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Villanova freshman Saddiq Bey shows he was ready for big-time college basketball

Bey was the last freshman to commit to the 2018-19 Wildcats but has proven he can play at the college level. He averages 8.3 points and 5.2 rebounds.

Saddiq Bey of Villanova dunks over Joey Brunk of Butler during their game on March 2.
Saddiq Bey of Villanova dunks over Joey Brunk of Butler during their game on March 2.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

As the last member of Villanova’s 2018-19 freshman class to commit to the Wildcats, Saddiq Bey didn’t ride in on a wave of praise from the recruiting experts.

Although he was a consensus four-star recruit like the other three freshmen in his class, Bey was ranked anywhere from 28th to 34th nationally at power forward, compared with top 15 or better for his fellow rookies at their positions.

However, the 6-foot-8, 220-pound Maryland native has shown throughout the season that he was ready for college basketball at the level demanded of the defending national champion.

Bey, a graduate of Sidwell Friends School, the same alma mater as former Wildcats All-America Josh Hart, averages 8.3 points and 5.2 rebounds for the Wildcats. Those totals are 8.8 and 5.6 in Big East play, where he has started the last 14 games. His average of 30.9 minutes in conference contests is third on the team.

Villanova coach Jay Wright said he was surprised at how ready Bey was, and how quickly he picked up the team’s style of play.

“Yeah, I was, but not shocked,” he said. “We recruited him when he was younger, and then when [Brandon Slater] committed, we kind of got off of him -- not off his position, just scholarships. But then when we saw Donte [DiVincenzo] and Omari [Spellman] leave, then we had scholarships so we got on him late.

“I watched him a lot when he was young. I didn’t really see him as much his senior year. So I wasn’t as sure what to expect. But as soon as he got here and started working out with us, we saw he could be ready. He’s really been a pleasant surprise.”

Bey, who averaged 21 points and eight rebounds in his senior year of high school, originally signed with North Carolina State but asked to be released in May from his letter of intent. He was granted a complete release, allowing him to sign with another school and not have to sit out a season.

He admitted that he had a lot to learn once he arrived on the Main Line but has appeared to pick it up just fine. He has become a reliable three-point threat, shooting 37 percent from deep, and a ferocious offensive rebounder, averaging more than 2.5 per Big East game.

His defense has developed to the point where Wright had him guard Marquette scoring threat Markus Howard at times down the stretch of the Cats’ win on Feb. 27.

“It really doesn’t matter who scores or who gets the shot, but if you play defense and rebound, that’s what we do at Villanova,” Bey said. “We’re trying to make it tough for [Howard]. He’s a great player, so it definitely was a great challenge for me.”

As for what he has learned this season, Bey said, “You have to adapt quick.

“I’m trying to be more vocal but also playing hard every possession, playing defense every possession, not taking any defensive plays off. If anything, on the offensive end, you can do something else, but as far as defense and rebounding, just play hard every time.”

Bey’s best performance this season came Jan. 30 at DePaul where he posted his first career double-double -- 16 points and 11 rebounds, hitting a career-high four three-point baskets and grabbing seven offensive rebounds.

Bey hasn’t missed a game this season, starting 23 of the Wildcats’ 30 contests, and is expected to be in the lineup again at tip-off for Saturday’s matchup at Seton Hall, the team’s final game of the regular season. He said he hasn’t hit a wall of any kind.

“I wouldn’t say I’m tired because Coach is definitely keeping us fresh,” Bey said. “We have the best trainers and conditioning coaches in the world, and they’re doing a really good job keeping us strong and fresh.”