Five years after leaving Malvern’s campus as an Inter-Ac champion, Kevin Rafferty ’11 is now a NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champion, playing a key leadership role on Villanova’s 2015-2016 championship squad.
Rafferty played basketball all four years while at Malvern, starting on the freshman team. Malvern alumnus and teacher Andrew DiDominico ’02 recalled coaching Rafferty in ninth grade.
“He always competed, giving every talent he had for the good of the team,” DiDomenico said. He was, and is, one of those few guys who truly loved the game, and was a very cerebral player.”
DiDomenico’s descriptions held true for Rafferty beyond freshman year. He transferred from Tufts University to Villanova, where he made the team as a walk-on.
“I loved my experience [at Tufts], but my dad got sick,” Rafferty said. “So, I decided after my freshman year at Tufts to transfer back home, [and go to Villanova].”
Rafferty attended Villanova because it was a good school and close enough to home to be able to see his dad, who eventually recovered. But he still yearned for the game of basketball.
“It got to the point where I had enough time, and I missed basketball,” he said. “So I put all my eggs in one basket, and decided to work my butt off to make the team.”
Without any roster spots available, Rafferty practiced with the team regularly and dressed in a suit for home games. Eventually, his hard work paid off when he got to dress in uniform, and he has been a part of the the team ever since.
“It was an unbelievable feeling when I got that call from [Jay Wright] saying I made the team,” Rafferty said. “I truly think everything happens for a reason, and I think that was a result of that.”
Now, Rafferty is known to most of the students and Villanova fans as 1 of the 3 members of the “bench mob,” due to their zany bench celebrations. However, his real role within the team goes much deeper.
“[Jay Wright] gave us [seniors] a ton of leadership responsibilities,” he said. “We had to be vocal leaders on game day and in practice and be examples for guys, as well as off the court being mentors to the underclassmen.”
One of the guys Rafferty mentored was the player who hit the shot that everyone will remember, Kris Jenkins. Jenkins trailed the ball handler Ryan Arcidiacono during the final seconds of the tied National Championship game and made the game winning three point shot as time expired after a pass from Arcidiacono.
Rafferty’s most memorable moment from the NCAA tournament was different, though.
“We had a practice before the Iowa game, and I’d never seen our team so focused,” he said. “It was a moment where we all kind of looked at each other and knew we couldn’t be anymore prepared for this game.”
The Cats brought that same focus and hunger with them in every game for the rest of the tournament, finishing it off with the national title.
Since winning the title, life for the Wildcats has become pretty crazy. Some guys have to take a different route to class because they know if they take the main route, they won’t make it to class on time because of students wanting to take pictures, according to Rafferty.
Rafferty also added that they can’t go to the mall anymore with Daniel Ochefu because of fans wanting to take pictures, sometimes taking 35-40 minutes just to get through Nordstrom.
“It’s all good stuff, though. It’s a good problem to have.” he said.
On April 22, Rafferty came to Malvern to talk with the Middle School in the chapel.
He discussed his journey, offered advice for working hard in school, and discussed the importance of teamwork.
He told the middle school that before playing for the Malvern high school basketball team, not many remember him a middle school player. “[He was] more of a basketball than a basketball player,” Mr. Chinici said.
How he got to the national championship? “I just kept working really hard,” Rafferty said. “I just loved being on a team.”
Rafferty told the middle school that he especially loved Head Coach Jay Wright’s leadership. “His program is about family,” Rafferty said. “No one cared about who got the credit.”
In the Villanova gym, the word “attitude” is on the backboard of the basketball hoop. According to Rafferty, that does not just have to do with basketball, it has to do with life. “We all believe it,” he told the middle school. The team even breaks out of the huddle with the word “attitude.”
Before their Elite Eight game against Kansas, the players demonstrated a certain amount of attitude, by washing each others feet. It was a “very humbling experience,” Rafferty said.
Rafferty said his biggest takeaway from playing at Villanova will be his and the team’s ability to stay focused for so long with so many distractions around them.
And if you can stay focused while playing under the bright lights of the Final Four, you can stay focused through anything.