Phil Booth’s return provides Villanova with veteran leader, additional scoring option

NEW YORK — Phil Booth capped off his 2015-16 season by scoring a team-high 20 points in Villanova’s national championship victory against North Carolina.

In that game, he played just 25 minutes and was almost perfect. Booth hit six of his seven shots, including two 3-pointers, and all six of his free throw attempts. He finished the year on the All-Final Four team and a second Wildcats championship banner now hangs in the rafters.

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But, one season later, Booth was mostly on the sidelines as Villanova attempted to defend its title.

Booth’s 2016-17 ended in mid-November. He started Villanova’s first three games, all victories, but was shut down following a 76-65 win over Western Michigan. He was diagnosed with left knee inflammation and would not appear again.

“It was tough,” Booth said at Big East Media Day Wednesday about missing most of last season. “You want to be out there playing. Getting ready for games, not being able to put your jersey on, putting a suit on, was just a totally different experience for me.” 

Without Booth, the Wildcats registered a 32-4 record and won both the Big East regular season and tournament championships. Villanova was poised for another deep run after earning a one seed in the Big Dance. But, the Wildcats were upset in the Round of 32 by Wisconsin and sent home empty handed.

“I wanted to be out there so badly,” Booth said. “I tried to use that energy and put it into my teammates.”

Booth is set to return to the Villanova lineup when it opens its season Nov. 10 against Columbia. He adds another weapon to a Wildcats team that lost two of its top three scorers, guard Josh Hart and forward Kris Jenkins, to graduation.

“It feels good to be back,” Booth said. “I’m excited for this team. We have a really good team that has potential. The process and journey of becoming a really good team is what I’m really looking forward to.”

Villanova returns star guard Jalen Brunson and forward Mikal Bridges. Brunson averaged 14.7 points and a team-high 4.1 assists per game in 2016-17, while Bridges chipped in 9.8 points as well as 4.6 rebounds per contest. The Wildcats will also add freshman forward Omari Spellman, who redshirted last season for academic reasons. 

“Phil means so much to our team,” Brunson said. “He’s another guy that can stretch the floor, make plays for other people and be a great defender.”

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Villanova coach Jay Wright said he expects Booth to be an integral part of the Wildcats offense this season.

“Every team needs a guy that can just go get buckets,” Wright said at media day. “Coaches can come up with some plays. But in the tough situations, guys that can go get a bucket on their own are really valuable. He can do that.”

But, Booth’s biggest impact, Wright said, won’t be seen on the court.

“He’s probably the most well liked, respected guy on our team,” Wright said “Just because of the way he’s conducted himself his whole career, his character. He’s a great leader for our team.”

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