There were a lot of big dunks, big names, and big news in Villanova Basketball's Summer Jam which officially kicked off their summer trip to Europe. Along with the carnival atmosphere and the showcase event of the Blue/White scrimmage, there were lots of alumni (including Detroit Piston Darrun Hilliard) and recruits in attendance, as well as a strong showing by the Nova Nation. Before we get into the players on the court, here's a quick recap of the off-court news:
- Omari Spellman will be traveling and practicing with the team in Spain, but he is not yet cleared by the NCAA to compete in games. The issue seems to be when Spellman's official 4-year eligibility clock starts. While Jay Wright did seem confident that the issue would be resolved, he admitted that the worst case scenario would be an academic red-shirt this season. It's important to note that this is not an academic issue with Spellman's grades and he's in good standing with both the University and the NCAA.
- Darryl Reynolds will not be traveling with the team to Spain after sustaining a deep bone contusion during practice. Josh Hart caught him with an inadvertent elbow, and he's being held back as a precautionary measure. He's expected to make a full recovery and be ready to go prior to the start of the season.
- Tim Delaney also sat out of Summer Jam with an injury. Unfortunately there were no new updates on his status or a time table for him returning to competition.
- Recruits Cam Reddish and Darryl Morsell were both in attendance for Summer Jam with their parents. Jay took time to sit and talk with both of them while the rest of the coaching staff ran the Blue/White Scrimmage.
- Henry Lowe made his coaching debut as an assistant on Team White. It's great to see more former Wildcats on the bench this year!
Team Blue (Brunson, Hart, Paschall, Bridges and Painter) edged Team White (Jenkins, Booth, DiVincenzo, Spellman, and Leibig) by a final score of 18-16 in a short 10 minute game. While Hart, Brunson, and Bridges got things going after a slow start for Team Blue, the clear star of the night was freshman big man Omari Spellman. While it was just an early season scrimmage, there was a lot to be learned about every player on this team, even those who didn't play.
Josh Hart is harder, better, faster, stronger
After a summer of NBA workouts and big name camps, Hart looks like even more of a beast than he did at the end of last season. He told the media after the scrimmage that he's put on 15 lbs. of muscle in the off-season, and it shows! If you thought it was tough to get a rebound away from this guy last season, forget about it now.
Kris Jenkins is still in the spotlight
For Jenkins, he will probably never have another moment in his athletic career that tops last season. But the senior is focused on this team, and this year. He admits that he'll probably be talking about that shot with fans for the rest of his life, and he's happy to do so. But the key for him is being able to compartmentalize it and remain focused on the new challenge that this season will provide.
Darryl Reynolds is a leader on and off the court
I can't imagine how painful it must be to take an elbow from Josh Hart. But possibly more painful is having a European trip with the team you're now the captain of taken away from you at the last minute. But Reynolds isn't the kind of player to sit on the sidelines in self-pity. Throughout the event he was rooting on team white, talking with the coaching staff, and pulling players aside (specifically Spellman) to give them pointers and suggestions. We lost a lot of Senior leadership last season, but I think Reynolds is going to be a spectacular leader in the locker room and on the court.
Denny Grace is your new favorite walk-on
Grace is a 5'11" senior guard out of Maryland who's been on the practice team for a while now. While he ran drills with the team early on, he did not play in the Blue/White Scrimmage. However, I don't think anyone participated more in the game than Grace. He was the loudest cheerleader on the bench, he was talking to all his teammates during timeouts, he was assisting the coaching staff with whatever he could, and he has more energy than any player I've ever seen. Think Rudy but with a clip board. The student section is going to go nuts if this kid ever makes it into a game.
Phil Booth is going to be a play-maker
He was doing everything as the point guard for Team White last night. Great passes, dribble penetration, solid defense, and when all else failed he created his own shot. Last year Booth played starter's minutes with the 5th most on the team, even though he always came off the bench. Now that there are some openings in the starting roster, there's a good shot he'll have an even bigger role this season.
Tom Leibig is the first walk-on off the bench
Leibig is a 6'4" junior from Haverford, PA and was the lone walk-on to play in the scrimmage last night. While it looked like he had a clear "red light" as far as shooting goes, he held his own defensively and made smart passes around the perimeter. Think Henry Lowe but bigger, faster, and more athletic. I'm hoping Jay won't be in many situations next season where he's forced to use him, but I do hope he gets into a couple blow outs next season.
Jalen Brunson is this season's breakout player
After the scrimmage, Coach Wright was asked what Jalen Brunson needed to do this season to be a leader, especially with Ryan Arcidiacono gone. Jay said "He just needs to be himself. What you saw last year was Jalen Brunson sacrificing so that the team could win. Now he's a more aggressive, fun, outgoing guy." That combination of aggressiveness and fun was immediately evident on the court as Brunson hit teammates with no-look passes and showed off a few new dribble-drive moves he picked up over the summer. No one's ever going to forget Arch, but I don't think we're going to miss him either. The Brunson hype is REAL!
Mikal Bridges is your new favorite player
Ok, he already was a lot of people's new favorite player. But honestly, he looks like he hasn't missed a step since the Championship game. He's still an aggressive defender that causes all kinds of passing lane problems, he's gotten even better at slashing through the lane, and his rebounding is improving. Bridges might just get edged out for a starting spot this season, but expect him to get A LOT of minutes as he continues to improve.
Eric Paschall is a brick wall
Unlike last season's blue/white scrimmage, last night wasn't the Eric Paschall show. He didn't record many offensive stats, didn't have any big flashy moves, and didn't shoot it that well. But you know what? Neither did his opponents. Paschall spent a lot of the night guarding Jenkins, and he was not going to let last year's star show him up. We know Paschall has the offensive talent that earned him Rookie of the Year at Fordham, so it was good to see him in the role of lock-down defender as well.
Omari Spellman is a BEAST
Putting aside any eligibility issues, Spellman is a huge talent that can do anything and everything you want from a big man. He was finishing at the rim, passing from the paint, rebounding well, shot blocking, and knocking down jump shots. Even in warm-ups he hit 8 consecutive 3's from about 5 feet behind the arc. Assuming he's cleared to play, I won't be surprised to see him in the starting roster sooner rather than later.
Donte DiVincenzo is going to out-work everybody
If you thought that you were going to miss having a guard with a difficult to pronounce last name flying into the media table while going after a loose ball, Donte DiVincenzo says not so fast. DiVincenzo has worked hard to come back from last year's injury, but it hasn't made him hesitant when it comes to diving for loose balls or crashing the boards. After the scrimmage, Jay specifically mentioned DiVincenzo as a guy they'll be looking to contribute more this season. From what I saw last night he's ready to step up.
Dylan Painter is ready to contribute
While Spellman was the player of the night, Painter showed that he'll be able to contribute immediately off the bench. He's not going to spread the floor like Spellman can, but he does have some decent offense in the post and can be a rim protector with his size and length. He still has some improving to do, but it's good to know that even if Delaney's out there's depth in the front court.
Tim Delaney is making the best of a bad situation
After sitting out a season with a medical red-shirt, Delaney starts this year in the same position. With no timetable for his return to competition, it's hard to say how much he'll be able to contribute this season. However, he was working with the coaches and cheering on his teammates from the sidelines, which is always a good sign. If he is able to compete we'll have a first in the Jay Wright era: a crowded front court.
Overall last night was a lot of fun for both the players and the fans. While shots weren't falling at historic levels like last season's tournament run, the team was executing at a high level and should be ready to face the challenges of a title defense. Jay commented that he's looking forward to getting out of the country where no one cares who they are and they can focus on building team chemistry against pro-level talent. With the season just around the corner, this trip should be a great first step towards Phoenix.