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Villanova’s Brandon Slater ready for starting role

After a big summer, expect Brandon Slater to be running with the starting lineup on Tuesday night.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Villanova at Baylor Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

After all the offseason chatter and starting lineup projections, if Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Justin Moore are the locks, one more piece is locked in — Brandon Slater.

The senior wing is getting the starting nod for Tuesday night in the Wildcats’ season opener against Mount St. Mary’s.

“It means the world, my coaches and teammates trust me,” Slater said. “They trust me and have seen me put in all the work. They expect more from me this season.”

Slater, the last remaining member of his recruiting class that once included Saddiq Bey, Cole Swider and Jahvon Quinerly, has stuck it out and is being rewarded for his hard work and improvement throughout his career.

“He’s put in the work over the last four years and he’s come a long way,” Gillespie said of Slater. “He’s gotten better each year and he’s had a great attitude through it all. He definitely deserves it. He brings a lot to the table both offensively and on the offensive end. It’s going to be good to have him out there with us. We know that he brings great energy and value to the team.”

Slater appeared in all 25 games for the ‘Cats last season, making two starts. He averaged 3.8 points, 2.2 rebounds and shot 49.3% on the floor through 16.8 minutes per game of action.

The 6-foot-7 forward flashed his athleticism throughout his time on the Main Line, coupled with his contributions and versatility in guarding multiple positions on the defensive end. He’s been taking strides to improve offensively and become a well-rounded player.

“I have to say (I’ve improved) at everything, defensively, offensively, gotten better just thinking in the game, making decisions, listening and just everything,” Slater said. “We got back after we lost in the tournament and we were pretty much practicing right then and there. We were trying to get better each and every day. I was fortunate to go overseas and play in France, 3-on-3, playing with my teammates here at Villanova. That was an amazing experience, and I’ve been learning ever since I got here, but this summer has been very helpful.”

Coach Jay Wright added some more insight into his growth throughout Slater’s career and this past summer.

He’s excited to see how Slater relishes in the role and plays against a senior-laden, veteran Mount St. Mary’s team.

“It goes back to his freshman year, it’s how he’s handled every challenge he’s faced during his college career that has earned him the respect of everybody in the program, from managers to players to coaches,” Wright said. “Then, his gradual progression of just getting better every day of being a Villanova basketball player to the point where, during this summer, it just evolved that he was one of the top five Villanova basketball players.

“It’s just a really encouraging, inspiring path to watch. When you got a guy that’s starting that everybody believes in, but everyone also respects their journey, it’s really valuable to your team.”

Injury update

Bryan Antoine (knee) is “still weeks away, but making good progress,” according to Wright.

Nnanna Njoku (concussion protocol, hydration issues) missed five weeks of practice, but has recently returned to the gym for the last two days.

“Nnanna is perfectly healthy and fine, he just has no idea what we’re doing,” Wright said. “He hasn’t practiced in five weeks, but he’s perfectly fine. His was a hydration thing, so it wasn’t like he had injuries he had to come back from, he just couldn’t be on the court to practice. He’s perfectly fine. He’s practiced for two days now, just has no clue what we’re doing, so we’ll have to see how quickly he can catch up.

Caleb Daniels (COVID-19 complications) is “100% perfectly fine.”