On his way to helping Villanova win a second national championship in three years, Mikal Bridges did a marvelous job of defending the leading scorers from the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament opponents.
However, the more remarkable job achieved by Bridges during those three weekends was fending off the hundreds of questions from media asking him if he would be leaving for the NBA, and being able to focus on what Villanova needed to do to sweep all six games, which it did by 12 or more points.
To Bridges — a 6-foot-7 swingman from Malvern and Great Valley High School who formally announced Tuesday that he will pass up his final year of eligibility with the Wildcats and enter the NBA draft — that part was easy.
“I was fine,” he said in a phone interview. “I wasn’t really thinking about it. My coaches and my teammates got me really locked into the games. I was thinking ‘win’ and playing our way, and we did it successfully.
“I’ve been talking to my coaches and family about it and it’s time to move on to a new chapter in my life. It’s always been a dream. I think it’s just the right time now.”
Bridges, who will receive his degree next month from Villanova, is expected to be a lottery pick in the June draft. A survey of seven mock draft sites Tuesday had Bridges going as the ninth pick in two, the 10th selection in four and 11th in one.
Bridges, who sat out his first year at Villanova, has been attracting the attention of NBA scouts for the past two years with an ability to hit the three-point shot, drive to the basket, rebound, defend the opponent’s top scorer and play multiple positions.
“I’ve just been working on my game and trying to be the best player I can be, trying to improve every day on everything possible,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to my coaches, always helping me out whenever I wanted to work out. I just have a pretty strong work ethic. I love the game of basketball.”
Bridges said the two players he most admires in the NBA are San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Oklahoma City’s Paul George.
“I like how they grew as players in the NBA,” he said. “They weren’t an 18-year-old, 19-year-old phenom like LeBron [James]. I’m not saying LeBron didn’t work, but they worked to be how skilled they are right now into superstars and all-stars.”
Bridges put up some impressive numbers this season for Villanova: averages of 17.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game; 43.5 percent shooting from three-point range and 85.1 percent on free throws, a team-high 104 three-point baskets.
Bridges won the Julius Erving Award as the nation’s top small forward and was named a third-team All-America by the Associated Press. He also was a first-team All-Big East selection and was named the most outstanding player of the Big East tournament.
“Mikal has been an exemplary student-athlete during his four years with us at Villanova,” coach Jay Wright said in a statement. “His work ethic and willingness to accept coaching have helped him grow steadily in his time here. He’s a great teammate and leader. I’m confident he will enjoy a very successful professional career.”
Teammate Jalen Brunson also is expected to forgo his final season of eligibility to enter the NBA draft. Two other Wildcats — Donte DiVincenzo, the Final Four’s most outstanding player, and Omari Spellman — are gathering information from NBA teams as to their draft prospects with Wright’s help.