How Villanova's Mikal Bridges morphed into potential lottery pick

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How Villanova's Mikal Bridges morphed into potential lottery pick

Mikal Bridges put his own personal stamp on Villanova's most impressive win of the young season Tuesday night. That stamp came in the form of a soaring, one-handed jam over a trio of Gonzaga defenders, accounting for two of his career-high 28 points in the fourth-ranked Wildcats' easier than expected 16-point win at Madison Square Garden.

Bridges' comments after the game were as impressive as that dunk and his overall performance, best illustrating how far he's come in four years at Villanova. Bridges was asked by the Big East Digital Network about his leadership style.

"I'm trying to lead by doing all the little things," Bridges said. "Let the young guys watch me do all the little things and they know if our captain, our leader is doing that, then they're going to do the same thing."   

If you closed your eyes and listened to those words, you could have sworn they were coming from Josh Hart last year. Or Ryan Arcidiacono the year before that, or Darrun Hilliard three years ago. Bridges spent the early portion of his college career watching and learning from all of those star players. It enabled him to transition seamlessly into a leadership role once it became his turn to lead. That cycle is the biggest reason for Villanova's unprecedented run of success the past five seasons. 

No player embodies "Villanova Basketball" more so than Bridges. His story is unique in this age of one-and-done college basketball stars. He has taken the road less traveled to becoming one of the best players in the country and standing on the brink of NBA stardom. 

Patience pays off
Bridges arrived at Villanova in the Fall of 2014 as a Top 100 recruit but nowhere near a finished product. While he dominated at the high school level at nearby Great Valley, it became apparent rather quickly that he needed to bulk up his wiry frame to compete at the Big East level. 

Jay Wright presented the possibility of red-shirting to Bridges — the idea being to spend a year practicing with the team but more importantly getting stronger in the weight room. It was a reasonable suggestion albeit one that was hard for Bridges to accept. He had been a star his whole basketball career and the thought of not playing a game for 12 months must have seemed like an eternity.    

Bridges made the difficult decision to sit out for a year. It was the right move. He's gone from red-shirting in 2015 to being the sixth man for a national championship team in 2016 to the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 and now an All-American candidate as a junior who could end up being a lottery pick in six months. 

There's been a lot of attention given to the fact that five of Villanova's top six players red-shirted at some point during their careers. In actuality, only Bridges made the decision to do so without being forced into it either by injury or NCAA guidelines. Phil Booth was sidelined by a knee injury last year. Donte DiVincenzo broke his foot early in his freshman season. Eric Paschall had to sit out a year after transferring from Fordham. Omari Spellman was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA last season. 

But Bridges didn't have to red-shirt. He thought it would be best for his growth and development. As the rest of the college basketball world is currently finding out, he was right.

Draft stock soaring
Bridges was already popping up in 2018 mock drafts prior to the start of the season. His long, lanky body type and high-end athleticism are tailor-made for the NBA, enabling him to be disruptive on the defensive end and explosive offensively.  

Bridges proved himself an efficient shooter last year, knocking down 55 percent of his field goal attempts, 39 percent of his threes and 91 percent of his foul shots. But he was often the fourth option on a team featuring Hart, Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson. Factor in a dip in production in March and there were serious questions concerning Bridges heading into his junior season. Namely, how would he respond being a focal point of the Villanova offense? And could he find that level of consistency that often alluded him?

Less than a month into the season, those questions have been answered. Through nine games, he's averaging 19.0 points in addition to 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. He's shooting 57 percent from the field and a ridiculous 51 percent from three-point range. Bridges was at his best when the lights were brightest — those career-high 28 points against Gonzaga came in front of dozens of NBA scouts at Madison Square Garden. 

As a result, Bridges has ensured he will be a first-round pick should he decide to leave Villanova next spring. With more performances like the one he delivered against Gonzaga, the lottery seems like a more and more realistic destination. 

Bridges is poised to join Hart as the only first-round picks from Villanova in the last 12 years. He could join perennial All-Star Kyle Lowry as the only Villanova players in the Jay Wright Era who left school early and became first-round picks. But for the next four months, Bridges will be focused on bringing another Big East championship and potentially another national title to Villanova. As he's shown throughout the course of his career, he's not one to get ahead of himself.

10 most important Big 5 players this season

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10 most important Big 5 players this season

The college basketball season starts Friday and there is no shortage of storylines in the Big 5. 

Villanova is once again the team to beat in the Big East and a legitimate national championship contender.

Saint Joseph's should be a big factor in the Atlantic 10 race if the Hawks can avoid the injury bug, something they failed to do last season and are struggling with already this year.

Temple and La Salle aim to rebound from lackluster seasons, while Penn has the talent to return to the top of the Ivy League standings.

Coaches tend to get the bulk of the attention in college basketball but it's the players who ultimately decide the outcome of a season. Here is a list of 10 players to watch in the Big 5 — not necessarily the best players in the city, but guys who will have the biggest impact in determining their team's level of success this winter.

1. Jalen Brunson (junior guard, Villanova)
The first name on this list just so happens to be the best player in the city. Brunson enters his junior year at Villanova as a first team preseason All-American, preseason Big East Player of the Year, and arguably the best point guard in the country. He's on track to graduate early in the spring so chances are this will be his final season with the Wildcats. The NBA awaits for Brunson, who has lived up to the lofty expectations placed on him when he arrived at Villanova three years ago. He has the rare ability to take over a game single-handedly while also elevating the play of his teammates. Brunson will be counted on for more scoring and an increased leadership role this season — things that come naturally for a player who is poised to put together one of the finest seasons in school history.

2. Charlie Brown (sophomore forward, Saint Joseph's)
As Brown goes, so goes St. Joe's. His sophomore year got off to an unfortunate start — a preseason wrist injury put his status at the beginning of the season in question. But when he's healthy, Brown is a flat out difference-maker — a silky smooth wing who should take a sizable leap during his second season on Hawk Hill. That's saying something considering how good Brown was as a freshman. He is an NBA-level talent who will be a force in the Atlantic 10, a player capable of carrying St. Joe's back to the NCAA Tournament. 

3. AJ Brodeur (sophomore forward, Penn)
Brodeur has a chance to be not only one of the best players ever to play at Penn but also one of the best players in Ivy League history as well. If his freshman season was any indication, big things are in store over the next three years. He led the Quakers in scoring and rebounding as a freshman and set a program record with 66 blocked shots. You don't typically see a player as talented as Brodeur in the Ivy League. He could play and succeed in any conference. In fact, he turned down offers from Notre Dame and Boston College coming out of high school. Brodeur is the type of player who should lead Penn to accomplishments that were routine for the Quakers not too long ago — Ivy League championships and trips to the NCAA Tournament. 

4. Josh Brown (senior guard, Temple)
Last season was beyond frustrating for Brown, who tore his Achilles tendon in May 2016 and worked his way back to action for a handful of games before being shut down for the remainder of the season. Temple struggled without its floor general — Brown is the type of point guard who keeps the Owls organized on both ends of the floor. He now has a clean bill of health and is aiming to finish out his career on North Broad Street on a winning note. Temple has the talent to compete for an AAC title. It will be up to Brown to lead them in that direction.

5. Donte DiVincenzo (sophomore guard, Villanova)
DiVincenzo is my choice for Big 5 breakout player of the year if there was such an award. His coach, Jay Wright, compared him to Josh Hart last season, which qualifies as high praise. With Hart now in the NBA, DiVincenzo has the opportunity to develop into one of the best players in all of college basketball. He certainly has the talent. He's a tremendous athlete with a well-rounded offensive skill set and the potential to be a lockdown perimeter defender. He was arguably Villanova's best player in the NCAA Tournament last year. Expect that upward trajectory to carry over into his sophomore season. 

6. B.J. Johnson (senior guard, La Salle)
Johnson was as good as advertised in his first season at La Salle after transferring from Syracuse, averaging 17.6 points and 6.3 rebounds as a junior. He'll look to continue that production in his final collegiate season, but more importantly he'll try to pile up more wins for the Explorers following last season's 15-15 finish that included a 9-9 mark in A-10 play. La Salle has the requisite offensive firepower with Johnson, Pookie Powell and Amar Stukes leading the way. But it's on Johnson to lead them in a way that translates into more victories.    

7. Omari Spellman (freshman forward, Villanova)
Spellman makes his much anticipated Villanova debut after being ruled academically ineligible last season. That ruling hurt the Wildcats on the floor last year but could end up being a blessing in disguise in terms of Spellman's long-term development. He used the last 12 months to shed 40 pounds while familiarizing himself with how the Villanova program operates. He should be very comfortable stepping into a critical role for the Wildcats this season. Spellman has the ability to be one of the best post players to ever play for Jay Wright. He is ultra talented on the low block, able to shoot the three-pointer and will serve as the backbone of the Wildcats' interior defense. The combination of Spellman inside and Villanova's arsenal of perimeter weapons spells trouble for opponents this season. 

8. Shavar Newkirk (senior guard, Saint Joseph's)
Newkirk went down with a season-ending knee injury last year after just 12 games. He was averaging more than 20 points at the time of the injury and the Hawks were never able to recover from his absence. They were 7-5 at the time of Newkirk's injury then proceeded to go 4-15 without him. Newkirk still isn't 100 percent healthy — rehabbing a torn ACL tends to take more than a calendar year. But he should be back in the Hawks' lineup sooner rather than later, possibly as early as Saturday's season-opener against Toledo. Expect him to slowly regain his confidence and explosiveness and eventually return to form as one of the top lead guards in the Atlantic 10. 

9. Ryan Betley (sophomore guard, Penn)
A broken hand forced Betley to miss the first month of his freshman year but by the time last season ended he had established himself as Penn's second-best player behind Brodeur. Betley finished the season by scoring in double figures in eight straight games, averaging just under 18 points during that span. He has a killer instinct that his coach, Steve Donahue, values in his players. Combine that with his skills on the perimeter and Betley should be in contention for First Team All-Ivy honors.  

10. Obi Enechionyia (senior forward, Temple)
No player is more critical to Temple's success than Enechionyia, who is extremely talented but hasn't been able to put it all together to this point in his career. He'll get one last shot this year at developing into the consistent offensive force the Owls need him to be. There aren't many players in college basketball with Enechionyia's skill set — he's 6-foot-10 with the ability to play on the perimeter and knock down threes. But after a promising start to his junior season, he slumped during the critical months of January and February. Consistency is the key for Enechionyia for his final season in a Temple uniform. 

Honorable Mention
Mikal Bridges, Pookie Powell, Shizz Alston, Lamarr Kimble, Phil Booth, Antonio Woods, Eric Paschall, Amar Stukes

Kane's NBA mock draft 2.0: Familiar faces at top day before draft

Kane's NBA mock draft 2.0: Familiar faces at top day before draft

Much has changed for the Sixers since my initial mock draft was released the day after the draft lottery. Namely, they acquired the No. 1 overall pick from the Celtics in exchange for the No. 3 overall pick and a future first-round pick in either 2018 or 2019. Bryan Colangelo did a terrific job of utilizing the assets that Sam Hinkie left behind, ensuring the Sixers will add a difference-making guard to pair with in-house cornerstones Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

1. Philadelphia 76ers - Markelle Fultz, Guard, 6-4, 195, Washington
It's a foregone conclusion that the Sixers will select Fultz here. Colangelo should be commended for maneuvering to the top of the draft to acquire Fultz, who I view as the best prospect in this year's class thanks to an offensive skill set that is tailor made for today's NBA. He has an ideal blend of size, athleticism and scoring ability. Fultz is a more than capable outside shooter who can get to the basket whenever he wants. Most importantly for the Sixers, he is a perfect fit with Simmons. Fultz can play off the ball when Simmons is directing the offense, but he can also play point guard when needed. If everyone stays healthy - and that's a big if - the trio of Fultz, Simmons and Embiid should have the Sixers positioned nicely in the Eastern Conference for the next decade.

2. Los Angeles Lakers - Lonzo Ball, Guard, 6-6, 190, UCLA
Despite rumors of the Lakers' interest in other top prospects, I envision them staying the course here and selecting Ball. The fact they traded D'Angelo Russell to the Nets on Tuesday all but confirms the Lakers have their eyes on Ball, a playmaking point guard poised to be the next in a long line of Lakers superstars. Ball has terrific size and is the best passer in the draft - his skills are comparable to Jason Kidd and the man who will draft him, Magic Johnson. The only potential drawbacks are a funky jump shot and his outspoken father, Lavar. But the positives far outweigh the negatives with this pick - Ball's best attribute is the fact he makes his teammates better. That's something that goes a long way with Johnson.

3. Boston Celtics - Josh Jackson, Forward, 6-8, 210, Kansas
Danny Ainge and the Celtics' brass will ultimately decide between two players here - Jackson and Duke's Jayson Tatum. I would take Tatum. I think he'll end up being the better player of the two. But in the end, the Celtics will be swayed by Jackson's athleticism, defensive ability and overall potential. He comes with his share of question marks (including a few off the court) but there is no denying he has superstar potential. Jackson reminds me of Tracy McGrady, and pairing that type of talent with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Al Horford and company is too enticing to pass up.

4. Phoenix Suns - Jayson Tatum, Forward, 6-8, 205, Duke
Tatum represents tremendous value for the Suns with the fourth pick. I've been a big fan of his since his days as a high school standout in St. Louis and he made significant strides during his one season at Duke, particularly with his jumper. Tatum will team up with Devin Booker to give the Suns an explosive 1-2 punch. In Booker and Tatum, you have two players with 30-plus point potential on any given night.

5. Sacramento Kings - De'Aaron Fox, Guard, 6-3, 170, Kentucky
Fox is a blur, hands down the fastest player in this draft. His stock soared during the NCAA Tournament after he outplayed Ball in Kentucky's win over UCLA in the Sweet 16. Fox gets to the basket whenever he wants but needs to improve his inconsistent outside jumper. If he does, he has the potential to eventually become one of the Top 5 point guards in the NBA.

6. Orlando Magic - Malik Monk, Guard, 6-3, 200, Kentucky
An exciting few minutes for John Calipari mugging for the cameras in the green room as Kentucky prospects go back to back with selections. The Magic will be very fortunate to grab Monk with the sixth pick - he could go as high as third to the Celtics. He's the best shooter in the draft and will provide instant offense to a Magic team that could certainly use it.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves - Jonathan Isaac, Forward, 6-10, 215, Florida State
I'm not as high on Isaac as others, but he's worth the gamble here for Minnesota. Isaac's big selling point is his defensive versatility - he's able to guard multiple positions on the perimeter and in the post. His offensive consistency concerns me, but it shouldn't concern Minnesota too much with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins already on the roster.

8. New York Knicks - Dennis Smith, Jr., Guard, 6-3, 195, NC State
Smith is in the mold of Russell Westbrook - an aggressive, explosive guard who won't back down to anyone. He gives Knicks fans something to get excited about and head coach Jeff Hornacek an enticing perimeter piece to pair with budding superstar forward Kristaps Porzingis, who I believe will stay in New York despite speculation that the Knicks are making him available via trade.

9. Dallas Mavericks - Lauri Markkanen, Forward, 7-0, 230, Arizona
With Dirk Nowitzki entering his 20th season, the Mavericks select a player in Markkanen who shares a lot of the traits Nowitzki had when he entered the league. Markkanen is an elite shooter for a 7-footer, but is inexperienced and has plenty to learn. Who better to teach him than a future Hall of Famer who just scored his 30,000th point last season?

10. Sacramento Kings - Zach Collins, Forward, 6-11, 230, Gonzaga
The Kings address the frontcourt with their second pick in the top 10. Collins helped himself tremendously during Gonzaga's run to the national championship game. He's very skilled offensively and competes on the defensive end.

11. Charlotte Hornets - Justin Patton, Forward, 6-11, 230, Creighton
Patton is a lottery pick based on raw athletic ability and upside. He might not contribute immediately, he but has the potential to be a game-changing big man on both ends of the floor. Patton only scratched the surface during his one season at Creighton.

12. Detroit Pistons - Luke Kennard, Guard, 6-6, 195, Duke
Kennard had a breakthrough season at Duke that significantly elevated his status as a NBA prospect. He is an elite shooter with range well beyond the three-point arc. His spot-up shooting would be a great asset on a Pistons team looking for perimeter scoring punch.

13. Denver Nuggets - Frank Ntilikina, Guard, 6-5, 190, France
The Nuggets don't appear to be sold on Emmanuel Mudiay at point guard, and if Ntilikina is available here, he might be too appealing to pass up. He's a rangy prospect with the ability to become a lockdown defender, but his offensive skills need polishing.

14. Miami Heat - John Collins, Forward, 6-9, 225, Wake Forest
Collins was one of the most reliable and productive players in all of college basketball last season. He is a natural scorer in the low post and should help fill the void left by Chris Bosh on the Miami frontline.

15. Portland Trail Blazers - Jarrett Allen, Center, 6-10, 235, Texas
Allen fits the bill in terms of what NBA teams look for in a big man - he scores in a variety of ways and protects the rim defensively. He put up solid numbers as a freshman at Texas and, down the road, he will provide balance for a Portland team that relies primarily on its backcourt.

16. Chicago Bulls - Bam Adebayo, Forward, 6-10, 245, Kentucky
Adebayo made strides last season at Kentucky, but he still as a long way to go before he can be counted on as a consistent offensive performer. But his size, defensive presence and rebounding ability make him a good fit for the Bulls.

17. Milwaukee Bucks - Donovan Mitchell, Guard, 6-2, 210, Louisville
Mitchell is an elite athlete who was one of the best perimeter players in the country as a sophomore at Louisville. He was more of a combo guard in college but will be asked to play point guard in the NBA. That transition will take some time.

18. Indiana Pacers - OG Anunoby, Forward, 6-7, 230, Indiana
Like a lot of players in this draft, Anunoby is billed as a defense-first prospect. So much so that a few Kawhi Leonard comparisons have already surfaced. I'm not ready to go there but Anunoby certainly has the potential to develop into an elite defender.

19. Atlanta Hawks - TJ Leaf, Forward, 6-10, 225, UCLA
Leaf has outstanding scoring skills for a big man and he displayed that offensive versatility last season at UCLA. He has a high basketball IQ, which helps compensate for his lack of elite athleticism. Leaf will fit in well with how the Hawks like to play under head coach Mike Budenholzer.

20. Portland Trailblazers - Justin Jackson, Forward, 6-8, 200, North Carolina
Jackson capped his college career with a NCAA championship and ACC Player of the Year award at North Carolina. His versatility should serve him well at the pro level - he shoots consistently from the perimeter and drives to the basket effectively.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder - Harry Giles, Forward, 6-10, 230, Duke
This is a high-risk, high-reward pick for the Thunder. Two years ago, Giles was a frontrunner to be the first pick in this draft. But a knee injury cost him his senior season of high school and he struggled to return to top form at Duke. But the skills that once made him an elite prospect remain. Giles just needs to get (and stay) healthy.

22. Brooklyn Nets - Terrance Ferguson, Guard, 6-7, 190, USA
Ferguson enters the draft by way of Australia, where he played professionally last year as an 18-year-old. He remains very raw but should have plenty of time to develop during the Nets' rebuilding period.

23. Toronto Raptors - Ivan Rabb, Forward, 6-10, 220, California
Rabb arrived at California two years ago billed as a future NBA star but didn't do a whole lot to enhance his draft status during his college career. He'll need to improve a great deal on both ends of the floor, but he's worth a flier here for the Raptors, who need help inside.

24. Utah Jazz - Tyler Lydon, Forward, 6-9, 215, Syracuse
Lydon was very impressive at Syracuse. He's an intelligent player with a very dependable jumper. His athleticism and defensive ability are question marks. He's far from a lock to be selected in the first round, but he could thrive in the right situation.

25. Orlando Magic - Caleb Swanigan, Forward, 6-9, 250, Purdue
I'm higher on Swanigan's NBA potential than most. He was one of the best players in college basketball last season and has a very well rounded offensive game. All the concerns center around his defensive ability. I view him as a winning player capable of helping Orlando immediately.

26. Portland Trail Blazers - Derrick White, Guard, 6-5, 200, Colorado
White is one of the fastest risers in this year's draft following a strong senior season at Colorado and solid showings on the pre-draft workout circuit. He was a First Team All-Pac 12 selection this past season and should be able to play either guard spot at the pro level. In this scenario, White would be able to learn from two of the best guards in the league in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and eventually step into a larger role should Portland decide to shake up their core.

27. Los Angeles Lakers - Ike Anigbogu, Center, 6-10, 250, UCLA
The Lakers acquired this pick in the trade that sent Russell to Brooklyn. It's anyone's guess if they end up keeping this pick, but if they do, look for them to target Anigbogu. He's a major project, but he's the type of player who could pay major dividends down the road for the Lakers. He didn't produce much offensively at UCLA, but his defensive potential is his biggest asset.

28. Los Angeles Lakers - Jordan Bell, Forward, 6-9, 225, Oregon
Bell is a lot like Jonathan Isaac in that his biggest contribution will be the ability to guard multiple positions on the pro level. He always plays hard and has NBA caliber athleticism. Bell could end up being a steal for the Lakers this low in the first round.

29. San Antonio Spurs - Josh Hart, Guard, 6-6, 215, Villanova
Hart isn't showing up in the first round in most mock drafts, but I'm convinced he's first round worthy after watching every game he played during his four years at Villanova. He is a winning player who can guard multiple positions on the perimeter. He scores in a number of ways and has an effective - if not natural looking - jumper. The best case scenario is a winning team like the Spurs drafting him and molding him into their program. He's exactly the type of overlooked prospect that San Antonio banks on finding late in the first round.

30. Utah Jazz – D.J. Wilson, Forward, 6-10, 240, Michigan
Wilson played a starring role during Michigan’s unexpected run to a Big Ten Tournament title and Sweet 16 appearance this past March. Wilson fits the mold of what NBA executives look for in frontcourt players. He’s long, athletic and can stretch the floor with his outside shooting ability. He’s a very good finisher around the rim but will need to bulk up to endure the grind of the NBA season. If he continues to develop at his current pace, Wilson could end up being a steal late in the first round.