Saddiq Bey’s farewell remarks when he announced in June he’d be leaving Villanova for the NBA Draft were anything but typical. One word in his opening line spoke volumes about who he is, and what kind of player the team that drafts him in October is getting.
“I have thought a lot about my decision to enter the NBA Draft,” Bey said, “and specifically how that would impact my coaching staff, teammates and professors.”
Suffice it to say if most players who announce for the Draft allow their professors to enter into their decision about whether they stay or go, they keep it to themselves. That Bey chose to consider his instructors and give them a shout out tells us that, even though he’s leaving higher education behind after just two years, he valued it.
“I’ve been blessed to be able to build relationships with professors in my short time at Villanova,” Bey says. “It’s part of the whole process thing. I wanted to thank them for what they did for me over those two years. That definitely entered into my decision. I was fortunate enough to have great professors and I’ll always be appreciative of what they did for me.”
Bey, a 6-foot-8 prototypical NBA wing player, has always understood the benefits of a good education thanks to his mother Drewana Bey, who played college basketball at Charlotte, went on to earn a PhD in educational leadership, became a high school principal, and is now the instructional superintendent of secondary schools in the Washington, D.C. public system. You don’t reach that station in life without working hard. Bey’s mother showed him that by example.
Why is this important for Bey’s future NBA employer? Bey, after first having signed with NC State before leaving after that program became embroiled in the FBI’s investigation of college basketball recruiting in 2018, chose carefully the second time around. He wanted to go to a place where he could learn in the classroom and the court, and where hard work and a desire to get better were part of the philosophy.
That’s why he chose Villanova. Seldom does a pairing of player and school mesh so perfectly.
Villanova coach Jay Wright has built a formidable program by recruiting players who are content to wait their turn, work hard, accept skills coaching, and be ready to shine when their time comes.
So it was for Bey, who willingly accepted the role of defender and rebounder when he was a freshman. Phil Booth and Eric Paschall were the Wildcats’ big guns then, but Bey, who played nearly 30 minutes a game, made his contributions, too, averaging 8.2 points and shooting a rock-solid .374 from 3-point range. After Booth and Paschall presided over a team that finished 26-10 and 13-5 in the Big East, Bey knew he was the next man up.
He trained accordingly in the summer of 2019.
“By the end of that summer, you look up and see he’s gained 15 pounds of muscle,” says Villanova assistant Kyle Neptune. “His handle had gotten better, his jump shot was better, and he was way more confident.”
Bey’s preparation paid huge dividends. Last season he doubled his scoring average as the Wildcats won a share of the Big East regular-season championship, earning All-Big East honors and eventually the Julius Erving Award, given to the nation’s top small forward. That put him in the best of company at a school that churns out Erving Award winners—Josh Hart (2017) and Mikal Bridges (2018) had been anointed previously.
Two other things stood out about Bey’s final season at Villanova. Despite the NCAA’s longer 3-point line—moved from 20 feet nine inches to 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches for the 2019-20 season—he increased his percentage to .451, fourth in the nation. And defensively, he became the Wildcats’ stopper. Bey was smart enough as a freshman to figure out defense and rebounding would be the first things to get him on the court. Even as he was increasing nearly every important offensive statistic from his first season, he never forgot the value of versatility, and of being able to guard.