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Point guard keeps Wright on his toes - in a good way

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Villanova had gotten back to campus late from a Monday night game at Purdue. The next day was a day off. Didn't matter. Last Tuesday morning, Jay Wright got a message from his starting point guard, Jalen Brunson.

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Villanova had gotten back to campus late from a Monday night game at Purdue. The next day was a day off. Didn't matter. Last Tuesday morning, Jay Wright got a message from his starting point guard, Jalen Brunson.

"We were going to be together Wednesday morning,'' Wright said. "He said, 'Can I meet you?' I had already been in the office and left. I said, 'Call me, call me.' "

Wright wasn't surprised by any of that. He wasn't worried.

"He'll come to me after every game,'' Wright said.

The questions can be about a specific play or overall thoughts. Or they can be completely open-ended. What are you thinking?

A player picking the brain of his coach, forcing the action as if he's on the court. You could argue that's the way it's supposed to be. That morning after Purdue - "He wanted to talk about end-of-game situations,'' Wright said.

Watch Brunson sometime during a game. The hard steps to a certain spot, the ability to read a defender, when to take the ball right at somebody's body, the changes of speed, when it all feels like a setup, with Kris Jenkins or Mikal Bridges or somebody in the opposite corner waiting for a ball they believe will arrive.

Highlights? Go ahead and check out the drive and dunk Brunson delivered late Friday afternoon, an exclamation point against Wake Forest. Friday's 96-77 victory over Wake in the Charleston Classic semifinals, pushing Villanova into Sunday night's final, had a lot of highlights and featured 30 points from Josh Hart and 19 from Mikal Bridges. The point guard had a respectable stat sheet, 11 points, 6 assists to 1 turnover, in a career-high 37 minutes.

"When it was time to run the break, he ran the break,'' Wright said of Brunson. "When it was time to get us some offense, he got us some offense. When it was time to make a play, he did. When it was time to get somebody a shot - he just really dominated the game. Everybody else looks good when he plays like that."

Asked about grading himself, Brunson said, "I may have had a couple of contested shots."

He doesn't point out that he may have made them.

"It just depends,'' Brunson said of those still being good shots. "If I'm feeling it - it just depends on time and situation."

For Wright, what are the challenges with a cerebral guy?

"A lot of times with a point guard you're explaining the situation to them,'' Wright said. "He knows every situation. He has his own idea of what to do. Which is really a great thing. But sometimes they don't fit this level, or our system. Just sometimes. Rarely."

Which makes it interesting for Villanova's coach.

"Yeah,'' Wright said. "You have discussions with him. You know you're not telling a kid to do something he's never heard of. You're telling him to do something different than he does before, but what he's done before is good, and correct."

Not playing at the very end of the national title game, when Phil Booth had the hot hand (20 points) and other variables were in play, was it necessary later to have a conversation with Brunson?

"No - unbelievable,'' Wright said. "The game in the Big East tournament, we had a conversation about that one."

He meant taking Brunson out against Seton Hall. He played only nine minutes.

"That one, they were actually targeting him, they were isolating him,'' Wright said. "We really didn't have him prepared for that. I've got to give Seton Hall credit."

Brunson's response? "He's like a coach,'' Wright said. "He knows. He looks at it like everything is a challenge. How do I get better?"

In the NCAA tournament, Brunson always played between 21 and 27 minutes. As for sitting at the end of the championship game (he still played 22 minutes) asked if he had just had to deal with it, Brunson said, "Yeah, definitely. It was a different role for me. We all had a role. I knew I was ready for anything that happened. I didn't get mad when I didn't get in. I was just happy the team was doing well, happy we were doing everything we were supposed to do. When you have options, it makes us pretty dangerous."

Because Brunson had such a virtuoso performance in last year's under-19 world championships before getting to Villanova, earning MVP honors with a group that includes guys mentioned as 2017 top lottery picks, there was a lot of one-and-done talk surrounding his name. The truth is, Brunson is a different kind of talent. He'll be a pro, because he is a pro. But that talk was a little premature.

Right now, that's all moot. Wright noted that Brunson came to Villanova with so many AP credits, he might be able to get his undergraduate degree after his junior year.

On the court?

"It's like he's 35 years old,'' Wright said. "He's special."