All season long the Villanova Wildcats have been led by National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart. But over the past few games a new star has been emerging on the Main Line.
In Villanova’s past two games, sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson has been carrying the load for the Wildcats. In Saturday's win over #10 Creighton, Brunson posted a season–high 27 points. He followed up that impressive performance by dropping 23 points in a loss to Butler. His 27 points against Creighton earned him Big East Player of the Week honors.
With his recent performances, a lot of the country is just now finding out who Jalen Brunson is. But the spotlight is nothing new for Brunson. At Stevenson High School (Lincolnshire, IL) Brunson was rated as the nation's number one point guard and was named Illinois Mr. Basketball. During his senior season at Stevenson Brunson averaged 23.3 points and won a state championship. Brunson finished his high school career as a McDonald's All-American and a first-team Parade All-American.
Brunson arrived at Villanova as the school's most hyped recruit since All-American Scottie Reynolds. Brunson came in and started for the Wildcats as a freshman but took more of a learning role behind senior Ryan Arcidiacono. Even though he wasn’t the main guy for the Wildcats, Brunson played a key role on a team that won the National Championship; averaging 9.6 points per game and posting big performances against Penn, Temple and Creighton. As a freshmen Brunson was named to the Big East All-Freshmen team.
A major question coming into this season for the Wildcats was whether or not they'd be able to replace the production and leadership of Ryan Arcidiacono. Luckily for the Wildcats, Brunson has filled those shoes perfectly. He is a pass-first point guard but knows he needs to score too. Brunson has a great knack for getting to the rim and has been great at finding his teammates this season. Brunson comes from a great basketball bloodline as his father Rick played nine seasons in the NBA and is currently an assistant coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
While his play has been outstanding this season, Brunson has been emerging as a leader for the Wildcats. Head Coach Jay Wright calls Brunson "an old soul," saying even though he is a sophomore he leads and plays as a senior would. Brunson’s leadership was on display last Saturday with his team struggling early on the road at Creighton. Brunson stepped up and hit a few big shots to give the Wildcats momentum to lead them to victory.
The breakout of Jalen Brunson is huge for the Wildcats, not just for this season but especially going forward. The Wildcats will lose Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins after this season and Brunson will be the key of the offense going forward. With his emerging play, Brunson could very well be one of the best point guards in college basketball and will give the Wildcats a better shot of repeating this March.