Villanova future unclear for Brunson, but Booth expected back at 100 percent

Villanova future unclear for Brunson, but Booth expected back at 100 percent

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Two big questions facing the 2017-18 Villanova Wildcats concern the future of guards Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth.

The verdict from coach Jay Wright is no news on Brunson and good news on Booth.

Brunson, a first team All-Big East pick as a sophomore this year, is expected to decide soon whether he'll enter his name in the 2017 NBA draft pool.

Even if he does, he can withdraw after the combine, much like teammates Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins did last spring, as long as he doesn't hire an agent.

Booth, who scored a game-high 20 points in Villanova's championship game win over North Carolina last March, was limited to three games as a junior this year and didn't play after the Western Michigan game on Nov. 17 because of lingering knee pain.

First the good news.

Booth, who projected as a starter this year, should be 100 percent for the start of next season.

Booth averaged 7.0 points per game last year. He shot 46 percent from three the last 13 games of last year as 'Nova rolled toward the national title and was money in the NCAA Tournament -- 57 percent from the field and 56 percent from three.

Wright said Monday Booth finally resumed practicing late in the season, and the results were encouraging.

"I am very confident that Phil will be 100 percent," he said. "Right at the end of the season we got him practicing, and he looked great. Kind of like Donte (DiVincenzo) last year. We didn't get Donte back till the end."

DiVincenzo was limited to nine games in 2016 and was granted a redshirt year by the NCAA. It's expected Booth will be granted a redshirt year as well and retain junior eligibility going into 2017-18.

As for Brunson, Wright said he hasn't yet spoken with the sophomore point guard or his family about Brunson's future but will have that discussion soon.

"I'm going to sit down with Jalen and his parents in the next day or so here," Wright said. "They're great people, they're intelligent, they're very straightforward. It'll be easy. Jalen's dad works in the NBA, he's got a great feel, so they don't really need my advice, and I trust any decision they would make."

Jalen's father, former Temple star Rick Brunson, was a nine-year NBA veteran and is currently an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Brunson averaged 14.7 points per game, 4.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game and shot 54 percent from the field this season. His 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio was third best in the Big East, and his shooting percentage was 50th in all of NCAA Division I and third best in the Big East.

"Sandra and Rick Brunson, the parents, are such smart, level-headed people that I trust what they do with their son," Wright said.

"I really do. Sometimes you have people who aren't that experienced, so I feel like I have to protect them, but not in this case. Much like Josh Hart's parents last year, they're really solid, bright people. We're lucky that way."

Wright said he has no idea which way Brunson is leaning.

"You know what, I don't know," Wright said. "They could go either way. They could say, 'Hey, it's been a long year, we know he's coming back, so let's just rest him up and get ready [for next year],' or they could say, 'Let's look at the process and see how it plays out,' or they could say, 'Hey, he's close to graduating anyway, let's go now,' which wouldn't be a bad decision either."

Brunson is rated by various experts as anywhere from a mid- to late-first-round pick in this year's NBA draft.

If Brunson does leave early, the heir apparent at this point could be incoming freshman Collin Gillespie, who starred at Archbishop Wood in Warminster.

Both Hart and Jenkins participated in the NBA combine last year before withdrawing their names and spending their senior seasons at Villanova.

Hart said he hasn't spoken to Brunson yet about his future but would be happy to.

"If he decides to go through that process and all that, I definitely would be someone that would talk to him just about my past experience with it," he said.

"If he wants to hear my perspective, I’ll definitely help him out with that. … I'm not going to intrude in any of that. If he wants to talk, we live together. He can just go across the hall."

With depth coming, 2018 looks bright for Villanova basketball

With depth coming, 2018 looks bright for Villanova basketball

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- If you're still bummed about the way Villanova's season ended, there's some hope for you.

Just think about next year.

"I’m trying to do it now so I don’t have to watch these games," Jay Wright said.

"I really am. I sit there with my pad and look at our roster and write out plays so I can’t watch the games that are going on right now.

"It’s kind of cathartic to think about next year."

Because Villanova, the winningest team in NCAA Division I over the last four years with 129 wins, should be very good again in 2018.

Yes, the Wildcats will lose Big East Player of the Year Josh Hart, 2016 championship game hero Kris Jenkins and post presence Darryl Reynolds.

But if Jalen Brunson returns to Villanova for his junior year, the Wildcats will return four of their top six scorers -- Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall. Brunson could very well be the Big East preseason Player of the Year.

They'll also potentially add as many as six new key pieces -- highly regarded post presence Omari Spellman, ruled ineligible by the NCAA before this season; sharp-shooting guard Phil Booth, who scored 20 points in the title game win over North Carolina but missed all but three games this year with knee pain; big man Tim Delaney, who missed the last two years with hip injuries and remains a question mark; plus incoming freshmen Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels.

Will the 2017-18 Wildcats have the potential to make a deep run? Maybe get to a Final Four?

"Absolutely," Jenkins said. "They're going to be real good. I’m excited to see how things unfold for them.

"You’ve got guys coming in, new guys stepping into different roles. They’re going to be fun to watch and they’re definitely going to do some special things and we’ll be cheering for them, for sure."

How does it all break down?

Assuming Brunson comes back, the likely starting five will be Brunson in the backcourt with Booth, with DiVincenzo, Bridges and Spellman in the frontcourt, and DiVincenzo obviously able to play the 1 or the 2 as well.

That leaves Paschall, who improved steadily as the year went on, coming off the bench in what will be the Wildcats' deepest frontcourt in years. And don't forget 6-10 Dylan Painter, who made great strides as the year went on.

Then factor in possible immediate contributions from the incoming freshmen -- Samuels, a 6-6 wing who should get immediate playing time, along with 6-8 Cosby-Roundtree and 6-2 combo guard Gillespie.

After going just seven deep this past year, Wright will have tremendous depth at his disposal next season, along with three guys who averaged at least 20 minutes per game on a national championship team.

There will likely be a redshirt or two, but even so, Wright should be able to go nine deep this coming season.

No wonder then that college basketball metrics site has already ranked Villanova as the No. 1 team in NCAA Division I … in 2018.

Obviously, the Wildcats will miss Hart tremendously, but DiVincenzo is clearly the heir apparent. Whether he'll be as good as Hart remains to be seen, but Wright didn't hesitate to compare him with Hart halfway through his freshman season, and DiVincenzo's late-season performance really did hint of future greatness.

Reynolds was a solid rebounder but not a scorer, and Jenkins struggled badly the second half of the season.

So maybe replacing those seniors won't be as difficult as you might assume.

As it stands now, Villanova won't have a senior on the floor next year, but leadership shouldn't be an issue.

Although Paschall, Booth and Bridges will be academic seniors, all should have two more years of eligibility. And Wright said earlier this week Brunson is actually already close to graduating, even though he'll be a junior on the court next year.

The Wildcats should be a better shooting team with Booth returning, a deeper team with all the additions, a stronger post team on both ends with Spellman patrolling the paint and a better defensive team, simply because Wright will be able to substitute more and go deeper.

See you in mid-November.

"Only thing I say to them is be coachable," Hart said. "They’re great basketball players but even better people. Their character is through the roof, and a lot of times it’s not about who’s the most talented, it’s not about who has the best physical gifts, it’s about character, it’s about heart, it’s about will, and that’s something that these guys have and that’s something that you guys are going to see next year.

"They're all going to have new opportunities, and I guarantee you’re going to see them grow up as people and as basketball players."

Villanova's Josh Hart signs with Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports

Villanova's Josh Hart signs with Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports

Villanova guard and NBA draft first-round hopeful Josh Hart has signed with Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports.

Hart will enter the draft after participating in the NBA combine last year and subsequently pulling his name out to return to Villanova for his senior season.

Hart and the rest of the 'Cats didn't repeat as national champions -- they were upset by 8-seed Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament -- but they still finished the year with a 32-4 record and a Big East Tournament title.

In his senior year, Hart led Villanova in scoring and rebounding with 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He was named Big East player of the Year on March 8.

Hart was also named one of four finalists for the James A. Naismith award, given to the nation's best player. Kansas' Frank Mason III, UCLA's Lonzo Ball and Purdue's Caleb Swanigan join Hart as finalists (see story).

Hart joins a Roc Nation Sports basketball family that now consists of 13 athletes, including Kevin Durant, Justise Winslow, Rudy Gay, Caris Levert, Jeremy Lin, Willie Cauley-Stein, Wilson Chandler, Ty Lawson, Henry Ellenson, Mike Gbinije, Skylar Diggins and James Young.