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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Wednesday / September 19.
  • Jay Wright, Big East coaches say Jalen Brunson deserves National Player of the Year honors

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    By ADAM ZAGORIA

    Jay Wright and his fellow Big East coaches don’t have doubts about who the National Player of the Year should be.

    The Villanova coach believes his junior guard, Jalen Brunson, should win the Wooden and Naismith awards when they are announced in the coming weeks.

    “In terms of Jalen, I just think he’s the most complete player in college basketball,” Wright said Thursday. “I think he has the biggest impact on making his team win.”

    The 6-foot-3 Brunson is averaging 19.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists for a Villanova team that is 25-3 and 12-3 in the Big East. The Wildcats are ranked No. 3 nationally and are a projected No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

    In a recent poll I ran on Twitter that received almost 1,400 votes, Brunson received 51 percent of the votes, with Arizona’s Deandre Ayton at 18 percent, Oklahoma’s Trae Young at 16 percent and Duke’s Marvin Bagley III at 15 percent.

    Wright pointed out that Brunson has led Villanova to the brink of its fifth straight Big East regular season title while the team dealt with injuries to Phil Booth and Eric Paschall.

    “We’ve had two starters out, he’s carried the team and done it always efficiently,” Wright said. “And then when we get the guys back, then he just has seven assists, eight assists, leads us defensively. I think he is the most complete college basketball player in that he posts up, he defends in the post, he defends in the perimeter, he shoots threes, runs pick-and-roll. He gets assists, he scores in transition.

    “I really believe he’s the most complete college basketball player in the country on a very good team. If we ran everything for him, he could get 30 a night and he’s done it. But on other nights you need to get eight assists and lead us defensively, he does it.”

    Wright also makes the case for Brunson off the court. He has never had any off-court issues and will graduate Villanova in three years.  While Ayton, Young and Bagley III are all projected lottery picks this year, Brunson is a projected second-rounder.

    “I just think he’s a great representative of what college basketball is all about,” Wright said. “We’re trying to pick the best college basketball player in the country, not the guy that projects to be the best NBA player, although I think he’s going to be a great NBA player. If you’re talking about what college basketball is all about, a guy comes in, he graduates in three years, he leads his team, he plays on a national championship team and he’s leading his team to be one of the best teams, I just don’t think a kid can do anymore. And I think if we’re really talking about college basketball, he’s the best.”

    DePaul coach Dave Leitao, who knows Brunson because the player is an Illinois native, also made a strong case for Brunson over his other challengers.

    “Watching his development has been nothing short of phenomenal,” Leitao said.

    “When you play that position if anybody defines it by points, then they don’t really know a whole lot about basketball. His ability to lead and lead teams to win, which I think in a team sport is the most important thing, is beyond comparison. There are others across the country that get more publicity because their stats are gaudier, but since he’s walked on Villanova’s campus, they’ve won a ton of games and he’s been the most integral part at the most integral position. So if we’re going to judge a quarterback in football by winning or a point guard in basketball by winning, then he stands alone as the guy that should be most considered Player of the Year if we’re going to look at it the right way.”

    Creighton coach Greg McDermott also believes Brunson deserves Player of the Year honors.

    “I’ve coached against him seven times and I watched him a bunch in high school,” McDermott said. “Just I’ve always been impressed with the way he carries himself on the basketball floor. Very seldom does his facial expression change. You don’t know if he just made a good play or a bad play, and that’s the sign of a really good point guard.

    “He’s always moved to the next play and he can beat you in so many ways. He can beat you with a pass, obviously he can shoot the basketball and now he’s running into the low post and giving people fits there as well. I’ve just been incredibly impressed with his development during his time at Villanova and the way that he runs a team.

    “Jalen has just had an incredible year and I think he certainly has to be in discussion for Player of the Year as you look across his statistics and what he’s doing it and how he’s doing it and the efficient way with which he does it.”

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.