Across the college basketball landscape, not too many players have had a better 13 month stretch than Jalen Brunson.
From March 2015-April 2016, Brunson won an Illinois State Championship (and Mr. Basketball for the state of Illinois), a FIBA U19 Championship (and MVP), and a National Championship with the Villanova Wildcats.
Oftentimes, top recruits coming into blueblood basketball programs have pressure to succeed from the first day. While Villanova had high expectations for Brunson, they also had a wealth of talent and depth at guard for the youngster to learn from and develop with.
Brunson started Villanova’s first game of the season against Fairleigh Dickinson, in which he recorded 12 points on 4-6 shooting and added four assists.
From that point on, Brunson found himself in the starting lineup for the remainder of Villanova’s nonconference slate, averaging 11.6 points and 2.8 assists per game.
Phil Booth got the start over Brunson in the Wildcats’ Big East opener against Xavier, but Brunson was still able to chip in nine points off the bench as the Wildcats cruised to victory. That game would mark the only time Brunson would come off the bench in the 2015-16 season, starting 39/40 (97.5%) games for Villanova. That mark is the highest for a Villanova freshman since Ryan Arcidiacono started 34/34 in the 2012-13 season.
As Big East play continued on, Brunson’s numbers improved steadily. Brunson boasted one of the best Effective Field Goal % (51.7) and one of the best True Shooting % (55.8) in conference play. While Brunson’s best game of the season came in mid-February, it wasn’t against a Big East opponent.
On February 17, Villanova took on Big 5 rival Temple. The Owls had recruited Brunson at one time, as his father Rick played for Temple in the early 90s. Jalen scored a season high 25 points on 9-11 shooting to give Villanova their third straight Big 5 title.
While Brunson took a step back in the month of March, he was able to string together a pair of good games in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 10 and 12 against UNC Asheville and Iowa, respectively. As the Tournament wore on, Brunson took a back seat to some of Villanova’s more seasoned scorers, but gained valuable experience.
As Ryan Arcidiacono has now departed Villanova, Brunson should be able to step into a bigger role this season. His minutes per game will likely rise, and he’ll be sharing the court with Big East Player of the Year contender Josh Hart, a supremely confident Kris Jenkins, and five-star freshman Omari Spellman. Villanova is going to be good again this season, and Brunson is going to be the motor that moves the vehicle forward.