It's been more than three months since Villanova rising junior and former Mount Saint Joseph basketball star Phil Booth had the game of his life on college basketball's biggest stage. In helping the Wildcats claim the NCAA national championship – coming away with a thrilling 77-74 win over North Carolina on April 4 in Houston – Booth came off the bench to score a team- and career-high 20 points, shooting 6-for-7 from the field and making all six free throws.
A month after the big win, Booth had successful arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and was just fully cleared to play earlier this month. That's when we caught up with him and, not surprisingly, he was in the gym preparing for his junior season.
Looking back at what you and the team accomplished in winning the national championship, what are your thoughts now on that special Monday?
"You think about it every day – there was so much excitement. We worked all year for that and to win a national championship and the way we won it... We battled back after we felt we didn't play very well defensively in the first half. We just pulled together and the way it came out – I was just so happy for everybody. We were all in and it was a complete team effort.It was a beautiful thing."
What was your approach going into the game and what was it like playing so well in such a big game?
"I wanted to stay aggressive, keep the defense honest, being a threat out there at all times. I just wanted to bring a spark offensively or defensively – whatever the team needed at the time I was coming off the bench.That was my mindset coming in, the shots were falling for me and my teammates were looking for me, so they made it easier on me as well."
Of all the special moments that followed the win, you mentioned finding your mom and giving her a hug.What was that like and the entire aftermath?
"That was great – something I really enjoyed with my mom.After the game, just excitement, everybody had a lot of smiles, it was a priceless moment to see everybody so happy.There was so much excitement, you just can't control it.Coming back to school and seeing everybody on campus so happy for you – it was a great environment to be around. It was great to influence people in so many different ways."
How has your life changed since the win?
"Just a little bit more attention here and there, but I still live the same way from before it happened. So, no changes with me. It's just a little more attention – people take more notice to you, congratulating and thanking you. But I'm in the gym now trying to get better for next year."
You played through a knee injury for most of the season. What was that like and how is the knee now?
"I'm great – I'm fully cleared to play and played today, so I'm just happy to get back out there. Playing with the injury, I had to adjust my game a little bit, find ways to contribute off the bench because I couldn't move as well as I wanted to do. It was definitely an adjustment for me.Now I'm feeling better, I'm healthy.Rehab has been great, so I feel really good right now."
What are your thoughts on your junior season?
"We have a good team coming back and some good freshmen coming in, so we should be a pretty good team with the mix of older guys and younger. We expect to be a pretty good team.We just want to come in and play hard and stay aggressive and do the same things that are our core values."
How did playing for Mount Saint Joseph under coach Pat Clatchey help get you ready for succeeding in the big moments in college?
"Coach Clatchey is a great coach – he challenged me from the moment I got there.He always held me accountable on the court, so I was ready when things were going against me, any adversity to deal with.So he definitely prepared me for situations that I am in now. The big games and how to handle them, how to make sure I stay aggressive.He gave me a defensive mindset – coach always drilled defense to us, same as coach [Jay] Wright. So it was definitely a major help coming from coach Clatchey and Mount St. Joe.