An undersized and position-less point forward type in high school, Josh Hart was never projected to be a star. His outside jumper was raw, temper consistently flaring, and skills constantly criticized.
ESPN’s Recruiting Nation even wrote on his profile: “He'll begin the recruiting process as a tweener between strong mid-major programs and higher level teams.”
It’s easy to point out now their mistake, as hindsight is always flawless in projecting the past; although, that is not to say schools and recruiting websites were not wrong at the time.
Hart was unseasoned in talent and maturity, with an appetite for success and a persistent motor as his best features. His dominance over the Mid Atlantic Conference with The Sidwell Friends School (averaged 24.3 points, 13.4 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game as a senior) was a testament to his athleticism and will to win.
At the beginning of his senior year, Hart shrugged off offers from Connecticut, Georgetown, Arizona, and others to play for a storied program in a somewhat unheralded conference (at that time): Villanova.
In an interview with the Villanovian prior to last season, Hart recalled his initial perceptions of Villanova head coach, Jay Wright, and the Wildcat program.
“He was just a guy that you could tell had high character,” Hart said. “He never talked about any other school. He was just so confident in his program and his players, and that’s something I noticed right away.”
Wright only recruits players with high motors, those who specifically fit his style of Villanova basketball.
Speaking with CSNphilly.com, Hart acknowledged the unchanging factors that each Wildcat recruit possesses.
“This program, this culture, is about high-character guys,” he said. “The guys here love the family. I think that's the reason why a lot of guys are able to stay around so long, because we genuinely love each other, we love the program, we love playing Villanova basketball.”
If Wright only looks to add those to the program who fit his system of hustle, diligence, and ceaselessness, then Hart is the prototype of Villanova basketball. He never relents on neither offense nor defense, maintaining an imposing and tiring impact on anyone aiming to impede the guard’s reverberations on the outcome of the game. His motor is never ending, as the guard can often be spotted diving for loose balls into the crowd or sliding across the hardwood floor.
What separates Hart from the other excellent Wildcat rotation players is his tireless work ethic and will to be the best player possible.
Entering college, he lacked a true touch as an outside shooter and he subsequently struggled to regularly convert on jumpers (31 % from the 3-point line). During the summer of 2014, between his freshman and sophomore year, he worked on his craft, understanding that he needed to improve this aspect of his game in order to become a better player.
While it seems simple, not every player is capable of recognizing a weakness and deciding to alter their game. So many talented individuals in any sport settle for their athletic or skilled roots and do not improve (cough cough Michael Beasley, Jeff Green, Tyrus Thomas, etc.). Comparatively, with the rare exception, the less talented but more driven are able to attain a prosperous career ( Nic Batum, Monta Ellis).
The same goes for Hart. He may not be dunking on people 6 inches taller than him , but he continues to work on the weak points of his game in order to reach a higher level of play.
Before the sophomore season, Hart was expected to develop into a starting position, taking the graduated James Bell’s spot. Instead, he became the team’s sixth man, rejuvenating the bench once again, just as he had done as a freshman.
Most players, especially after playing 20 minutes as a freshman, would be frustrated after being passed up for a starting job, perhaps transferring or leaving the program. Instead, the Wildcat guard embraced his role.
During his second year, his shooting percentage from outside jumped up to 46% as Hart became the Wildcat’s second leading scorer. His shooting percentage marginally increased from the mind-boggling 50% to 51.5%.
Once again, in the summer of 2015, he faced a critical moment of his college career. With the departure of Darrun Hillard III, Villanova lacked a true scorer on the wing, a go to player per say. While Ryan Arcidiacano may have been the most valuable contributor for Jay Wright on and off the court during his tenure as the starting point guard, he is far more comfortable as a distributor and team leader, not a scorer.
Villanova needed a player to step into that role, and who better than Hart to now take this on, one year after accepting the smaller duty.
It is that idea of paying one’s dues that is necessary in Jay Wright’s program. While he does, as mentioned before, recruit to a system, he requires his players to develop under the tutelage of others before flourishing in the spotlight. Hart studied under Bell and Hilliard. Kris Jenkins, fellow teammate and National Title game hero, did so beneath Javaughn Pinkston. Jalen Brunson was in the same role last year behind Arcidiacano, and so on.
As a junior, it was Hart’s opportunity to take control of the offensive output. He led the team with 14.1 points per game, even with a sharp decrease in 3-point percentage (far fewer open looks as the focal point of plays). Come the NCAA tournament, it was evident down the stretch in both the games against Kansas and North Carolina (excluding the final shot) that the offense was meant to operate through the hands of Hart.
After passing up the opportunity to enter the NBA draft, Hart has the opportunity to continue his meticulous rise towards becoming a Villanova legend.