Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wayns' World

In just his junior season, Maalik Wayns has carried Villanova on his back despite 10-10 record.  (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Jay Wright has turned out more guards in his eleven years on the Main Line than most fans can count; a Who's Who of backcourt stars the likes of Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Kyle Lowry, Mike Nardi, Dwayne Anderson, Scottie Reynolds, Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher.  The latest in this chain of succession from the school known as "Guard U" is a homegrown talent that has managed to emerge from the shadow of some of the greatest players in program history to not only carve out his own niche, but proceed to establish himself as one of the best players in the nation despite some criticism over his ability to be the face of the team.

Three years ago, Maalik Wayns was brought to Villanova by way of Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia; and although trapped behind Reynolds and Fisher on the depth chart, made an impact in his freshman campaign by averaging nearly seven points per game in just 15 minutes per night.  Last season, Reynolds' graduation allowed Wayns to crack the starting lineup on a full-time basis and move Fisher off the ball in certain situations, and the newly-minted sophomore did not disappoint when he posted averages of 13.8 points and 4.5 assists per game.  With Fisher gone following the Wildcats' round of 64 loss to George Mason in the NCAA Tournament following a college career in which he reached a Sweet 16 and Final Four in his first two seasons, Wayns established himself as the man in the Villanova backcourt.  Only one question remained.

Would he be ready to run the show?

At Big East media day prior to the start of this season, I had the opportunity to catch up to Jay Wright; and one of the questions I asked was whether or not he had confidence in Wayns to be the face of the team, and how much having Reynolds and Fisher around to mentor him would impact his decision making on the court.  "I think he's been waiting for this," said Wright.  "There's some pressure that comes with it, but I think he's handling it well."

The way Wayns has played through twenty games this season, "well" would be considered a major understatement.  Aside from a three-point outing he would like to forget against Syracuse; where he went 0-for-7 from the field against the top-ranked Orange, every other performance during his junior campaign has yielded at least ten points, including his 28 yesterday against St. John's in a game where the Wildcats erased a 10-point deficit over the final five minutes of regulation and prevailed in overtime, as well as his career-high 39-point, 13-rebound magnum opus against Cincinnati eight days ago.

"I'm just trying to make plays and help my team win," said Wayns yesterday after his free throws in overtime gave the Wildcats a three-point lead that turned out to be the winning margin at the buzzer.  "I'm trying to be aggressive."

On a team in which no seniors are part of Jay Wright's rotation, (the last time Villanova experienced something like this, the Wildcats advanced to a Sweet 16 as a No. 12 seed in 2008) Wayns has given Villanova a consistent scoring threat that is not afraid to take his game to another level when needed.  His 18-point average is something that Scottie Reynolds did not accomplish until his senior year, and a feat that Corey Fisher never got to add to his list of recognitions in four years on the Main Line.  What's even more impressive is the fact that barring a decision to forgo his final year of eligibility, Wayns will have one more campaign at the helm of the Wildcat offense with a more experienced team that already has one of the nation's better recruiting classes lined up for 2012.

Not only is he ready to run the show, Maalik Wayns has already gone on a national tour with it, igniting crowds both inside and outside 'Nova Nation.

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