A Georgetown-Villanova game, the history already comes in baked in. Sunday afternoon, the building was fairly full. Along one baseline sat Harold Jensen, a hero of Villanova’s 1985 national champions. Just across in front of Georgetown bench stood Patrick Ewing, the mountain ‘Nova had to climb that day in ’85, now the Hoyas' coach.
Maybe the loudest ovation came when the Wells Fargo Center scoreboard showed the only Villanova player ever to start for two NCAA title teams.
The place had just been filling up when there was a pregame ceremony for Jalen Brunson. A Senior Day ceremony, since Brunson had graduated last year after his third Villanova season, but he didn’t have a Senior Day.
“It was something my parents wanted to see," Brunson said, sitting in the media room at halftime. “It made me reflect about a lot, so it was pretty cool. It was something my mom really wanted.”
Brunson knew he needed for the Dallas Mavericks to have a day off. He had started for the Mavericks Saturday night in Cleveland, scored 15 points, took the team charter back to Dallas, grabbed a 6 a.m. flight Sunday to Philly.
“Slept the whole flight," Brunson said.
The memories, he said, were kind of one of this building and some of those guys on the court.
“It was kind of like a flashback, in about 30 seconds," Brunson said.
At all weird to suddenly be an alum? He played with some of those guys, but certainly not all of them. You become an old guy real fast.
“Yeah, I’m an alum," Brunson said. “It is weird. A quick story: One of [my] friends -- I was watching a ‘Nova game, and they won. We were talking about well they were playing. I said, ‘Yeah, we’re playing really well.’ My friend, she said, ‘What do you mean we? You left us.’ I realized I was an alumnus then.”
Pregame, Brunson said, he kept it to a quick handshake and a “What’s up?”
“I let them focus," said the candidate for most focused player in Villanova history. “I just wanted them to not get sidetracked.”
The current group held up its end, breaking open a back-and-forth old-time special with the school’s great rival to win their 10th straight and stay unbeaten in the Big East. Collin Gillespie, who had been Brunson’s roommate last year, scored 30, a career high. Jermaine Samuels got his career high on the boards, grabbing 16 rebounds, a new high despite only taking one shot very late in the game.
“Every week," Brunson said of how often he talks to his former teammates. “I talk to at least one of the guys every week.”
Asked about his NBA transition, Brunson said, it’s been great and it’s difficult -- “a different style of game, a different pace. It’s obviously so much more athleticism. Every night is a battle. Especially my rookie year, it’s kind of eye-opening.”
What’s it like to have Brunson in the house as an alum?
“Intimidating," Jay Wright said after the game. “I was worried. … We wanted him to have his Senior Day today, but I didn’t want this team to be affected. He’s a real legend in this program. Not because of [national] player of the year. It’s more how he conducted himself every day. We refer to him a lot. I didn’t want the guys to get caught up.”
The ceremony fit into all that.
“He didn’t want to take away from the seniors [last year] on Senior Day," Villanova’s coach said. “Even though he knew he probably would leave. It wasn’t his senior class. The only thing his mom asked, ‘If he leaves early, could we do this?’ “
Gillespie and Samuels, at the media conference as stars of the game, were asked about Brunson and what they took away from him as freshmen last season.
“The times you would see him going back into the gym after we just finished practice," Gillespie said.
Samuels had asked Gillespie to go first while he thought for a moment.
“For me, killer instinct," Samuels then said. “Every practice, every time we stepped in the gym, every time in the weight room, it was work.”
None of that is new. You knew what Brunson was doing while he was doing it. It’s just interesting to hear Wright use the word intimidating a couple of times to describe Brunson being there.
“To all of us -- me, too," Wright said after the 77-65 victory. “We all want to live up to how he played.”
You get to say mission accomplished when it’s Patrick Ewing talking about how your guys made the key plays, the key passes.