Speedy Claxton to Jay Wright: Go ahead and win it

Former Spurs guard Speedy Claxton led Jay Wright-coached Hofstra to the 2000 NCAA tournament.

Craig “Speedy” Claxton made history in San Antonio 15 years ago when he came off the bench to spark the Spurs to an NBA title-clinching victory over the New Jersey Nets.

Claxton was on the floor playing point guard in Game 6 of the 2003 NBA Finals when the Spurs slammed the Nets with a 19-0 run to rock the SBC Center.

Later, he helped the city celebrate its second championship.

Tonight, another basketball title is on the line in San Antonio, and Claxton has a rooting interest.

Now an assistant coach at Hofstra, he would like nothing more than to see the Villanova Wildcats beat the Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA finals at the Alamodome.

Why Villanova?

Well, it’s simple, really. Villanova’s coach is Jay Wright, a man who helped mold Claxton’s remarkable career.

As head coach at Hofstra in the 1990s, Wright recruited Claxton to the school in Long Island, New York.

Together, they led a downtrodden program to the 2000 NCAA tournament.

As a result, Claxton’s career took off.

He spent the next nine years cashing NBA paychecks after being selected on the first round of the 2000 draft, 20th overall, by the Philadelphia 76ers.

Claxton, naturally, has always been a big Jay Wright fan.

But considering that the NCAA title game is being held in San Antonio, he’d really like to see his mentor win, so the two could share in some personal hoops symmetry.

“I just thought about it when we got on the phone earlier,” he said in a telephone interview with The JB Replay. “Oh, wow, (what if) we both win in the same city?

“I’m going to have to text him and tell him to go ahead and win that championship. That’s pretty dope.

“I’m going to have to text him and say, ‘Go ahead and win it.’ ”

Wright joked with the media covering the Final Four that he started his career with three losing seasons at Hofstra and heard rumblings that he might get fired.

But the coach kept plugging away.

Things started to change quickly when he recruited Claxton, a 5-foot-11 dynamo from Christ the King High School in Middle Village, N.Y.

“You could tell that he was energetic and passionate about the game,” Claxton said. “I came (to Hofstra) because of his off-the-court personality.”

Claxton said he thinks there are two sides to the coach. Off the court and on the court.

Off the court, the coach is charismatic and charming. On the court, he can be intense and demanding.

“Oh, he was very demanding of his players,” Claxton said. “He wants high energy at all times, you know, taking charges. Diving for loose balls. Up in your man’s face on defense.”

What Claxton learned from Wright at Hofstra served him well in the NBA.

“He made me the player that I am,” Claxton said. “When I played (for Hofstra), I played every possession like it was the last, because of him.

“I didn’t just want to get a stop one time down. Or two times down. I wanted to get a stop every time my man had the ball.

“I mean, I took it personal, that I didn’t want my man to score. Like, I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t like my man scoring at any time. Not once. Twice. Any time.”

Claxton has worked on Hofstra’s staff for the past five years, including four as an assistant coach, under Joe Mihalick.

In December, Claxton got an up-close look at Villanova when the Pride hosted the Wildcats off campus at Nassau Coliseum.

“Oh, as you can see, they’re one of the best teams in the country,” Claxton said. “They really have no weakness.”

Two years ago, Villanova entered the Final Four at Houston and broke through with its first national title since 1985 by beating both Oklahoma and North Carolina.

This time, its’s a different feeling for Claxton.

“In the first one, I was excited,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe coach Wright is really in the championship game.’ Now, I expect it. I expect him to win.”

Michigan rallies to beat Loyola-Chicago, 69-57

The Michigan Wolverines rallied in the second half Saturday night for a 69-57 victory over the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers in the NCAA Final Four semifinals at the Alamodome.

With the win, Michigan advanced to play in Monday night’s title game against either Kansas or Villanova.

Loyola-Chicago played well most of the night and seemed to be on its way to making history as the first No. 11 seed to advance to the championship game.

The Ramblers led by 10 with 14:08 remaining.

But the Wolverines hit the Ramblers with a 17-2 run in the second half to seize a 54-47 lead with 4:50 remaining, taking the life out of the Ramblers.

Loyola never got closer than five the rest of the way.

Statistics

Forward Moritz ‘Moe’ Wagner produced 24 points and 15 rebounds to pace the Wolverines. Guard Charles Matthews scored 17.

For Loyola, forward Cameron Krutwig had 17 points and six rebounds.

Quotable

“We’re elated to get a win like that, the way we did it,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “You know, we see some really good defenses in the Big Ten. I would argue that it’s the best defensive league in the country.

“We saw some great defense (from Loyola tonight). They’re a little bit smaller at the four positions, and they can really get into you and guard. And it really gave us problems in the first half. They rotated so quickly.

“This has been our dilemma all year. How are people going to guard a shooting five? Then we have to adjust as the game goes on. We didn’t adjust very well.

“In the second half after we see their reactions, we had to make some shots. We couldn’t make em for awhile, but we did (eventually). Our young guys came in there and we took off like crazy.

“Everybody is really happy, and we’re ready to move on to the next game, whoever it is.”

After a slow start, Loyola-Chicago stormed to a 29-22 halftime lead.

Michigan held the upper hand early, taking advantage of skittish shooting by the Missouri Valley Conference champions and moving out to a 12-4 advantage.

From there, the Wolverines went cold on offense, allowing the Ramblers to climb back into it.

In the final five minutes, the Ramblers turned up the intensity and outscored the Wolverines, 14-7.

Fans leaped from their seats and roared approval when Loyola’s Donte Ingram followed a miss with a short put back at the buzzer.

No. 11 seeds in the Final Four

No team seeded lower than 11th has ever reached the NCAA Final Four. Four others have made it to the final weekend, and all four lost in the first game, failing to reach the championship round.

1986 (at Dallas) — #2 Louisville beat #11 LSU, 88-77

2006 (at Indianapolis) — #3 Florida beat #11 George Mason, 73-58

2011 (at Houston) — #8 Butler beat #11 Virginia Commonwealth 70-62

2018 (at San Antonio) — #3 Michigan beat #11 Loyola-Chicago, 69-57

Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt sits court-side at the Alamodome before tipoff of the Loyola-Michigan game.