Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges set for a wild reunion on Team USA

Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges set for a wild reunion on Team USA
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From college teammates at Villanova University, to playing for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup, Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson have come a long way. The trio led Villanova to a pair of national championships (2016 & 2018) in college, and while each player has his own unique skill set, all three have games that translated well to the NBA.

Let’s examine how Hart, Bridges and Brunson played together in college, and how after playing six to five years in the NBA, respectively, led them to the international stage.

Hart, the elder statesman of the trio, was the driving force behind Villanova’s 2016 title run after tallying 15.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game during the 2015-16 season for the Wildcats. Brunson, as a true freshman, posted 9.6 points, 2.5 assists and 1.8 rebounds that season while Bridges chipped in 6.4 points and 3.2 rebounds off the bench after redshirting the season before.

Brunson and Hart received unanimous selections for the Big East all-freshman team and Big East first team. Their stellar play carried over into next season along with Bridges becoming a starter. In the 2016-17 season, the trio dominated, averaging a combined 43.2 points, 13.6 rebounds, eight assists and 4.2 steals per game to power Villanova to a 32-4 regular-season record.

Their hopes of a championship repeat fell short with a second-round loss in the NCAA Tournament. The 2017 Draft came shortly after Villanova’s ouster as Hart was selected No. 30 overall by the Los Angeles Lakers. Hart finished his illustrious Villanova career as the winner of the Julius Erving Award (2017), the Big East Player of the Year (2017), a consensus first team All-American (2017), the Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year (2017), two first team All-Big East selections (2016-17), the Big East Sixth Man of the Year (2015) and made the Big East all-freshman team (2014).

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In 2017-18, Brunson and Bridges took control at Villanova as the team’s best players and its captains. The awards for the trio continued with Brunson being named AP Men’s Basketball Player of the Year and Naismith Player of the Year, while Bridges won the Julius Erving Award and was selected Big East first team. They became the only pair of the teammates that season to be named Wooden Award finalists.

After winning the 2018 national championship, Brunson and Bridges were selected in the 2018 NBA Draft. Bridges went higher, the No. 10 overall pick to the Phoenix Suns via the Philadelphia 76ers, while Brunson became a second-round steal for the Dallas Mavericks with the No. 33 pick.

How each player could help Team USA

It’s been six years since the trio played together on the same team, but now is their chance to shine as one on the World Cup stage.

Hart is known as a jack of all trades and has a reputation for hustling after loose balls, hitting timely 3-pointers and picking up key rebounds or assists. After being traded to the New York Knicks at last season’s trade deadline, he averaged 10.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 58.6% overall and 51.9% on 3-pointers in 25 games. Although his shooting dipped a bit in the playoffs (47.9%), Hart had some solid performances in the Knicks’ first-round series win vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Brunson has elite shot-making skills, a high basketball IQ and has shown to be effective off the ball by playing alongside Luka Doncic (in Dallas) and Julius Randle (in New York), both of whom have high usage rates. His clutch skills were on display in 2022-23, as he shot 51.6% in such situations and a league-best 37.5% on 3-pointers down the stretch. Both of those stats trailed only Sacramento Kings star De’Aaron Fox, the winner of the inaugural Jerry West Clutch Player of the Year Award.

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Bridges has turned from a 3-and-D role player in Phoenix to an all-around star in Brooklyn. Acquired by the Nets as a part of the blockbuster Kevin Durant trade last season, the 6-foot-6 forward didn’t disappoint. In 27 games there, he posted 26.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.0 steals on 47.5% shooting overall and 37.6% on 3-pointers. His play helped Brooklyn clinch a playoff berth and the 26-year-old swingman is entering his prime and will be expected to play consistent minutes under Team USA coach Steve Kerr.

With aging stars such as LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook likely done playing for Team USA, it is now time for the rising stars in the league to take their place. Hart’s intangibles add value, Brunson’s clutch decision making and Bridges’ scoring touch make them valuable players for Team USA in the World Cup.

The former Villanova trio has shown they can play in the NBA. Now they have a chance to pursue another title together on the international stage.