I’d kind of kick a leg out, turn my body one way around, and then sometimes it’d be more of I’d jump, and then in the middle throw the ball.
“It was a lot of — jump shot people that have beautiful form would watch that and be like, ‘What the heck is he doing?’ It was really that. I’m just focused on being square. Focused on getting the ball out in front.”
Hart acknowledges it was a weird feeling, and he couldn’t make a shot at first. But slowly and steadily, he got better and better throughout the offseason. And his shot is much smoother.
Yes, Villanova’s star player has added a weapon to his arsenal. He needed to — as he learned during the pre-NBA draft process last spring — but he also wanted to.
Hart didn’t get to bask in the glory of Villanova’s national championship as long as his teammates did this spring. He went straight to work, trying to figure out if he was talented enough to become a first-round pick in June’s NBA draft.
He went to team workouts and the NBA combine before deciding to return to Villanova for his senior season. Hart likens the experience to a roller coaster.
“Obviously, everybody’s dream is to play in the NBA,” Hart says. “To go through thoseworkouts, to go to the combine and go through the whole process when you feel like your dream is within reach … I’m this close right now. But at the end of the day, I thought it was the best decision for my family and myself to come back.”
Villanova coach Jay Wright lauds the way Hart and his parents handled the process. They understood that Hart possibly could be a late first-round pick but would definitely go early in the second if he wasn’t. They had information from NBA personnel, and not just voices in their ears pushing Hart to go before he was truly ready.
This final year at Villanova gives Hart a chance to improve not only his shooting form and consistency but also other areas, on and off the court.
Wright wants to see a fun-loving, goofy kid step into a bigger, more serious leadership role now that Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu have graduated.
Wright wants Hart to think about the sport as his future, not only as a game he loves — as long as he still loves what he does.
And, certainly, Wright wants Hart to have a productive senior season; Hart is the team’s top returner with 15.5 points and
6.8 rebounds per game.
“For our team, him coming back is huge,” Wright says. “It’s huge. I’m so glad that he’s doing it on his terms. I’m so glad that he is excited about it. … As a coach, when you get a fourth-year guy like that that’s really committed, really serious and very talented, it’s big. I think he’s going to be really a force this season in college basketball.”
Hart acknowledges he has not watched the full tape of the epic Villanova-North Carolina championship game. He’s seen parts and pieces, and he loves teasing Jenkins about the newfound fame after hitting the game-winner. But he also wants to move forward from it.
“Obviously, it was a great moment — probably one of the highest points of my life, but I don’t want that to be the defining point,” Hart says. “That’s one thing. That was in April — four or five months ago — so I’m leaving that in April. Now it’s time to focus on this year and focus on this team. If we want to have another run like that, we can’t just sit here and watch that game every week. We’ve got to focus on now. We’ve got to focus on what this team can do and how we’ve got to improve.”
These Wildcats will need to do that without their invaluable leaders — Arcidiacono and Ochefu — and with a giant bull’s-eye on their backs as defending national champs.
“Last season, we kind of snuck up on people the whole year — March Madness time, that was our Achilles’ heel the last couple of years,” says Hart, who is 6-5, 205 pounds. “Now we know we can’t sneak up on anybody. There’s definitely a different feel in that sense. But from a program standpoint, it’s not a different feel at all. Coach doesn’t talk about the national championship at all.”
Hart and Wright expect growing pains, particularly early this season as Hart, Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds step into leadership roles and newcomers begin to mesh with the rest of the team.
But one thing is certain: If the team needs someone to fill the heart-and-soul spot of the roster — the one long occupied by Arcidiacono, who never met a floor he wouldn’t dive on — it will be Hart.
“There have been a few games where I had to get stitches in the middle of the game,” Hart says, smiling. “Syracuse, I had to play with two gauze pads in my nose. So that’ll probably be me. I wouldn’t mind not being bloodied up, I’d love that part, but if I have to take that position, I will.”