STORY WRITTEN BY MIKE JENSEN, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER - Jan. 11, 2022
Earlier this season, Jay Wright was taking questions about a popular 2021-22 subject — how Villanova’s young guys get (or don’t get) playing time. It’s not just how new players perform, Wright asserted, but also how everyone else plays when a new guy is out there.
This lines up with what fifth-year point guard Collin Gillespie said last week about freshman Jordan Longino earning a little court time.
“We’re connecting while he’s out on the floor with us,” Gillespie said, after saying that Longino has done a good job of picking up things quickly, assimilating scouting reports, in addition to being tough and physical in practice. “Obviously, he has that background from playing football.”
Germantown Academy football coach Matt Dence will tell you how with Longino, any talk of football adding toughness is all true, and then some.
Longino was a quarterback … “a legitimate quarterback,” Dence said. “If he had said, ‘I want to play football in college,’ I think it would have been at just as high a level.”
Evidence was out there, with teammates going on to Duke and Boston College, and those coaches asking — what about the quarterback? Northwestern and even Penn State took a look. But Longino was on the summer hoop circuit, not shopping his football wares.
“If the right offer comes from basketball, that’s what I’m doing,” Dence remembers Longino saying. The coach added, “I think the right offer meant Villanova.”
OK, Longino could play, but was he, you know, tough?
“His junior year, fourth quarter against Penn Charter,” Dence said. “To win that game, he broke two or three tackles on the last plays to get us the first down to let us kneel down.”
Dence recalls the conversation on third down – “third-and-7, I think.” Get 5 yards, he told his QB, and he’d make a decision whether to punt or go for it.
“He went for 20, broke two tackles,” Dence said. “Then he was smart enough to slide. The play before, he broke a tackle to get us a couple.”
Longino also played safety his first couple of years before the coaches decided they had to protect their QB. “You’d watch him go head-to-head against the best opposing player,” Dence said. “He’s not going to shy away from any physicality. There’s nothing he hasn’t seen.”
Dence remembers when hoops took over for football, one of his future Division II college players, Tayshaun Mack, first basketball practice, said to Longino, “Yo, no green jersey this time, pal, I get to hit you all day long.”
“Let’s go,” Longino said.
QBs at Germantown Academy wore green. Dence said he’d “go crazy” if anyone hit a green jersey. Dence stuck around that basketball practice to see how it played out, his two captains switching into the winter season.
“Jordan went right at Tayshaun that entire practice,” Dence said.
The hoop expectations for Longino obviously are high. All-time leading scorer at Germantown Academy, breaking the record of Villanova great Alvin Williams, plus state player of the year for his level. Might have had the passing yardage record, too, if his senior football season hadn’t been shortened by the pandemic. Preseason injuries held him back initially at Villanova, but now he’s getting ninth-man kind of minutes, with 20 minutes last week against Creighton. Not easy minutes to find since ‘Nova has veteran guards.
“It can be tough on our players initially,” said Wright, whose team plays at Xavier Wednesday night. “We really value practice a lot. We don’t go by the adage, you’ve got to just give guys playing time and let them work their way into it. In our program, you’ve got to earn the playing time.”
Not a new subject, or solely a Villanova thing. Just harder for freshmen to find time this season all over the landscape with all the fifth-year players back because of the pandemic. Longino said even seeing “something that is as lighthearted as pickup” get intensely competitive last summer set his expectations. Former Villanova players showing up, showing the same fire, it was all a bit eye-opening.
“I’m still having freshman moments,” Longino said. “I’ve found myself saying, ‘Wow, I’m playing college basketball.’ ‘’
“I remember Mikal Bridges, when he was a freshman, he couldn’t even practice with us, he’d get beat up so bad,” Wright said of the Phoenix Sun who was redshirted as a freshman. “Jordan is prepared for that, I think, because of his football background.”
One more thing Longino’s old football coach wanted to add before he got off the phone.
“We played Penn Charter at the end of the season — 135 straight years,” Dence said of that rivalry. “The night before, Villanova played [UCLA] at Pauley Pavilion.”
Played late night, deep into the morning East Coast time, before a red-eye charter home.
“Saturday, we’re on the sideline — there’s Jordan,” Dence said. “He gives me a wink.”
No big thing. Sleep when you’re dead.
“Most kids are either in bed or they’re wearing their Villanova ‘look at me’ stuff,” Dence said, which was the other point the coach wanted to make. His star QB declined to make it all about himself.
“I think he was wearing a Germantown Academy sweatshirt,” Dence said.