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National champion Villanova gets raucous welcome home

 
Published April 6, 2016

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Once Villanova's band stopped playing its fight song, Jay Wright took over as pep rally conductor.

"Just for the hell of it, let's do it," he said to nearly 2,000 fans.

"When I say, Nova, you say, Nation!"

"Nova!"

"Nation!" they screamed back at the head coach.

The Wildcats gave their fans plenty of reason to go wild through March Madness — and more fun is ahead.

The national champions, who rallied then held off North Carolina 77-74 in Monday night's national title game in Houston, were welcomed back Tuesday at the airport with a police escort that swept rush hour cars off the interstate and dispatched them to Villanova's football stadium for a rally.

This was just a celebratory appetizer. Villanova will get a championship parade Friday.

The parade in Philadelphia will cover five blocks of Market Street and end outside City Hall, skipping the city's traditional athletic celebration route down Broad Street. The Phillies were the last major championship team to have a parade, in 2008 after they beat the Rays in the World Series.

Kris Jenkins' 3-pointer at the buzzer gave Villanova its second national title, following a stunner over Georgetown in 1985.

"I watched it quite a few times and every time it's just like, wow, I can't believe I was that open," Jenkins, at the rally, said of his shot. "Then I can't believe I made the shot. It's crazy."

Villanova had lost three times in the first weekend as a No. 1 or 2 seed since a Final Four run in 2009. Few had faith that the Big East champions could pull off a run to the first weekend in April.

ESPN said Villanova was picked to win it all in only 2.56 percent of its NCAA brackets and that more users selected No. 16 Hampton to advance out of the first round than selected Villanova to win it all.

A city yearning for a title from its disappointing big-bankroll pro teams — Eagles, Phillies, 76ers, Flyers — will fete a bunch of amateurs.

The 76ers' last title, in 1983, ended a golden age during which the city teams won six championships in 23 years — the Eagles in 1960, the Sixers in 1967 and '83, the Flyers in 1974 and '75 and the Phillies in 1980.Since '83, only the Phillies in '08 raised a championship banner.

Jenkins, Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu and the rest of the Wildcats had strands of net tied to their caps as they greeted fans. With three TV helicopters hovering overhead, Ochefu hoisted the trophy. Wright organized a championship photo on the stage with hundreds fans as the backdrop. He tweeted the photo with the caption, "NOVA NATION YOU ARE THE BEST!" He's scheduled to take a congratulatory phone call from President Barack Obama today.

unc fans turn out: The school estimated more than 3,000 fans greeted the Tar Heels at the Smith Center upon their return from the airport Tuesday afternoon. "We had a great run," guard Marcus Paige told the crowd. "That's not quite the way we wanted to end it. A little bit later we're going to be really proud about what we did. And I hope you guys are proud of us." Coach Roy Williams said: "These guys gave us an unbelievable run. For the last five weeks, it's been the most fun I've ever had as a college basketball coach." North Carolina point guard Joel Berry sustained a left foot injury in the championship game. He was on crutches with his foot in a protective boot Tuesday. Team spokesman Steve Kirschner says Berry woke up in pain with what is believed to be a sprain, and will get further evaluation.

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