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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.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.