The Chicagoland area has housed a myriad of talented basketball players over the years. Jahlil Okafor, Derrick Rose, and Jabari Parker. Anthony Davis, Michael Finley, and Tim Hardaway. Illini legend Kendall Gill, Hersey Hawkins and Juwawn Howard. Dwyane Wade, Maurice Cheeks, and Mark Aguirre.
And then, there is the bevy of guards who have been taught, schooled and dished out by Villanova Wildcats head coach Jay Wright. It has almost become an art for Wright, and it's how he has consistently been able to win at the collegiate level. Randy Foye and Allan Ray. Kyle Lowry and Scottie Reynolds. Ryan Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard. Wright has had an embarrassment of riches in his 14-year tenure with the 'Cats and it has vaulted him into becoming not only one of the best coaches in the Big East Conference, but the entire nation as well.
Looming in the distance could be the next great guard for Villanova and the next great hooper from The Windy City.
His name is Jalen Brunson.
It was September 10, 2014 that the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Stevenson High School point guard decided to commit to Villanova. Choosing 'Nova over the likes of Temple and Illinois, Wright was gifted another supremely talented guard that joins a long list of supremely talented guards to play under his direction. Much like the aforementioned Lowry, Ray, Foye, Reynolds, Hilliard and Arcidiacono before him, Jalen is a beast of a basketball player and has displayed nothing but his fiery tenacity ever since committing to the back-to-back Big East regular season champions.
You could look at his dominating performance in the Class 4A Championship Game in March first. Brunson, a McDonald's All-American, led his Stevenson Patriots to their first-ever state championship in a 57-40 victory over Normal Community. Jalen scored 30 in the victory, a record-breaking performance that usurped a bevy of talented players before him in the suburban Chicago area.
Or you might take a gander at his run in the FIBA U19 Championships if that's your fancy. His 30 points against Greece in the semifinals might be what jumps out at you. Or it could be the 14-point, 5-rebound, seven-assist and zero-turnover outing he had in the finals over Croatia that helped vault him to being named as the MVP of the event and a member of the All-Tournament Team.
Don't take it from just me, either.
So much to love about his game. Arch more at combo guard, Brunson will run Nova by March. 1-and-done? https://t.co/HZn0JDCUzx— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) July 5, 2015
Villanova's Jay Wright just did a backflip into his pool at his Fourth of July barbecue. Why? Jalen Brunson.— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) July 4, 2015
Jalen Brunson's the kind of guy you win big with as a freshman— Dan Dakich (@dandakich) July 5, 2015
'He could lead a European club team now. Villanova is getting an exceptional talent.'--USA-Greece play-by-play man on Jalen Brunson— Josh Newman (@Joshua_Newman) July 4, 2015
Scouts are enamored with Brunson's ability to make plays, score, and run an offense. Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress says of Brunson, "Excellent ball-handler. Rarely turned the ball over. Very sure-handed with decision making. Terrific on the pick and roll. Play swiht great pace. Uses body to create space, handles ball on a string, makes very good decisions."
Even as a freshman, it's likely that Brunson will see the floor early and often. Villanova will have some holes to replace as Darrun Hilliard and Dylan Ennis - two of 'Nova's starters from the 2014-15 squad that won both the Big East regular season and tournament titles - have since departed. Co-Big East Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono is back for more and so is rising sophomore Phil Booth, who looked good in limited action as a freshman last season. Not to mention 2014-15 Big East Sixth Man of the Year Josh Hart, who just so happens to be coming off his best season whilst donning the 'Nova colors.
Brunson's talent should find itself to win out though and it wouldn't be surprising to anybody if he and Arch share the floor with each other when November rolls around.
And when that happens, the realm of the Big East and college basketball as a whole had ought to prepare themselves accordingly. Jalen Brunson could be what vaults Villanova over the top.