Josh Hart takes Philly pride into NBA Draft Combine

Josh Hart takes Philly pride into NBA Draft Combine

CHICAGO — Josh Hart is fighting to earn a place in the NBA, and he's doing it with the encouragement of Villanova and Philadelphia fans behind him. 

“Anyone that knows Philly, that's a blue-collar city that has that grit, that toughness to it,” Hart said Thursday. “Playing there for four years, that's kind of what I am. Having that support from them has been amazing the last four years and even still now, now that I'm gone. It's been great. Obviously, I'm from Maryland, I'm a Silver Spring kid, but Philly's always got a place in my heart.”

The Wildcats' guard is at the draft combine this week in Chicago, where he is going through tests, drills and meetings with teams to make an impression ahead of next month's draft. 

As of Thursday, he had met with the Heat, Lakers, Mavericks, Pelicans, Pistons, Timberwolves and Trail Blazers. He will meet with the Suns on Friday. He is not scheduled to meet or work out with the Sixers. 

“People have been tweeting about that all the time, me and the Sixers, but right now I haven’t really heard anything about that,” he said. 

Hart, who is listed as a shooting guard-small forward at the combine, does not want to pigeonhole himself in just one role. He noted he can play and defend four positions. He would rather define himself with this mindset. 

“Someone who's a winner,” he said. “Anyone that knows me, knows where I come from with definitely Villanova, knows I'm about winning. It's not about individual. It's not about ego. I'm a team player.”

Hart won the 2016 NCAA championship during his junior year with the Wildcats. He returned for his senior season and averaged 18.7 points (40.4 percent from three), 6.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists. Hart received the Julius Erving Award for the nation’s top small forward and was named a first-team All-American, among other accolades.

“I’m mature, mentally and physically,” Hart said. “I’m a senior, I’m a four-year guy, I guess I’m an old head compared to some of these guys. But I think I’m able to come in and make an impact right away. Coming from that culture, coming from Coach (Jay) Wright being polished as a professional, and that’s not just on the court, I think that kind of gives me a step up.” 

Jalen Brunson explains decision to return to Villanova: 'Process was simple'

Jalen Brunson explains decision to return to Villanova: 'Process was simple'

Over the past month, there has been plenty of speculation as to whether or not Jalen Brunson would decide to stay at Villanova or turn pro.

For Brunson himself, though, it was never really much of a decision.

"The process was simple," Brunson told CSNPhilly.com by phone a couple of hours after Villanova announced that the star point guard would return for his junior year (see story). "I told myself and I told my family when I came here that I wanted to try to compete and win a national championship and I want to get my degree. I did one of those things, which was probably the harder part of the deal. Now I just want to get my degree."

Brunson, a freshman on the Wildcats' 2015-16 national championship team, is poised to get that degree at the end of his junior year, thanks to the emphasis he puts on education, the encouragement of Villanova's staff and a whole lot of summer classes.

Only then will he begin to look at the next chapter of his basketball journey.

"I just think with the support I have here, they all know that this is what I want to do," said Brunson, a communications major with a 3.54 grade-point average and a recent recipient of the Big 5 Scholar Athlete of the Year award. "No one has put me down saying, 'No, I don't think it's possible, I don't think you should do it.' They really encouraged me to do so and they really helped me along the way."

There were, of course, basketball factors that led to Brunson's return, as well. The rising junior loves everything about the 'Nova program and said he's excited for the opportunity to "lead the team" as an upperclassman.

And even with Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds moving on, he believes the Wildcats will remain a force after going a combined 67-9 in his first two collegiate seasons.

"Maybe we won't have the record we've had the past couple of years," said Brunson, who averaged 14.7 points and 4.1 assists per game last season. "But I know one thing: we're gonna play Villanova basketball when we're on the court. And I think the reason for the is we're gonna have another set of leaders that brings that to the table every time we step on the court."

With Brunson coming back and Phil Booth returning from an injury-riddled 2016-17 campaign, the Wildcats will certainly be loaded at the guard position next year. Brunson is especially eager to potentially share the same backcourt as Donte DiVincenzo, who came off the bench last season but looks poised to become one of the program's next big stars.

"I'm definitely looking forward to that," Brunson said. "I've been looking forward to that ever since we met. … We have a relationship. We're really close. And I think our chemistry helps us on the court. So coming back and playing with him again is definitely going to be a plus, and I'm just really excited for the opportunity."

Jalen Brunson returning to Villanova for junior season

Jalen Brunson returning to Villanova for junior season

Jalen Brunson will return to Villanova for his junior season.

The school made the announcement Thursday, ending speculation that the Wildcats' star point guard would declare for the NBA draft or at least go through the process before making a decision, as former teammates Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins did a year ago.

“Jalen is an outstanding student who loves being at Villanova and wants to complete his degree by the end of his junior year,” Wildcats head coach Jay Wright said in a statement. “This was a simple decision made by Jalen’s family. Jalen wants to graduate, be a leader on this year’s team, and compete for a championship.”

Brunson averaged 14.7 points and 4.1 assists last season as the Wildcats won the Big East regular season and tournament championship. They were upset by Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament and finished 32-4.

His return means the Wildcats will be expected to make another deep tournament run. Villanova loses seniors Hart, Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds but still has plenty of talent coming back in Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall and Phil Booth and coming in with Omari Spellman and freshmen Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels.