For some Villanova Wildcats, NBA awaits

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Villanova guard Josh Hart likely will be one of the top 25 picks in this year's NBA draft, one expert says.

Seasons end abruptly and quickly segue into new journeys. There's little time to lament a devastating loss in Buffalo when the scouting combine in Chicago is less than 50 days away. The searing pain of that second-round loss to Wisconsin might last a while, but for some of the Villanova players it's already time to look ahead. The NBA is the next stop and that's a pretty good place to recover from a disappointing end to an incredible college career.

Unlike some of the elite programs, coach Jay Wright's Wildcats squad is not filled with one-and-done freshmen who will be plucked from the top of the June 22 draft board. Villanova will, however, likely have at least one player selected in the first round and that number could grow to two depending on sophomore Jalen Brunson's decision about his future.

Elan Vinokurov, an NBA draft expert and president of EV Hoops, a scouting consulting company used by the league, labeled senior shooting guard Josh Hart as the best prospect on the Villanova roster and said he believes he will be among the top 25 picks in the draft.

"I really think he has shown a ton of improvement over the course of his college career," Vinokurov said Monday during a telephone interview. "He truly made giant leaps every season he was at Villanova and that shows me he had a combination of hard work, drive, and passion to improve."

That is no doubt what NBA scouts saw as well. Hart, 22, first served notice that he was a star on the rise during his sophomore season at the Big East tournament. He had played well during the 31 regular-season games, but soared to another level during Villanova's three-game march to its first conference tournament championship since 1995. From there, he kept getting better.

"I don't think he has maxed out his potential yet," Vinokurov said. "I think some coach in the NBA early on is going to tell him he needs to do X, Y, and Z and he'll buy in because that's the way he was coached at Villanova. And from there I think he could grow beyond expectations and surprise people."

Another lock to play in the NBA from this year's Villanova team is Brunson, but the timeline for that ascension remains unknown because the point guard is only a sophomore. Interestingly, Vinokurov does not think it will matter much which draft Brunson ends up in.

"If this were 2004 or 2005, he'd be a top-20 pick," Vinokurov said. "But in today's game, the point guards are longer, more athletic and explosive and Brunson is not necessarily any of those things. Too many teams have been burned by smaller point guards."

That said, Vinokurov loves the way Brunson plays the game and he thinks at least one NBA team will fall in love with him, too.

"I personally believe if a guy is thinking about the draft, there's no harm in testing the idea," he said. "You go through the process, go through the combine, and see what the scouts tell you. You might find one team that loves him and wants to take him late in the first round. As long as you don't have an agent, you can go back to school.

"I don't know what he's thinking. He might love school and want to be this awesome force at 'Nova and have his jersey retired. Or he might want to start chasing the pro dream. I see him right now as a second-rounder who somebody will view as a super-steady, winning point guard."

If Brunson decides to stay, the Wildcats will likely have more NBA draft prospects in their starting lineup next season than they did this year.

"I don't think there's any way [Kris] Jenkins gets drafted," Vinokurov said. "I think a lot of people are going to hold his shooting struggles against him. I think he's a better shooter than he showed this season, but that has to be one of his calling cards. He improved his body while in school, but I think he's going to have to improve it even more at the next level."

Darryl Reynolds will also go undrafted and Vinokurov believes he'll have to choose between being in the NBA Developmental League and going overseas.

The players expected to return to Villanova undoubtedly have Wright and the Wildcats alumni already yearning for next season.

"I think [redshirt sophomore] Mikal Bridges was the second-best [pro] prospect on the team," Vinokurov said. "If he declared right now, he'd go in the second round because he'd surprise a lot of people at his workouts. He's long with freaky tools and he can defend. He just needs to polish his ballhandling skills and his ability to create offensively. But he should look at Hart and use that as a template for developing at the college level."

Donte DiVincenzo also could be in the conversation as a prospect at this time next season.

"I think some people fell in love with him during the Big East and NCAA tournaments," Vinokurov said. "I couldn't believe how improved he is since high school and even last season. He has a motor and explosiveness on offense and defense that he did not have before. That's what he learned from being in that program."

A season ended abruptly Saturday. It has already segued into something new for those departing and will soon for those remaining.

bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob