SAN ANTONIO – Two years ago, Jalen Brunson was a starter on Villanova’s national championship team.
Brunson wasn’t the best point guard, let alone best player in the game that night in the Wildcats’ victory over North Carolina.
This time around, Brunson will most likely be the guy if his team cuts down the nets again at the Final Four. His patience to keep developing as a player over the last two seasons has paid off for the Wildcats.
Entering Saturday’s national semifinal against fellow No. 1 seed Kansas, the 6-3 junior is trying to be the first national player of the year to lead his team to an NCAA title since Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in 2012.
“I think the experience of a couple years ago has definitely helped,” Brunson said. “Just going through it once and being able to come back here is definitely an honor and a blessing.”
His 700-plus points this season makes Brunson the best Villanova scorer since Kerry Kittles in 1994-95. He’s also been the orchestrator of the nation’s most prolific offense, but he wasn’t considered the frontrunner for college player of the year honors until later in the season.
Like Davis did for Kentucky six years ago, college hoops observers expected star freshmen such as Oklahoma’s Trae Young, Arizona’s Deandre Ayton or Duke’s Marvin Bagley III to be named the best player in the country.
The thing Young, Bagley and Ayton have in common besides being one-and-done is they all have lost in the NCAA tournament. Brunson stuck around in college, for not one but two years after his freshman season.
His father, Timberwolves assistant and former NBA player Rick Brunson, taught him to value the opportunity to get better as a player.
“Growing up, my dad always talked about how difficult it is to be able to stay in the NBA,” he said. “It’s always been my goal to play at one of the highest levels of basketball. So he always talked about how hard you have to work and how there’s some players who were gifted who didn’t really have to work as hard. But why just rely on your talents?”
Michigan center Moe Wagner’s success with the Wolverines in the NCAA tournament this year has been such a big hit in his native country that folks are following March Madness more than ever in Germany.
Wagner actually wasn’t aware of that until German reporters brought it up to him recently. The Most Valuable Player of this year’s Big Ten tournament in New York said his parents arrived in San Antonio on Wednesday from Berlin.
“My family told me a little bit about it,” said Wagner, a 6-11 junior. “It makes me proud, honestly. It’s a really cool thing that people care about Michigan basketball all of a sudden [there].”