Villanova Basketball: Jalen Brunson is coming into his own in Dallas

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

After spending three glorious seasons on the Main Line, ex-Villanova Wildcats star Jalen Brunson has been turning heads with the Dallas Mavericks.

When a team like the Villanova Wildcats wins an NCAA Championship, it’s going to forever change the identity of said team.

From parades and ceremonies to a boost in recruiting acumen, winning it all is inarguably a major positive for any school’s basketball squad. However, it can also have some unintended consequences.

Case-in-point; this season’s Wildcats squad.

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After fielding a deep, selfless collection of both under and upperclassmen, Jay Wright‘s team has without a doubt struggled with the ramifications of having four of his best players declare for the 2018 NBA draft, an impressive number by Villanova’s typical standard.

While it could be argued which player is missed the most from last year’s squad, be that surprise star Donte DiVincenzo, versatile wing Mikal Bridges, or stretch four Omari Spellman, for my money, no player’s absence has been more felt than Jalen Brunson.

The 2018 NCAA Player of the Year, Brunson was the unquestioned leader of last year’s Wildcats, helping the team push past foe after foe in this year’s March Madness tournament.

However, even though Brunson’s leadership, command, and shot have been sorely missed on the Main Line this season, that doesn’t mean he’s become a non-factor elsewhere, as Jalen has carved out a nice niche for himself on the Dallas Mavericks.

Playing in the shadow of probable 2019 Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic, Brunson rarely receives a headline, either national, in Philly, or in Dallas. But even in a less expensive role, Jalen Brunson is still Jalen Brunson, a fact that many Mavericks fans will more than happily tote.

In roughly 17 minutes of action a night, Brunson is scoring 6.3 points while dishing out 1.8 assists, but those numbers don’t tell the whole story. No, after logging mostly reserve minutes throughout the first two months of the season, Brunson’s minutes and by extension points have steadily risen over the month of December, much to the joy of fans in Big D.

After only scoring in double-digits once in the months of October and November combined, Brunson has really come into his own in December, scoring10 or more points in seven of his 10 games this month, including a 17-point outpouring against the Orlando Magic.

As fans in Philly already know, when Brunson gets minutes, Brunson gets points.

While minutes in any game are far from guaranteed at this point, as he has to compete with the likes of longtime backup J.J. Barea, 2017 first round pick Dennis Smith Jr., and even Doncic, who moonlights as a point guard, the fact that Brunson, a 2018 second-round pick continues to play at a high level despite his situation demonstrable highlights his strength of character and commitment to the game.

Much like his predecessor Ryan Arcidiacono, who’s also playing well as the Chicago Bulls‘ backup point guard, Brunson has skirted off any questions about his pro potential and has proven once and for all why he deserves to be in the NBA, regardless of measurables.

Will he ever rise up the ranks and become a starter? Probably not in Dallas, as that appears to be Doncic’s role for the foreseeable future, but if Brunson continues to play well when his number is called, his value will only continue to rise.

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With each game essentially serving as a tryout for the NBA’s other 29 teams, who knows, maybe Jalen Brunson could once again find himself at the helm of a playoff-bound squad when his current contract expires? I certainly wouldn’t mind it if he found his way back to the 215 to play for his hometown(ish) Philadelphia 76ers.