When Jay Wright tells college basketball coaches from other parts of the country that he and the city's five other Division 1 coaches sit at the same table and have breakfast the morning after Selection Sunday, he gets disbelieving responses.
After all, they are rivals. They frequently compete in the recruiting process and on the court.
"In no other city would coaches who play each other sit together for breakfast," Wright told the crowd at Monday's 13th annual Coaches vs. Cancer Tourney Tip-Off Breakfast at the Palestra. "Only in Philadelphia can you do something like this. I travel around and other coaches ask me, 'How do you do it?' "
Of course, the primary purpose for the affair, which drew about 700 fans, business leaders and corporate sponsors, is to raise money and awareness to fight cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the Philadelphia chapter of the Coaches vs. Cancer movement has raised about $6.5 million since 1996, more than any other chapter of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
Temple coach Fran Dunphy is the program's national chairman and St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli serves on its national council.
Many of the people in attendance who were looking for tips on which teams to pick in their office pools listened intently to the coaches make their picks. The smarter among them surely sensed a little bias.
For example, Wright said the winner of Friday's first-round game between No. 8 seed George Mason and his ninth-seed Villanova Wildcats would reach the Final Four.
"What else can I say?" he said with a laugh. He also chose No. 16 seed Boston University over No. 1 seed Kansas. His logic? Pat Chambers, one of his former assistant coaches and a Delaware County native, is head coach of the Terriers. And look out for No. 14 seed Bucknell against No. 3 seed Connecticut. "I know [UConn coach] Jim Calhoun is worried his team might be worn out," Wright said. "Bucknell could give them trouble." Bucknell, of course, is Wright's alma mater. Ultimately, he settled on Texas as the national champ.
"I think Pitt has the easiest bracket," he said.
Dunphy leaned toward defending national champion Duke. He has Kansas in the Final Four and suggested Utah State as a sleeper.
Martelli went with Florida, Kentucky, Kansas and Duke in the Final Four. "Kansas is the best team in the country and they'll probably cut down the nets," he said. For a first-round upset, he went with No. 11 seed Gonzaga over No. 6 seed St. John's.
After expressing surprise that Drexel didn't get a bid to the NIT despite beating Louisville and winning 21 games, La Salle coach John Giannini went with Duke, Kansas State, Ohio State and Notre Dame in the Final Four.
Bruiser Flint, the Drexel coach, went with Kansas, Pitt, Syracuse and Arizona. A former assistant coach at Massachusetts under John Calipari, Flint surprised everyone by not selecting Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats. "I just don't think they have enough players," he said.
Penn coach Jerome Allen went with Kansas, Pitt, Duke and Syracuse.
In general, No. 13 seed Belmont seems to be the fashionable choice for a first-round upset of No. 4 seed Wisconsin. There may be something to it. In a book Bracketeering, author Andrew Clark, who has picked four of the last six national champions, wrote the most important statistic in filling out a bracket is scoring margin. It just so happens Belmont is first in the country with an average scoring margin of 18.4 points. Belmont is followed by Ohio State, Kansas and Duke, all top seeds.
Watch video interviews from the Coaches vs. Cancer fund-raiser breakfast at http://go.philly.com/pretzelEndText