Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist is a Big East prime-time attraction

NEW YORK — Maddy Siegrist, reigning Big East player of the year, answers most questions with a kind of wry half-smile, game for most any query, strange or straightforward.

Don’t let that agreeableness fool you, her coach says.

“Maddy is by far one of the most competitive people I know — more than you might think,” said Villanova coach Denise Dillon on Tuesday at Big East media day at Madison Square Garden. “Even pickup, she won’t allow anyone to go through the motions.”

This, for the record, is a historic local college basketball career entering its late stages. There is no real expectation that Siegrist will come back next season for a fifth, pandemic-provided season of eligibility. But if the 6-foot-1 forward stays healthy for this fourth season, she’s on pace to leave as most prolific scorer in school history, men or women.

Shelly Pennefather tops that list with 2,408 points, with Kerry Kittles on top of the men’s list at 2,243. Siegrist is at 1,815 … making 2,408 a legit target since Siegrist scored 684 points last season despite missing six games. She averaged 25.3 points a game, second in the nation.

Could she play at, say, Connecticut? (Not that UConn, back to being the Big East gold standard, can take every good player.)

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“I think she can play anywhere in the country,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

Of course Auriemma could find room on his roster for the league’s player of the year. But the question was more about the type of player Siegrist has proven to be.

“When you compete that hard, as she does,” Auriemma said. “And you have that kind of skill set, as she does, I don’t think there’s a school in the country, if she had an opportunity to practice with them, that she wouldn’t be in the starting lineup at some point. ”

At Villanova, it turned out to be immediately, her development taking off from there. No, Siegrist laughed … she’d never heard from UConn as a high school recruit.

“I wasn’t good enough to go to UConn,” Siegrist said.

That was then.

“She’d be a good player in our league just because she does the dirty work,” said DePaul coach Doug Bruno. “You add that talent, she’s special.”

Maybe UConn’s Paige Bueckers would have been last season’s Big East player of the year if she hadn’t broken her leg, since she’d been the national player of the year in 2020-21. With Bueckers missing so much of the season, Siegrist took the league honor, no-brainer. With Bueckers out again this season with a torn ACL, Siegrist is the preseason choice for player of the year, no-brainer.

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Dillon attributes a fair bit of Villanova breaking through last season and winning an NCAA Tournament game to not just Siegrist the player but Siegrist the leader.

“She definitely took the time to understand what being a leader means,” Dillon said. “She convinced the younger players they were ready, they could do it. That power of persuasion is a special gift.”

Dillon added, “I think that’s why, to be honest, her teammates have been so supportive. Maddy takes a lot of shots. She can dominate a game at times. But there’s never [backlash]. Even at practice, they don’t waver.”

Not always the case with big scorers.

“Oh, no doubt,” Dillon said. “They recognize her work and how much she trusts them as well, bringing them along.”

Will she throw some tough love at her younger teammates or leave that to the coaches?

“Yes, she will, she’ll even do that,” Dillon said, noting she’s seen it more lately.

Bruno of DePaul said there’s no simple X’s-and-O’s defensive solution for Siegrist since she’ll hurt you inside and out. A reporter noted to Dillon that Siegrist’s low turnover rate last season was elite, even for the WNBA level.

“I was actually pleased with that in her game,” Dillon said. “She was looking to pass the ball more. Her passing skills had improved. It’s good decision-making. It sounds so simple — get a shot on the rim each possession. When it makes sense to a player — don’t try to make more happen. Get a shot.”

Don’t overcomplicate things, Dillon said. Funny to say that about someone who scored at least 30 points nine times last season.

Villanova opens its season Nov. 7 at Marist. That’s like the Super Bowl combined with the Final Four for Siegrist, who went to high school nearby in Poughkeepsie, NY Her father played basketball at Marist. Both of her parents went there.

She’d been asked whom she modeled her game after. A funny question to her. She’s a ballplayer. Which players doesn’t she watch? But she answered it.

“Probably a mix — my dad’s a big Larry Bird fan,” Siegrist said. “Obviously he was done playing by the time I was born. But I really liked watching his highlights, how he played.”

The second: a former Marist star, Rachele Fitz, a two-time MAAC player of the year when Siegrist was in grade school. Another 6-foot forward who scored 2,000 career points. “She was like the standard for me,” Siegrist said.

Dillon said it’s possible that the best version of Siegrist will be when she’s 25 or 26, at the next level. It’s also entirely possible that the special years are happening right now, right around here.

“You want to be sure to get the best Maddy Siegrist we can,” Dillon said, “as opposed to thinking what that might look like in two or three years.”

Siegrist has some NIL deals going, and an agent who does only NIL deals, but she said she wasn’t trying to go crazy with that stuff.

“It’s not the reason I play basketball,” Siegrist said. “I’m a basketball player.”

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