CHICAGO – When you're Villanova's all-American candidate Jalen Brunson and can generally do whatever you want to during a basketball game, the old saying about not being able to go home again doesn't exactly apply.
In fact, Brunson, who was the two-time Illinois high school player of the year at Adali Stevenson High in Lincolnshire, has quite enjoyed his return trips to the Chicago area to play in front of family and friends.
In two games at DePaul University, which until this season played its home games in Rosemont, Ill., Brunson has totaled 29 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in wins for the Wildcats.
On Wednesday night, however, Brunson finally got to play for 'Nova in downtown Chicago as the top-ranked Wildcats played DePaul in the first Big East Conference game at the new Wintrust Arena in the Near South Side community.
The result was a familiar one as the Wildcats opened their Big East schedule with a 103-85 victory over the Blue Demons.
Villanova (13-0, 1-0 in Big East) has now defeated DePaul 15 consecutive times. The Blue Demons (7-6, 0-1) last beat the Wildcats on Jan. 3, 2008.
Sometimes Brunson looks so effortless when he plays that it is easy to overlook how dominant he is.
The junior is the epitome of what 'Nova coach Jay Wright likes to call a "Villanova guard." It's more than just the statistics that Brunson puts up. He is an extension of Wright on the court.
He's an orchestra conductor. Simply put, how Brunson goes is generally how Villanova goes. He knows what buttons to push and when to push them.
"Brunson is a consumate Villanova guard, probably more than anyone we've had although [Toronto Raptors all-star] Kyle Lowry was the same way," Wright said. "Jalen controls the tempo of the game. You can't speed him up, but when he wants to go fast, he goes fast. He's a tremendous weapon for us, and he's also a great leader."
By the time the game ended, Villanova had produced an easy victory, but in the first half, DePaul made a push at the Wildcats and cut the deficit to eight points with 4 ½ minutes on the clock.
Brunson drained a three-pointer and then fed Eric Paschall for a vicious dunk.
The Cats were up, 38-25, and back on their way to a comfortable win.
"Deep down it means a lot [to play in Chicago]," said Brunson, who did not know that the Stevenson High team had moved a game on Wednesday to an earlier time so team members could be at Wintrust to watch him. "That's cool. I always love to come back here.
"But the most important thing is to go on the court and not worry about anything but how we play.That's so important. No matter where we are, I want to play for my teammates. I want to play Villanova basketball. That's what I'm focused on, but after the fact, I enjoy being back here. I have a lot of good memories from here."
Mikal Bridges paced a balanced Villanova attack with 20 points. Brunson had 16 points and five assists. Redshirt freshman Omari Spellman had his fourth double-double of the season with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Phil Booth (17 points), Paschall (16), Donte DiVincenzo (11), and Jermaine Samuels (11) also scored in double figures for the Wildcats.