NEW YORK– Villanova junior point guard Jalen Brunson heard all about the crosstown Big 5 rivalry between Temple and the Rollie Massimino’s Big East Wildcats from his father Rick when he was growing up in Lincolnshire, Ill.
Rick Brunson was a star guard for Hall of Fame coach John Chaney when the Owls were a nationally ranked Atlantic 10 power that dominated city basketball and later played for nine years in the NBA.
“I heard those games were testy,’’ he said.
Most people expected Jalen, a McDonald’s All America point guard, to follow in his father’s footsteps and sign with Temple. .
But that was never the case. Brunson committed to Villanova in September of his senior year at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill.
“Villanova recruited me for two years,’’ he said. “I liked the staff and the program. They had a history of great guards like Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, Scottie Reynolds and Ryan Arcidiacono and I wanted to be part of that legacy.’’
The 6-2 Brunson, who led his team to the Illinois state 4A championship and was the MVP of the 2015 U19 World Championships in Crete, was one of the few potential one-and-dones Jay Wright has signed, along with this year’s 6-9 redshirt freshman Omari Spellman, the current Big East Rookie of the Year. .
But he never took the bait. Instead, he waited his turn, playing the off guard position and allowing Arcidiacono to run the offense during the Cats’ national championship run in 2016.
“My freshman year? No decision,” he said.
“Sophomore year? No decision,” he said.
“I want to graduate,” Brunson claimed. “I want to play in the NBA some day. But the NBA will always be there.”
In the meantime, a slimmed down Brunson is building his own legend, being selected Big East pre-season Player of the Year by the coaches.
These are heady days for Jay Wright’s program. The Cats, who finished 32-4, won a fourth consecutive Big East regular season title, a second conference tournament in three years and were ranked No. 1 in the final AP poll last year despite missing two starters– Spellman and Phil Booth, who scored 20 points in the 2016 national championship game. “I was really proud of our kids,” Wright said. “I know our fans weren’t happy with the early exit from the tournament, but we never judge ourselves by what we do in March.”
The Cats have four players– Spellman, Brunson, junior forward Mikal Bridges and sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo– who could play in the NBA someday and should open the season in the Top 10 again.
Wright has built his empire with undervalued players who develop into stars and stay for four years. He had only had one player– Lowry– leave before his junior year and he has a contract worth $100 million with the Toronto Raptors.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to get a one-and-one player,” Wright said. “I just can’t get it done. I would like Omari to be a one-and done if he’s really good. But Villanova, is the type of school, if you’re going to be a one and done, you are probably better off going somewhere else. Omari didn’t come to be a one and done. He came to get a Villanova education but he may be good enough. Maybe not.
“I just have to be honest and say a lot of those one and done guys, we recruited them but we just didn’t get them. And i want them. I just wish the rule was different– if you’re good enough to get paid, you get paid. And if you go to college, you stay three years, like the baseball rule. I don’t know
To date, Wright had never coached a one and done.
In the wake of the wide spread FBI investigation into corruption and bribery that hit college basketball last week, it may be the best way to go.
Wright, for his part, is a huge proponent of players being allowed to declare for the NBA draft right out of high school. “What I’d like to see is the NBA invest in the G-League so that kids can go right out of high school can make money at that age and are talented enough, let them go. They need money. Then, guys who want to go to college and play college basketball, they should be able to to school, get an education and play. I think that’s a start. College basketball and the NBA have to work together.
so when people watch college basketball, they know they’re watching kids who want to be in college. When they watch the G-League, they’re watching kids who want to make money.’
Whether the NBA Players Association will allow that to happen is anybody’s guess. “I don’t know why the NBA does what they do,” he said. “But they have a lot of smart guys. I just wish we could get together in a room and discuss it so we could make our case and they could tell us how they feel.”
In the meantime, Villanova isn’t taking chances on tarnished a pristine reputation. The school has a compliance director traveling with the team to make sure agents and runners don’t get into the way of what could be a special season.