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From prospect to player, how 11 seconds proved the Villanova Way worked for Mikal Bridges

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NEW YORK – The moment when Mikal Bridges’ star turn was complete came with a little more than eight minutes left in No. 4 Villanova’s 88-72 win over No. 12 Gonzaga on Tuesday night.

Eric Paschall set, and slipped, a ball-screen, creating just enough resistance that Bridges was able to turn the corner on Zach Norvell Jr.

Two dribbles was all it took for Bridges to split the Gonzaga defense, elevate over 6-foot-10 Killian Tillie and 6-foot-11 Jacob Larsen, and throw down a dunk that woke a sleepy Madison Square Garden and immediately sent ripples pinging throughout the twittersphere.

And he wasn’t done.

11 seconds later, at the other end of the floor, Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins broke through Villanova’s defense and appeared to have a layup to answer Bridges’ violent two points, and the 6-foot-7 wing came out of nowhere to swat the shot out of bounds.

Even before Tuesday’s outburst, Bridges had quietly been having an all-american caliber season. If you had been paying attention, nothing that happened on Tuesday night was really all that surprising.

Not everyone had been paying attention.


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The idea of Mikal Bridges, Lottery Pick, is not new.

His length. His athleticism. That defensive versatility. The three-point range. The package has been there for years. On paper, he’s looked like everything the NBA is desperate to find, a player to invest millions and millions of dollars in to effectively defend on one end and space the floor on the other.

We all saw it at the Final Four in 2016, when Villanova won a national title, and we all thought we were going to see this from Bridges last year. Only, it wasn’t his time. Bridges knew his role. He knew he was the fourth option offensively on a team that included all-american and first round pick Josh Hart, one of the top five point guards in the country in Jalen Brunson and the man that gave Villanova their first national title in 31 years in Kris Jenkins.

So he deferred.

“Last year he would have passed up a lot of those shots,” head coach Jay Wright said, “just to get it to Kris or Josh.”

That’s what they do at Villanova. You wait your turn. Six of the 11 scholarship players on Wright’s roster have redshirted at some point in their college career, whether by design — like Bridges, like Donte DiVincenzo — or due to circumstance — Eric Paschall is a transfer, Phil Booth was injured last year, Omari Spellman was ineligible as a freshman.

“The Main Line’s not a bad place to be,” Wright said with a laugh after it was pointed out to him just how many guys he’s had sit out.

It has created a culture of development on the Main Line. In hindsight, a redshirt year is ideal. The players are still in practice, but without games to play, their season becomes nothing more than an extra five months to get better. Spellman used that year to shed the baby fat that he had as a high schooler. Bridges went the other way, using his year off to add the strength he needed to handle the physicality of Big East basketball. Some take that year to extend their jump shot. Others use it to add a mid-range game, or a step-back jumper, or a little bit of extra burst on their first step.

And it helps that those are the players Villanova targets, guys, as Wright put it, “that have a chance to be pros and have the character to work hard to get there.”

But they also understand that there won’t be anything given to them. There are no guarantees about playing time. Wright has proven he’s willing to reward his young guys that are good enough — Brunson started 39 games for a title-winning team as a freshman, Spellman is starting now as a redshirt freshman — but you’re more likely to spend your first season at Villanova as a practice player. Jermaine Samuels was a top 40 recruit in the Class of 2017 and picked Villanova over Duke, Kansas and Indiana. He played one minute against Gonzaga on Tuesday. He took a DNP-CD against Tennessee in the Battle 4 Atlantis. He’s averaged 5.6 minutes this season and scored a total of eight points.

It’s worth noting here that Jay Wright has had one player transfer out of the program since the Villanova revival in 2013. That was Dylan Ennis, who saw the writing on the wall when the Wildcats landed a commitment from Brunson.

Which brings me back to Bridges.

“He knows this year he’s the leader, he’s the captain. He’s playing with more freedom and aggressiveness,” Wright said. “He knows it’s his turn. He’s ready for it. He’s worked hard on his game, and he’s ready.”

The proof, Bridges and Wright will both tell you, is that dunk.

“Ever since my freshman year, I laid the ball up a lot and coaches, seniors, they used to get on me for that,” Bridges said. “Go up and be strong.”

“I watched the old guys get on him about that,” Wright added. “If he would go to the basket and make a layup, get blocked, fouled, the old guys would get on him. ‘You gotta dunk that, dude. Go stronger.’ It had an impact.”

‘It’ meaning the Villanova Way.


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Everything that has made Bridges a terrific prospect thorough his basketball life was on display on Tuesday.

Defensively, he quite literally defended 1-through-5. On one possession, he would hound Gonzaga point guard Josh Perkins for 94-feet, applying the pressure that kept the Zags from looking all that comfortable on the offensive end of the floor. On the next possession, he was matched up against Tillie, a potential first round draft pick in his own right, in the post and blocked a Tillie turnaround jump shot.

Offensively, he shot 5-for-8 from three, which bumped his season-long shooting percentage up to 51.0 percent on just under six attempts per game. 3-and-D indeed.

But that dunk …

That dunk was the exclamation point, all the proof needed to see that Bridges has made the leap from prospect to player, that he not only has the ability to be a star at this level and thrive at the next, but that he has the confidence in his ability to ensure both of those statements are true.

That dunk was Bridges way of letting us know the Villanova Way had worked on him, “because,” as Wright says, “he’s doing it all this year.”

High school basketball player collapses, dies at AAU event

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James Hampton, a member of Team United and a senior at Liberty Heights, a private high school in Charlotte, collapsed and died during a Nike Elite Youth Basketball League game on Saturday night.

Hampton was 17 years old.

In the second half of a game against Nike Phamily, a Phoenix-based program that is run by the father of Marvin Bagley III, Hampton collapsed to the floor unresponsive. Trainers at the event began CPR on and administered chest compressions. Parademics arrived within 10 minutes, but Hampton could not be revived.

The cause of death has not yet been released, but this is not the first time that Hampton had an issue. Last spring, at an event in the Washington D.C. area, Hampton collapsed on the court and had to be given CPR.

“He just fell down on the floor,” Team United director Jacoby Davis told the Charlotte Observer. “He had seizures a year ago and I remember (one of the Team United coaches) telling me that, ‘I saw his eyes rolling back in his head.’ I ran on the court thinking he was having a seizure. A trainer came over and said he didn’t know what was wrong. Another trainer checked his pulse. He said he didn’t have a pulse. It got crazy after that.”

RIP James Hampton.

Nevada’s Jordan Caroline pulls out of 2018 NBA Draft

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Jordan Caroline has opted to pull his name out of the 2018 NBA Draft as he will return to Nevada for his senior season, he announced on Saturday.

The 6-foot-7 Caroline put together a strong season for the Wolf Pack as he averaged 17.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as Nevada made the Sweet 16 behind one of the most talented offenses in the country.

Caroline’s return is a huge boost for Nevada as they still await the NBA draft decisions of Caleb and Cody Martin.

Currently ranked No. 17 in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25 (without the Martin twins), the Wolf Pack will still have a ton of talent around Caroline next season. Five-star freshman center Jordan Brown recently committed to Nevada. The program also a number of talented transfers entering the mix, including Tre’Shawn Thomas, Nisre Zouzoua and Ehab Amin.

If the Martin twins return to school (and that is a big if) then Nevada could have a potentially elite offense next season. But even if the Martin twins go pro, Nevada should still be the favorite in the Mountain West and a threat to once again make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Dewan Huell returning to Miami for junior season

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Miami received some positive news on Saturday afternoon as the school announced the return of forward Dewan Huell for his junior season.

After testing the NBA draft waters without an agent, the 6-foot-11 Huell will be back for the Hurricanes. Starting all 32 games for the program last season, Huell averaged 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor.

“After getting feedback from NBA teams and talking it over with my family and coaches, I would like to announce that I will be returning to Miami for my junior season,” Huell said in the release. “I’m really excited to get back to work with my brothers so we can accomplish more than ever during the 2018-19 season.”

A former McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, Huell’s return gives the Hurricanes stability in the front court for next season as he’ll play with other returning players like Sam Waardenburg and Ebuka Izundu. With Miami losing both Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown early to the 2018 NBA Draft, Huell could be expected to provide more offensive production as a junior.

Bruce Weber receives contract extension at Kansas State

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Kansas State and head coach Bruce Weber have agreed to a two-year contract extension, according to a release from the school.

After leading the Wildcats to a surprising Elite Eight appearance in March, Weber will be the head coach at Kansas State through the 2022-23 season, which gives him another five seasons to work with. Weber will be paid $2.5 million in 2018-19 and he’ll receive a $100,000 increase to his salary in each remaining contract year.

Weber had already signed a two-year extension in August 2017, but this move gives the veteran head coach more job security (and positive recruiting perception) for the next few seasons.

“We are very fortunate to have not only such an outstanding basketball coach but also a man in Coach Weber who conducts his program with integrity and class and is widely respected across the nation,” Kansas State Director of Athletics Gene Taylor said. “Certainly last season was one of the most memorable postseason runs in our program’s history, and we are excited for next season and the years ahead under Coach Weber’s leadership.”

With Kansas State returning most of its roster from last season, including the return of guard Barry Brown from the 2018 NBA Draft process, expectations are sky-high for Weber and the Wildcats this season. Currently ranked as the No. 8 team in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25, Kansas State’s veteran club could give Kansas a serious run for a Big 12 regular season title this season.

Northwestern loses incoming freshman point guard

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Northwestern and incoming freshman point guard Jordan Lathon are parting ways. The 6-foot-4 Lathon was viewed as a potential candidate to replace Bryant McIntosh at lead guard for the Wildcats this season, but Northwestern has reportedly revoked his offer of admission and basketball scholarship.

It is unclear why Lathon was unable to be admitted into Northwestern, but the school’s VP for University Relations, Alan Cubbage, gave a statement to Inside NU’s Davis Rich and Caleb Friedman.

“Northwestern University has revoked its offers of admission and an athletic scholarship for Jordan Lathon, a recruit for the Northwestern men’s basketball team,” the statement said. “Out of respect for the privacy of the student, the University will have no further public comment.”

Lathon later acknowledged the situation in a tweet explaining to fans that he will no longer be attending Northwestern.

While it is unclear why Lathon and Northwestern are parting ways, other high-major programs are already very interested in bringing in Lathon for next season. Oklahoma State immediately jumped in with a scholarship offer. There is also speculation that Lathon, a native of Grandview, Missouri, could also hear from the in-state Tigers as well.

It’ll be interesting to see where Lathon lands, and how this also affects Northwestern’s point guard situation. The loss of a four-year starter like McIntosh will be tough to fill, especially since Lathon was committed to Northwestern since last June. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wildcats and head coach Chris Collins seek out a veteran point guard graduate transfer to try and get some immediate help.