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Bracy: From back injury to NBA, Arcidiacono's wild journey continues

02/11/2020, 10:15am EST
By Aaron Bracy


Ryan Arcidiacono (above) has grown into a solid role with the Bulls in his second year in the NBA. (Photo courtesy Chicago Bulls))

Aaron Bracy (@Aaron_Bracy)
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It’s 2020 and Ryan Arcidiacono, in his Chicago Bulls warmups, is seated on the visitor’s bench at the Wells Fargo Center watching and patiently waiting his turn. Arcidiacono is studying the game, dissecting the play on the court, his head focused on ways to best set up his Bulls teammates. He’s sizing up his opponents, wondering how he can outhustle – if not outmuscle – them.

He’s thinking:

Where can I throw my body to the floor with reckless abandon in search of a loose ball?

How can I get in position to sacrifice myself for the team by taking a charge?

What can I possibly do – anything and everything – to help my teammates win?

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It’s 2012 and Ryan Arcidiacono, in his street clothes, is seated in the stands just a few rows behind the Villanova bench watching and patiently waiting his turn. Unfortunately, watching and waiting is all he can do now due to a back injury that has sidelined him for his senior season at Neshaminy High School.

The questions, same as above, are running through his head now.

As a lifelong Villanova fan, he knows just about everything there is to know about the Wildcats. But now, as a Villanova recruit set to take the court the following season, he is gaining even more invaluable knowledge, studying the court and readying himself mentally to make an impact when his time comes.

Loose balls, Check.

Charges, Check.

Toughness, Check.

Winning mentality, Check.

He sees it clearly now. He knows he can help.

The Wildcats are in the midst of their worst season under coach Jay Wright, eventually finishing with a 13-19 record and missing the NCAA tournament by a wide margin.

Wright knows he needs smart, tough guard play.

Arcidiacono knows he can bring it.

So, he watches and waits.

But will he be able to play?

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Unsure of the severity of the back injury, Wright brings in transfer Tony Chennault as a backup plan in case Arcidiacono can’t play – or in the event he can play but not like the player the coach recruited.

Not to worry, Arcidiacono’s back is healed and he’s practicing in preparation for the 2012-13 season just like how Wright envisioned. The coach is so impressed that he names the freshman a captain before he ever plays a game.

“We’ve never done that, and I don’t think we’ll ever do that again,” Wright said.    

But Arcidiacono has earned the lofty moniker by setting an example for his teammates. The back injury was a blessing in disguise because by looking on from the stands he saw what Villanova was missing and knew what the Wildcats needed most was his specialty.

“He watched that (2011-12 season) and came in right away and set the tone,” Wright said.

It was a perfect fit.

“They were the type of school that valued the things I did well,” Arcidiacono said. “Tough. That’s the way I played my whole life. Dive on loose balls. Taking charges. It just fit into the whole Villanova culture. Once I got there, I tried to instill what I did even more to what they try to do.”

 


Arcidiacono (above) jumped right into the starting lineup for Villanova, helping them reach the NCAA Tournament in his freshman season. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

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The turnaround begins right away as Arcidiacono starts all 34 games as a freshman and leads the Wildcats to a 20-14 record and a spot back in the NCAA tournament.

The crescendo steadily builds:

-Sophomore season, 29-5 record, NCAA tournament berth.

-Junior season, 33-3 record, Big East tournament title, NCAA tournament berth.

And then…

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It’s April 4, 2016 and Ryan Arcidiacono, a Villanova senior in his dark blue Wildcats jersey, is on the court at NRG Stadium in Houston. He has prepared himself for this moment his whole life.

Now, it’s his turn.

There are 4.7 seconds on the clock and the national championship game is tied at 74.

Arcidiacono takes the inbounds pass from Kris Jenkins and, moving quickly, gets free of North Carolina’s Joel Berry II just before midcourt with a left hand to right hand crossover dribble. Then, Villanova’s 6-foot-3 point guard perfectly shovels a little two-handed pass to Jenkins behind the 3-point line while smartly creating needed space between Jenkins and charging Tar Heels defender Isaiah Hicks.

Jenkins does the rest, draining the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to lift the Wildcats to the national title.

“It was a press offense play that we practiced every day,” Jenkins, relaxing courtside before Villanova’s game against Seton Hall last Saturday, said. “We get it to our guy Archie and he’s going to make a play for us. You give him the ball and he makes the best decision for us.”

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It was the 535th, and final, assist of Arcidiacono’s illustrious college career.

He started 143 of 144 games, victorious in 117 of them for a remarkable .813 winning percentage. He averaged 11.4 points, 3.8 assists and 2.3 rebounds. But numbers hardly tell the story of one of the greatest players in Villanova history.

The toughness. The winning mentality. Diving for loose balls. Taking charges. That’s immeasurable. It’s what Wright and the Wildcats simply call “playing Villanova basketball.”

They were 13-19 before Arcidiacono arrived.

And the best in the country when he left.

His whole Villanova ride was like a dream come true.

“I grew up watching all the Villanova games, their (2009) Final Four run, going to NCAA parties and living and dying with every single basket,” Arcidiacono said. “So the fact that I’m able to have gone there, play there, have as much success as I did and we did as a team and a program and to see where the program is going is just so special. To be a local kid from Langhorne, Pennsylvania and to make an impact that our recruiting class did and hopefully we left it in a better place. It’s just super special.”

Arcidiacono celebrates during Villanova's victory parade after its 2016 National Championship, where Arcidiacono famously had the assist on Kris Jenkins' game-winning shot. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

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The journey continues. The style remains.

Arcidiacono enters that Bulls game vs. the 76ers this past Sunday with 3:55 left in the first quarter. The Bulls, already a middle-of-the-pack rebuilding team, are decimated by injuries. They are no match for the 76ers. But there’s Arcidiacono and his Bulls teammates hustling all over the court. Chicago somehow comes back from a 15-point first-half deficit to take a lead early in the third quarter, causing the hometown fans to roar with boos.

Ultimately, Arcidiacono and the Bulls can’t overcome the talent disparity but their effort to the very end in the 118-111 defeat is impressive.

Arcidiacono finishes with five points, four rebounds and an assist in 19 minutes. But his numbers belie the impact on the culture he is helping Bulls coach Jim Boylen create in Chicago in much the same way he did for Wright at Villanova.

“What I like the most about him is his character,” Boylen said following Sunday’s game. “He relishes in teammates’ success, he tries to make people better, he honors his assignments and owns his mistakes. I love the guy. So thankful for him. He’s a big part of the team. He has a voice. He’s a winning person, just a winning player. I’ve seen his development. I’m just proud of him.

“We’re trying to establish a culture and a style of play. He’ll do anything I ask. He’s always ready to practice, always ready to work. And he competes. He gives me a lot of ‘Amens’ at what we’re doing. He’s great at that. He has great rapport with his teammates. He’s a fun guy. Just a high character dude, man.”

Arcidiacono has had to earn everything he’s gotten at the professional level. Undrafted out of Villanova, he found a fit with Boylen and the Bulls. He signed a three-year contract this past offseason, but he works every day like he could be cut the next.

“I love how hard he plays every game,” said Pistons and former St. Joe’s guard Langston Galloway, who also went undrafted before carving out a solid NBA career. “When you’re undrafted, you have to bust your butt every day and outwork the guy in front of you. And that’s what he continues to do and will keep you in this league a long time.”

How hard does Arcidiacono work? He leaves the Bulls facility only when told.

“You can say all the cliche stuff about getting in early, but I would just try to be in the Chicago Bulls facility and try to make them kick me out,” he said. “Like every single day they would tell me to, ‘Go home. Go back to Philadelphia.’ I’m like, ‘I’m good.’ I wanted to show them how much I wanted to be there, how much better I was getting as a player and that I could help and be of value to the team and the organization.

“You gotta always have that edge. You can never get comfortable because you never know what’s going to happen. I don’t take this for granted and hopefully I can be here a long time with that mind-set and that effort every single day.”

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It’s February 12, 2020 and Ryan Arcidiacono, presumably in street clothes, will be relishing this moment.

Villanova will honor him and forever remember his remarkable contributions by retiring his No. 15 jersey during a ceremony at Wednesday’s game against Marquette.

“To have my jersey retired is an honor that is really special,” he said.   “I know I wouldn’t be where I am without Villanova, without the fans and without my teammates.”

And Wright will reflect on the moment with amazement.

“We were excited when we got him, but then he had the back injury and we thought he might not play,” Wright said. “So, we were starting from there. Imagine thinking he might not play and then him being one of the greatest players in Villanova history and winning the national championship.

“Once he was healthy you knew he was going to be a great player, but I don’t think anyone could predict national championship, leader, pro, everything like that. You hope for that.”

And Wright got it.

It all started in the stands during that forgettable 2011-12 season.

Arcidiacono watched and patiently waited for his turn.

And then he delivered.


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