Mikal Bridges, now a Villanova star, was still in high school at the time, at Great Valley High in Malvern. He can remember watching the 2013 NCAA tournament, rooting for La Salle trying to get to the Sweet 16. When it happened on a last-play drive to the hoop by Tyrone Garland, Bridges went appropriately crazy.
He thinks he was home watching, friends over, all going nuts.
"I kind of had that edge,'' Bridges said. "I was like, 'You all know that was my cousin that hit that shot?' Everybody was like, 'Really?' ''
"I think second cousin, on my dad's side, from Philly,'' Bridges said. "I found that out back in high school."
Close enough to count, for both of them. Now it's Garland, forever associated with his self-titled Southwest Philly Floater, part of Philadelphia basketball lore, who says about Bridges, Hey, that's my cousin. Garland, who has played professionally in Canada and Iceland, watches Villanova when he can, rooting for Bridges, if not always his teammates.
"There's a love-hate thing,'' Garland said this week, making it clear he'll always be an Explorer. "They're our rival."
Garland said he found out about Bridges when he was at La Salle. A player on La Salle's women's lacrosse team came over to him, said she'd gone to the prom with his cousin. Who's that? Mikal.
Mikal Bridges. Oh yeah, the last name brought the connection home. Garland remembers Bridges coming to a La Salle game one time. That girl introduced them. Ever since, the association made Garland proud as he followed Bridges' progress.
Did Bridges, with an NCAA title on his resume now, have roots in Southwest Philly?
"I had different — Southwest, straight West [Philly], Overbrook, all around, from my dad and my mom's side,'' Bridges said. "I lived in Overbrook when I was younger, then I moved out to this area around second grade, then I moved to Malvern in middle school."
There's that age-old chestnut about whether Villanova is a Philly team. Even within Villanova's team, the debate can pass the time. Like when Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree showed up this season. Bridges knew Cosby-Roundtree was from Southwest Philly.
"He told me about it, the Southwest Philly Floater,'' Cosby-Roundtree. "He told me when I got up here. I didn't really know Ty Garland, that much, I didn't know about him."
A reminder that five years is a lifetime for a college freshman.
"I knew the Southwest Philly Floater,'' Cosby-Roundtree said. "I didn't know the person."
Does Bridges claim his city roots to Cosby-Roundtree?
"Yeah, he does, jokingly,'' Cosby-Roundtree said. "I kind of like mess with him about it, 'You're not from Philly, you're from Malvern.' He kind of claims like he's from West Philly every once in a while."
Not to carry it too far, but when Jay Wright first got Mikal Bridges into his program, what kind of mix did he see of Malvern vs. city in his game? Was Bridges clearly a suburban guy when he first showed up?
"Off the court, he was definitely a suburban guy — off the court,'' Wright said. "On the court, you saw flashes, you saw a confidence. He always had a unique confidence that almost didn't match his production. I don't mean that in a bad way. It was kind of a good way. … You never worried that this kid was going to break. I think that came from the city."
Maybe the whole city won't claim Bridges, but at least one person always will.
"He's been having great games,'' said Garland, who has been working with young ballplayers at a PAL Center in Southwest, he said, while looking for his next overseas job. (Agents, call him.) To the young guys, he points out his cousin headed for the NBA. No mixed loyalties this weekend.