Eugene Rapay (@erapay5)
As the NBA Draft unfolded on Thursday night, Villanova head coach Jay Wright was far removed from the basketball world.
He spent the night with his family at the Mann Center, watching The Godfather as the Philadelphia Orchestra played the soundtrack along with the film.
Elsewhere, Darrun Hilliard was at home, surrounded by his family and friends. The recently-graduated former Wildcat anxiously waited as each pick was being made, until finally he received an offer that he couldn’t refuse.
The Detroit Pistons selected Hilliard with the 38th overall pick of the draft, making him the first Wildcat to be drafted since the Trail Blazers selected Dante Cunningham in 2009.
Hilliard, a First Team all-Big East selection as a senior, was the top scorer for a Villanova team that finished 33-3 overall. He averaged 14.3 points per game and helped lead his team to Big East regular season and tournament championships.
He brings a steady three-point shooting stroke and defensive tenacity when guarding the perimeter. This past season, he sank 38.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and had a team-high 1.8 steals per game.
Despite that, his pick was surprise to some, as he was projected to be a later pick or go undrafted. However, the even bigger surprise is that Jay Wright knew it was happening ahead of time.
Wright and Hilliard’s agent, James Dunleavy, were told by the Pistons organization a couple of days in advance that they planned on selecting the 6-foot-6 shooting guard from Bethlehem.
“We know even if they tell you that, something can happen when someone slips,” Wright said. “When the draft gets to the second round, anything can happen.”
Equipped with the knowledge, Wright and Hilliard’s agent tried to keep it under wraps. Hilliard’s dream of making it to the NBA seemed all the more tangible.
The new challenge was being able to handle the news properly with the draft coming in a few days. They didn’t completely shield Hilliard from knowing, keeping him at bay by reminding him of the business-like nature of the NBA.
“His agent and I told him that ‘a team has told us they were going to take you in the second round,’ but we didn’t want to get his hopes up just in case,” Wright said. “We said ‘you never know what’s going to happen.’”
But surely enough, Detroit followed through and drafted Hilliard. They had the opportunity to trade back and take their chances on acquiring him with a later pick, the ‘Nova coach said, but chose to decline the trade offer instead. They did not want to risk losing him to another team.
According to Wright, aside from the Pistons, four other teams expressed interest in potentially drafting him.
Aside from his performance on the court, his character also grabbed the attention of Detroit head coach Stan Van Gundy.
“Darrun was so grateful and thankful when we called him,” Wright said that Van Gundy texted him. “You don’t get that too much.”
Detroit selected Arizona’s Stanley Johnson in the first round of the draft. Hilliard and Johnson hope to be an asset in turning around the Pistons. They finished last in the Central Division with a record of 32-50.
CoBL's Josh Verlin also contributed to this story