Before the 3-pointer that stunned the nation, there was the pass.
74-74, 1.8 seconds. Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono, without the slightest hesitation, passes the ball deftly to an open Kris Jenkins. The decision resulted in a few mild (read: stupendous) celebrations and a National Championship. Arcidiacono’s pass evoked more than a simple willingness to finish the play effectively; it was a result of his hard-wired instinct to selflessly ball to excellence.
Arcidiacono may no longer be playing for the Wildcats, but his legacy of quality guard play has not left the team. In fact, ‘Nova fans who anticipated sorely feeling the loss of Arch have instead been met with a welcome force: Jalen Brunson.
Since Brunson’s arrival to the Main Line, the comparisons to Arcidiacono were readily made. Early in Brunson’s freshman 2015-16 season, Coach Jay Wright even remarked that the 6’2 guard from Lincolnshire, Ill. reminded him of a “left-handed Arch.”
The conclusion isn’t far-fetched and has only gained more truth the longer Brunson has repped #1 for the Wildcats. For the skeptical minds questioning whether Brunson, only in his sophomore year, can rise to the hype surrounding Arcidiacono, a look into each player’s statistics reveal their strong similarities.
Arcidiacono had an explosive freshman debut in the 2012-13 season. Named Big East Rookie of the Week four times, Arch was also the first ‘Nova freshman to score 25 points in a game since Scottie Reynolds. Averaging 11.9 points per game, the Philadelphia native tallied up 34% in field goals, 32% of 3-pointers, and ended the year with 119 assists. Sophomore year, Arcidiacono further flaunted his soon-to-be expected clutch power plays, increasing his season averages to 39% FGs, 34% of 3FGs, and 118 assists.
Brunson had an equally impressive freshman season. Much like Arch, Brunson held a starting spot with the Wildcats and he made his presence known. Also nailing the elusive status of a ‘Nova freshman scoring 25 points (against Temple, his father’s alma mater, no less), Brunson closed out his season averaging 45.2% FG, 38.3% 3FGs, 100 assists, and 9.6 points per game. Named to the Big East All-Freshman squad, Brunson’s drive continued into the post-season. Scoring double digits against UNC-Asheville and Iowa, Brunson also made a habit of scoring successful free throws in pressure situations throughout the NCAA tournament.
It should also be noted that, despite his strong opening, Brunson’s initial season may not have displayed the full purview of his skills. A typical concern for many freshmen, but in Brunson’s case, the presence of an ultra-talented, senior guard like Arcidiacono may have lead to a certain level of deference on the court.
With Arch’s senior shadow no longer a factor, Brunson’s sophomore season holds the potential to unleash robust leadership and playmaking for Villanova. And Brunson isn’t waiting to cement his impact. For perspective, in his sophomore year, Arcidiacono was the team’s highest scorer in two games during the season. Conversely, in the only nine games played so far this year, Brunson has already been the highest scorer in two games—and the schedule is just warming up.
Averaging 13.2 points per game, Brunson has revved his shooting with scoring 49% FGs and 43% 3FGs. Most recently, in Villanova’s near stalemate against La Salle, Brunson dropped a critical 26 points for the Wildcats’ 89-79 win.
Statistics aside, Arcidiacono’s legacy is difficult to encapsulate concisely. His relentlessness in keeping plays alive and surges of energy in high-intensity moments were uniquely innate specialities that added a stylized grit to his play. In a time where Villanova was routinely overlooked and dismissed on simple contentions like physical size, Arcidiacono was a steady beacon reminding “the haters,” and vindicating fans, that when you’re this good, the world can’t ignore it for long.
Brunson’s game echoes the unabating hustle heralded by Arcidiacono. As guards, both players have exhibited a knack for conducting complex plays with a smooth touch. Their keenness for consistently crafting successful offensive drives is matched only by their handling insight on the court. Overall, Brunson’s charged style of play is complemented by same type of selflessness manifested in Arch’s famous pass: hustle, hustle to the ball and send it swiftly to it’s best opportunity.
Ultimately, Arcidiacono translated his early Villanova success into a lasting ‘Nova legend. Dubbed the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA’s Final Four, Arcidiacono also holds the exclusive rank of being the first player to score over 1,500 points and over 500 assists at Villanova. He undoubtedly left high standards for Brunson to fulfill.
With only a season’s worth of experience, Brunson has positioned himself as not simply Arcidiacono’s successor, but a fellow legend-in-training.