Focus, Toughness and Teamwork Paid Off for Villanova Basketball


The 2015-16 Villanova men’s basketball team wasn’t loaded with superstars or future NBA lottery picks. But, the Wildcats employed focus, toughness and teamwork to claim the 2016 National Title and finish with an impressive 35-5 record. 

The foundation for the successful NCAA Tournament run wasn’t built in front of huge crowds and TV cameras. It was forged from hard work on the practice court and dedication in the weight room.

In 2013, Villanova outfitted the weight room in the Davis Center with Hammer Strength HD Elite racks and a variety of Hammer Strength plate-loaded equipment. Then, John Shackleton, Villanova’s basketball strength and performance coach, went to work.

“My strength training philosophy is grounded in effort and technique," said Shackleton. "I believe before all else you must bring an honest effort to every training session and take pride in having great technique. I like to keep things very simple. We progress only if proficiency in the basics is demonstrated. This approach allows me to be highly adaptable.”


The Wildcats amassed 35 wins largely because they outworked, outhustled and outmuscled opponents. They hit the court for loose balls, were unselfish on offense and played with intelligence. During the NCAA tourney, Villanova was strong on the defensive end and made it tough for opponents to find good shots both on the perimeter and in the paint.

“The toughness displayed on the court is indicative of our culture,” explained Shackleton. “The weight room is a key place within our program where toughness is cultivated. We instill toughness in training sessions by coaching our players through fatigue. During summer developmental phases we have our players push through heavy loads, extra reps, timed circuits, even a yoga session that is in a 110-degree heated room. We throw a lot of different situations/environments at athletes and give them no choice but to adapt. By doing this our players develop resilient minds and bodies.”

Villanova also benefited from solid leadership. In an era where one-and-done players are prominent at the Division I level, the Wildcats had a dedicated senior class including point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and forward Daniel Ochefu.

Our seniors were leaders in the weight room. They took ownership of the training program and held players accountable to our standards. As a coach it’s always great to see your older players coaching up the younger players. The underclassmen feed off the focus and the commitment by demonstrating an ‘all in’ mindset.  The younger players were willing to do what it takes to improve.

- Shackleton


The combination of athleticism and hard work paid off big time for Villanova during the 2015-16 season. The commitment to excellence resulted in the school’s first national championship since 1985, and bragging rights for the basketball-focused schools of the Big East Conference.

“The work in the weight room makes our players minds and bodies strong and resilient," added Shackleton. "Each player had the confidence that he could guard anybody on the court. This was seen all season where Arcidiacono would be battling a forward underneath the basket or when Ochefu was out on the perimeter against a guard. Our players are versatile due to their overall strength and toughness.”


Photo courtesy of Villanova Sports Information Department