As expected, Jalen Brunson of Villanova was named Wednesday as the Big East player of the year. However, he received another award from the conference that pleased him even more.
Brunson was honored as the Big East men’s basketball scholar-athlete of the year. He holds a 3.34 grade-point average in communications and is on track to graduate in three years at ceremonies in May. The award comes with a $2,000 scholarship that Brunson may apply for graduate or professional studies.
Brunson’s teammate, Omari Spellman, received the conference’s freshman of the year award.
For all the accolades he has received this season for his play on the court, Brunson, a junior from Lincolnshire, Ill., appreciated the recognition for his play off the court.
“I think the scholar award definitely hits home,” Brunson said after the awards announcement in New York, site of the Big East tournament. “I think it’s a little better than the player of the year because anyone can just focus on basketball. But when you’re balancing basketball and school, it’s definitely a great accomplishment.
“I think it does put into perspective that players can be successful on and off the court. You just have to put your mind to it and be willing to sacrifice the things you want to do for the things you need to do.”
Brunson is only the second player in Big East history to win both awards in the same year. Emeka Okafor of Connecticut did it in 2003. Brunson’s selection was made by the conference’s academic affairs committee.
Brunson was happy to have his mother and sister present when he received his awards. His father, former Temple star and NBA player Rick Brunson, is an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“It’s great just to know that my family has been through a lot with me,” he said. “They sacrificed so much for me to be where I am today, they sacrificed a lot. So I thank them for that.”
Spellman, the first Villanova freshman of the year since Scottie Reynolds in 2007, averaged 10.9 points and 7.8 rebounds. The 6-foot-9 1/2 forward ranked in the top three of the conference in two very different categories, three-point shooting (43.6 percent) and blocked shots (1.5 per game).
“It’s an extreme honor,” Spellman said. “I just wanted to play as hard as I could and as together as I could with my teammates. It’s honestly a testament to how we do things at Villanova. I wasn’t trying to get this award, it just happened.”