New York Daily News

New Net Bridges goes gaga over old ’Nova mate


Nets vs Knicks has become quite a promotion for the Villanova basketball program, and, if you ask one of the former Wildcats, the standout of the group — and of the entire program, actually — is the point guard currently playing in Manhattan.

“The best player to ever come out of ‘Nova. He deserves it,” Nets forward Mikal Bridges told the Daily News when asked about Jalen Brunson having his Villanova jersey retired last week. “I feel like he needs a statue next.”

Paul Arizin, the 10-time NBA All-Star for the Philadelph­ia Warriors, certainly had the best pro career out of Villanova. But as far as competing in the NCAA, it’s tough to argue with Bridges’ assessment.

The trio of Bridges, Brunson and Josh Hart won the NCAA title together under coach Jay Wright. Brunson and Bridges won it twice.

Of the three, Bridges, who now plays for the Nets, was considered the best prospect and that played out in the 2018 draft. He was picked 10th overall. Brunson fell to the second round — 23 spots below Bridges — but is elevating toward the better pro as an All-Star candidate.

That’s not a knock on Bridges, who is a First Team All-Defense selection and a top-shelf role player. In fact, the Knicks’ made a terrible error by passing on Bridges in that 2018 draft. They were linked to the 3-and-D specialist — to the point that Bridges was looking up places to live in New York — but instead chose Kevin Knox.

Knox became a bust and arguably the worst mistake of the Steve Mills era.

Bridges, a Philadelph­ia native (who cheers for the Rams, not the Eagles, so he wasn’t upset about the Super Bowl), was picked by his hometown Sixers but traded on draft day to the Suns.

“I thought it was going to be either New York or Philly,” Bridges said. “And it really ended up neither.”

Bridges became a key piece to Phoenix’s run to the 2021 NBA Finals, and then became the key piece to the trade that sent Kevin Durant out of Brooklyn. It’s a new city and uniform with some familiar faces playing for the crosstown rivals.

“It’s dope. It’s exciting to have them close,” Bridges said. “It’s just going to make games even tougher and the rivalry continue to build. But I’m happy for them.”

As far as Brunson’s career in Villanova, it sounds like the Knicks coach might agree with Bridges.

“I know Jay Wright,” Tom Thibodeau said. “[Former Villanova player] Ed Pinckney was on my staff for a long time, and we used to have these great debates about his teams. I’m very close with Patrick Ewing too [who famously lost to Pickney’s team in the 1985 Final Four], and Ed is as well, the irony of that.

“I was a St. Bonaventur­e fan as a kid and Villanova beat them in Final Four. It’s so cool just to see the tradition through all the years. ….They’ve had great coaches, great players. The thing that’s impressive when you’re looking at their history, all the pros they’ve had going through there. But I was looking at Jalen’s accomplish­ments, the two most important being the national championsh­ips. The College Player of the Year, you forget all the awards on top of that.”

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