Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Experienced players critical for teams during NCAA Tournament runs

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BOSTON — One and done.

If you are a college basketball fan, that's a major topic of conversation. If you're not, I'm referring to the phenomenon of men's basketball players coming out of high school, playing one year of Division I college basketball and then opting for the NBA Draft.

This morning, however, we focus on the opposite. Because without three-year starter Jalen Brunson, Villanova would not be playing this afternoon.

There is something to be said for the five-star prospect who comes in and changes your team around like Marvin Bagley III at Duke. That presence when things are looking badly, and the veteran comes through because he or she knows what has to be done might just be why Duke (with senior Grayson Allen) is still playing and John Calipari's freshman-loaded Kentucky team — without that veteran leadership — has gone home.

"I think our experience is definitely going to be able to help," Brunson said after Friday's win over West Virginia at TD Garden, a win that put the Wildcats into the Elite Eight.

"Just being able to go through what we did a couple of years ago and last year. It shows the highs and lows of college basketball," he said. "I just think it comes so much thinking it's our next game. Our next game is our biggest game. Nothing changes, no matter who we play, where we play, what kind of game it is.

"Nothing changes for us."

In the walkup to Friday's Sweet 16 game, Villanova coach Jay Wright was asked about the experience factor. To nobody's surprise, the veteran coach said it was truly important.

"We don't have any seniors, but I know you're talking about Jalen Brunson and [Mikel] Bridges and [Phil] Booth," Wright said, referring to his three junior captains. "The further you advance in this tournament, the more unique the experience is. For instance, when you get to a Final Four, there's no way you can explain it to somebody before you get there, what it's going to be like.

"These guys have seen it all. So I think they're really valuable to our younger guys."

Maybe if there was a Jalen Brunson on Calipari's Kentucky team, the Wildcats might still be playing instead of those one-and-done players getting ready for the NBA combines.

Brunson is a second-generation college standout. His father Rick played for Hall of Famer John Chaney at Temple and then went on to have a 10-year career as a journeyman.

Rick Brunson played seven games for the Celtics and averaged 3.7 points per game. I do believe that Jalen's 27 points on 8-for-15 shooting from the floor, 3 for 6 from 3-point range, and 8 for 9 from the foul line surpassed what dad did in his entire Celtics career.

Watching Jalen Brunson play Friday, you had to realize that without his experience, Villanova could very well be on its way back to the land of cheese steaks and pretzels with mustard.

Watching him made me wonder how he would look in Celtic green? But that is a rumination for another day.

The fact that Jalen Brunson has gone three years at college is the polar opposite of the one-and-done player. But the Big East powers have suggested the possibility of a two-and-done instead. It is something that Villanova's coach and players think might not be a bad idea. And that would fit into what he believes is the "Villanova Way."

"It's just our culture is such that we want someone that wants to be in college, and if they're good enough to leave in one year — Kyle Lowry was good enough in two years," said Wright. "If they're good enough to be a first-round pick in one year, great and go, and let's work out a way for you to come back and finish your degree and remain a part of the Villanova community."

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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