When Jalen Brunson announced almost a year ago that he would come back to Villanova for his junior season and put his NBA dreams on hold, he talked about how much he loved playing for the Wildcats.
"I love playing in this program," he said then. "I just feel like I can get better at multiple things, especially on the defensive end and in all aspects of my game. I just feel like I have a lot to learn, and I want to be able to lead a team. I want to help these guys win more championships."
Yes, he got better this season, earning almost every national player-of-the-year award. Yes, he led the Wildcats to another national championship, their second in his three years on the Main Line.
On Wednesday, he announced he was taking the next step, bypassing his senior season to enter the NBA draft.
"After careful consideration and prayer, I have decided to enter the 2018 NBA draft and hire an agent," he said on ESPN.com in an article, "A message to my Villanova family," addressed to "Nova Nation":
"I want to thank my parents, family members including extended family, and close friends for their continued love and support through this process. I would also like to thank all the coaches that I have had throughout my career for everything they have done for me and my family. Lastly, I want to thank my teammates for welcoming me to a family that I am forever grateful for being able to join."
Brunson could not be reached for comment on why he has made the move, but his record of accomplishments over three seasons – two national championships, 2018 national player-of-the-year honors including the Wooden and Naismith awards, two Big East regular-season and conference-tournament championships – are matched by few players.
Villanova finished 36-4 this season and went 103-13 in Brunson's three years.
The 6-foot-2½ Brunson, rated a late-first-round pick in some mock drafts, led the Wildcats in scoring with an 18.9-point average and in assists at 4.6 per game. He shot 52.1 percent from the field overall, 40.8 percent from three-point range, and 80.2 percent on free throws.
He is the second Wildcat in as many days to declare for the draft, joining redshirt junior forward Mikal Bridges.
"Jalen has left an indelible mark on our university and our basketball program," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "He is both the consummate Villanova basketball player and Villanova student-athlete, a leader on and off the court. We're proud of the man he has become. This is an intelligent decision, and I have every confidence in his ability to succeed at the professional level."
Brunson is scheduled to graduate from Villanova this summer. He was named a second-team CoSIDA academic all-American with a 3.34 grade-point average as a communications major.