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Replacing Legends on the College Basketball Court

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Caleb Daniels was out to dinner along with his family on a Wednesday night last spring when he received a text message from Joey Flannery, the director of basketball operations for the Villanova men’s program.

It was sent to your complete team, instructing the players to return to a compulsory team meeting within the film room at 8 p.m. that April 20 night.

“We never have meetings that late so it was quite unusual,” Daniels recalled. “All of us got here there at 8, and that’s once we heard the news.”

The news — which had already leaked onto social media — was that the team’s longtime coach, Jay Wright, can be retiring at age 60, and Kyle Neptune, a former Villanova assistant who led Fordham in 2021-22, would succeed him. In an emotional meeting, Wright first addressed the team, after which Neptune followed suit.

“Definitely our head was spinning,” Daniels said. “I used to be just attempting to work out what was really happening, attempting to fathom what was happening.”

With a latest season underway, Neptune, 37, is certainly one of two young men’s basketball coaches replacing legends of the sport. He succeeds Wright, who won two national championships at Villanova and led this system to 4 Final Fours, including April’s in Latest Orleans. At Duke, Jon Scheyer, 35, takes over for Mike Krzyzewski, who retired at 75 after leading his team to 5 N.C.A.A. championships — second in the lads’s game only to John Wood’s 10 with U.C.L.A. — and 13 Final Fours, including last season’s.

“For me, I don’t give it some thought as much as people think,” Neptune said. “All I can do is attempt to be my very own man and check out to do the perfect I can do for Villanova.”

On the ladies’s side, Coquese Washington, 51, a W.N.B.A. champion as a player, is replacing certainly one of the sport’s most completed coaches, C. Vivian Stringer, at Rutgers. Stringer, 74, a Hall of Famer, ranks fifth in profession victories and is the one coach in N.C.A.A. history to steer three different programs to the Final 4.

It’s Washington’s second head coaching job after having led Penn State to a few regular-season conference championships from 2007-19.

“Following a legend, it’s hard,” said the West Virginia men’s coach, Bob Huggins, a fellow Hall of Famer. “I’m sure they’ll do an ideal job, however it’s hard.

“Those are huge shoes to fill. Huge.”

Expectations are high, too, especially at Duke, which is in a tie at No. 7 in The Associated Press preseason poll, and at Villanova, ranked No. 16.

“Each thing they do goes to be under a microscope,” said Rick Pitino, the Iona men’s coach who’s a Hall of Famer, adding he believed Scheyer and Neptune were “ready for the job.”

“So long as recruiting stays strong, those guys will do great,” Pitino added.

Scheyer was a captain on Duke’s 2009-10 championship team after which played professionally each overseas and within the U.S. before returning to Duke as a special assistant in 2013-14. He was elevated to associate head coach in 2018.

When Krzyzewski announced in June 2021 that he would retire after the season, it allowed him and Scheyer to divide responsibilities in an orderly fashion. Scheyer targeting recruiting that spring and summer, while Krzyzewski had more time to be on campus and work along with his final team.

The plan appeared to work: Duke earned the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and won 32 games before falling to rival North Carolina instantly classic within the national semifinals.

And Scheyer landed not only the No. 1 class for 2022, based on 247sports.com’s rankings, but Duke also has the No. 1 class of 2023.

“That’s why I feel there was a way of urgency from the varsity to announce the following head coach and to announce the plans for Coach K where we could proceed to recruit at the best level and to usher in the big-big-time players,” Scheyer told The Latest York Times in 2021.

As Scheyer’s coaching tenure begins, junior guard Jeremy Roach, the team’s captain, says the vibe is “generally the identical.”

He added: “They type of embody the identical culture and of coming in every practice giving 110 percent, bringing the energy, so it means type of the identical thing.”

At Villanova, the transition wasn’t planned in Duke’s military fashion, but there continues to be quite a lot of continuity.

Neptune was only away from this system for one 12 months while coaching at Fordham, and he recruited or coached virtually all of the Wildcats’ current players. He also kept intact Wright’s staff of assistant coaches and his three-man recruiting class, headlined by the five-star freshman forward Cam Whitmore.

“It’s comfortable because they kept it within the family and we all know him personally and as a coach,” said Daniels, a graduate student guard. “So we’re willing to play even harder for him, the identical way we’d do coach Wright.”

Neptune went 16-16 in his lone season at Fordham, which plays within the Atlantic 10 Conference, a far cry from the brilliant lights of the Big East. In nonconference play, his slate includes games against Iowa State, Michigan State and possibly North Carolina, which is ranked No. 1.

Keith Urgo, who was an assistant under Neptune at Fordham before succeeding him, thinks Neptune is the right fit at Villanova.

“He had the educational curve last 12 months,” he said. “I feel there’s all the time a learning curve as a head coach or whilst an assistant coach.”

Dr. John Giannini, a longtime head coach at La Salle who now works as TV analyst, said he was impressed that in Neptune’s lone season at Fordham he pioneered latest coaching tactics and didn’t simply attempt to mimic Wright’s tendencies.

“All the pieces he did was very different from what Villanova did,” Giannini said. “Multiple defenses, more combination defense, it was just very different and it was very successful.”

At Rutgers, Washington is in her own unique situation. Though Stringer retired within the spring, she actually hadn’t coached because the end of the 2020-21 season. She took a leave of absence last 12 months, although Rutgers didn’t address why when it made the announcement ahead of last season. Stringer, a cancer survivor, was reportedly anxious about reductions in coronavirus testing.

Tim Eatman served as this system’s acting head coach last season, when the Scarlet Knights finished 11-20 overall and 3-14 within the Big Ten. Washington was hired as the brand new head coach in May.

“Our type of play could also be slightly different,” she said at Big Ten media day. “Coach Stringer was known for excellent defense and low-scoring games. I type of would love to attain slightly few more points so the pace could also be slightly bit different.”

Playing an up-tempo pace could also be difficult because the team only has eight scholarship players, including three transfers and two freshmen.

“It’s very fun with only eight,” the returning junior forward Erica Lafayette told NJ.com on the team’s media day. “It’s very fast, and I feel like we bond more. Our open conversations are higher. We don’t have time to clique off and do anything because we’re such a small group. You see one person and you should see everybody.”

In the long run, Scheyer, Neptune and Washington might be judged by their wins and losses. Duke is 2-0 under Scheyer heading right into a Tuesday game against No. 5 Kansas within the Champions Classic in Indianapolis, while Washington improved to 2-1 with a win over the Latest Jersey Institute of Technology on Sunday. Neptune is 1-1, having lost to the in-state rival Temple on Friday. He and Villanova will host Delaware State on Monday.

The coaches can look to North Carolina’s Hubert Davis for some inspiration. Last season, he became the primary latest men’s coach to steer his team to the N.C.A.A. championship game in his first full season on the helm after replacing the Hall of Famer and three-time champion Roy Williams.

“They’re going to undergo their bumps of running a blue-blood organization, you realize?” Windfall Coach Ed Cooley said.

He added: “Your biggest donors need to know that their hard-earned dollars are going towards winning so it’s a tremendous balance and also you do the perfect which you could. You be sure that you’re employed hard each day, you are attempting to search out the perfect fit for who you might be because the person and coach and also you gotta get slightly lucky. It’s a tough balance, it’s fun.”

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