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Brian Westbrook Embraces A New Role


The most prolific offensive weapon in Villanova football history was certainly not used to being a spectator during his collegiate career.

On Saturday evening, though, Brian Westbrook will be one of over 76,000 expected in attendance at NRG Stadium in Houston for the Wildcats' Final Four showdown with Oklahoma.

"It's been great. It's been absolutely fantastic because as a student I loved basketball," Westbrook said in a phone interview this week before making the trip to cheer on his alma mater. "I always wanted to play. It's great as a fan being able to go to the games especially in Brooklyn and then in Louisville, just experiencing that, going back and forth and supporting the team. It kind of makes you feel like a kid again a little bit because you're so excited for the team, you want them to do so well."

Westbrook was the best football player at the I-AA level by the end of his time at Villanova, as he captured the Walter Payton Award in 2001. The men's basketball team wasn't quite on Westbrook's level back then. The Wildcats made just one NCAA Tournament appearance while Westbrook was a student athlete and that concluded with a first-round exit in 1999. However, the end of Westbrook's career coincided with the arrival of head basketball coach Jay Wright. The Wildcats are in the NCAA Tournament for the 11th time in the past 12 seasons and in the Final Four for the second time since 2009.

"Jay Wright is a sharp mind, a sharp basketball mind," said Westbrook, who spent time with Wright this past fall when the 'Nova and Fordham football squads were squaring off. "You have to remember, Villanova is a 6,000-student school. It's a small school. It's hard to recruit out there, but Jay has done a great job of getting good prospects there."

The Wildcats already clashed with Saturday's opponent earlier this season. The Sooners handed Villanova its first loss. For the Wildcats to avert a final defeat, Westbrook highlighted what has been the most improved aspect of Villanova's performance during the tournament.

"The biggest thing for them is they're playing good defense," Westbrook said. "Even though they're a 3-point shooting team, they have to be able to play defense in case they start missing their shots. They've done a good job of playing aggressive defense that's kept them in all of the games.

"If you're playing good defense, then you have a chance to be in the game. Kansas (Villanova's opponent in the Elite Eight) had good scorers as well, but they were able to slow them down a little bit. They played a little bit of zone. They mixed in man-to-man here and there. They were able to stay out of significant foul trouble and play the entire game. That's what's going to be key here."

North Carolina plays Syracuse in the other Final Four matchup. There will be another Eagles Hall of Famer in attendance as Donovan McNabb is working the Syracuse broadcast for truTV. Westbrook has not engaged his former teammate in any trash talk.

"Not yet. We have to win this game first," Westbrook said. "You have to remember, this is a team that blew us out earlier in the year. We weren't playing our best basketball. We can't look past any team because if we do we're going to be in trouble."

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