Change is the one constant in college sports, and everyone at Villanova knew the 2018 national champions were in for some major shakeups even before the nets were cut down that first Monday in April in San Antonio.
It was completely expected that redshirt junior Mikal Bridges and junior Jalen Brunson, the consensus national player of the year, would give up their final years of eligibility and enter the 2018 NBA draft. The surprise came in May when sophomores Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman liked what they had heard about their chances and stayed in the draft rather than return to the Main Line.
Just like that, the Wildcats went from a team that would've been considered highly capable of defending its NCAA title to one that lost its top four scorers and four of its top five players in minutes played.
Suddenly, redshirt senior forward Eric Paschall was the leading returning scorer and more importantly, along with fellow redshirt senior Phil Booth, a guy expected to lead an inexperienced squad in the Villanova way.
The transfer from Fordham who has been a member of two NCAA-championship teams at 'Nova takes it in stride.
"We knew what kind of players [DiVincenzo and Spellman] were, so it was no surprise that they were drafted [17th and 30th overall] in the first round," said Paschall, who returns as the leading scorer (10.6 points per game) and rebounder (5.3). "It changes the dynamic of our team because we are a lot younger and have a lot of new dudes.
"But it's fine. We still take on the challenge. We can't worry about it. They made their decision. So we wish them well and move on.
"We honestly don't think about it. Our goal is to become the best team that we can be by the end of the year. That was the goal last season. Like last year, we will play hard every day, we'll play Villanova basketball every day, and see where that takes us."
The "Villanova Way," the culture of the Wildcats basketball program under coach Jay Wright, is why Paschall transferred after being named the 2014-15 Atlantic 10 freshman of the year while playing at Fordham. Sitting out after his transfer, he practiced with but did not play for the 2015-16 NCAA champion. He mostly came off the bench in 2016-17, before starting 38 games and averaging 29.8 minutes last season.
"Obviously, because of our inexperience, I take on a bigger role," said Paschall, who said he had thought about testing the draft waters. "What I do will still be the same. I still have to defend, have to rebound, play hard every possession, and trust in my teammates."
That last one could be the key to how quickly the Wildcats develop and if it will be enough to become a serious contender in March.
With Brunson, Bridges and Booth, Villanova had three guys who contributed heavily en route to a title in 2016.
Had DiVincenzo and Spellman returned, the Wildcats would have had four guys who averaged more than 27 minutes and 10 points from last season's title-winning team.
Now, it's just Paschall and Booth and the hopes that sophomores Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, and Jermaine Samuels are ready for increased roles or that highly recruited freshmen Jahvon Quinerly, Cole Swider and/or Brandon Slater make(s) an impact right away.
Leading "is a role I'm ready for," Paschall said. "Throughout my years here, I've seen how other upperclassmen have led. … It came naturally for them.