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VUSports Season Preview: Booth & Brunson

VUSports season preview continues with an in-depth look at backcourt mates, Phil Booth and Jalen Brunson ...

Phil Booth   (Guard, 6-3, 185 lbs)

On November 20th of 2015, Villanova Sophomore guard, Phil Booth scored 16 points for the Cats in an early season home win over East Tennessee St.   Amazingly, he wouldn't score more than 12 points in a game again until the final game of the season - his epic 20 point scoring performance against UNC in the National Championship game in Houston on 6-7 shooting from the floor and 6-6 from the free-throw line.  

What Villanova would discover after the season was that Booth was playing through a series of medical issues - as Jay Wright explained to VUSports this summer: "It was really a strange situation.  There were a couple times where his knee was bothering him and we said "lets get an MRI" and he would come back the next day and say "I don't want to, it feels fine".  And when we ask him now he says "it did feel fine".  There were things that Jeff Pierce [Villanova's Trainer] would do and his knee would feel fine and then a few days would go by and it would bother him and he wouldn't say anything and you could see him laboring sometimes and then we would say "lets get it checked" but after a day or two he would say it was fine.  When you watch the way he played in the Championship game it was unbelievable.  It wasn't anything major - he had a small tear in his cartilage.  It wasn't swelling.  At the end of the year we said "lets just get it checked" - there weren't any problems.  He was tough.  It is unbelievable how tough that kid is.  I am amazed.  The mono thing … he never had any signs, he wasn't tired or anything.  At the end of the season, he had a sore throat, was sick and didn't feel well but during the season he never had that.  They said he was at the end of it at that point.  He never complains about anything.  Even this year when we kind of expected him to come back and maybe be a starter - when he didn't started he wasn't happy but he didn't complain, he didn't sulk.  You never know what is going on in his head.  But whatever is going on in his head is always positive, he is amazing.  We learned a lot about him this year.  He is quiet, positive, low maintenance … we would have never known he was that tough of a kid but then we found out later he had mono and a torn cartilage.  We have learned that we have to really take advantage of this and really drive him and make sure that he understands how special he is and how far he can go."

After shooting lights-out from the floor as a Frosh (48.5% from three-point range and 64.5% from two-point range), Booth came back to earth as a Soph (31.7% from three and 42% from two).  Booth posted a 128.1 O Rtg as a Frosh playing 35.9% of minutes and taking 18.3 % of shots.  His usage was up a bit as a Soph and he posted an O-Rtg of 100.9 in 54.5% minutes and 19.8% shots.  His shot charts from his Frosh season (left) and Soph season (right) demonstrate that, other than maintaining his efficiency on three-pointers from the right wing, that Booth suffered a drop in his shooting across the board.

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Of course all was forgiven when Booth scored 20 in the Championship Game:

Booth starts the 2016-17 season with plenty of promise and a clean bill of health.  Here are highlights from a quick conversation VUSports had with Booth at Media Day:

VUSports: How are you feeling health-wise?

Phil Booth: I feel great.  I am feeling way better than I felt at any time last year.  The surgery did me well and the staff did a great job.  I am feeling like I am at 100% right now.  

VUSports: How do you feel things are meshing with you and Jalen in the backcourt right now?

Phil Booth: We have a great relationship on and off the court.  He is a very good player and an unselfish guy so I don’t have a problem playing alongside of him.  He has always been one to look for others ahead of himself so we should have a good thing going along with the rest of the guys on the court.

VUSports: You have shot the ball quite well from mid-range and deep seemingly from the moment you walked on campus but your handle and passing off the dribble have been areas needing more attention.  What have you been doing to improve those aspects of your game knowing you will be asked to play the point more than in the past?

Phil Booth: The summer is always about improving your offensive skills and offensive game so I always try to get an edge and work on my offensive ability.  Anything I can do handling and shooting-wise to keep everything clean and try to improve every aspect of my game I will do.  

VUSports: You rebound well from the guard position do you see that and your defensive ability being an asset late in games to ensure that even though you, in tandem with Jalen, could be considered a “smaller backcourt” you can finish games strong?

Phil Booth: For us, all five guys have to rebound.  We really take pride in that and we really do all rebound.  it isn’t one guy - it takes all five so neither of us mind getting in there and getting boards, especially late in games.  

Villanova fans should expect plenty from Booth this season.  His handle and passing ability have improved, he is fully versed in Jay Wright's offensive and defensive schemes and his shot has looked solid in practices and scrimmages to date.  His added maturity will allow him to blend effortlessly with Brunson in the backcourt and provide a dual-headed, dribble-drive attack from the guard positions.

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Jalen Brunson (Guard, 6-2.5, 199 lbs)

Somewhat lost in all the hoopla of Villanova's run to the National Championship last season was how seamlessly Jalen Brunson was able to mesh into the starting line-up and perform at a high level of efficiency from seemingly his first game.  Plugged into a line-up with an experienced group of starters, Brunson posted an ORtg of 107.9 for the season while shooting 38.3% from beyond the arc and 51% from two-point range.  He hit on 77.4% of his free throws and posted solid assist and turnover rate numbers.

His season high in scoring came when he scored 25 at Temple:

Brunson's shot chart from his Freshman season (see below) shows that he has a lot of versatility to his offensive game.  He can score from anywhere on the floor at a good clip, doesn't need to shoot at a high volume to remain efficient, and doesn't have that sort of hole in his shooting game which defenses can look to exploit.  His challenge will be to try to maintain this level of efficiency as he takes on more of the scoring burden and ball-handling chores over the course of an entire game.

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Here are some highlights from VUSports Media Day Q&A with Jalen Brunson in which he talks about how prepared he is for the season:

VUSports: The impressive thing about what you did last year, personally, was fit in with everyone.  You took what you could get, didn't force things but weren’t afraid to take the big shot - such as the corner three-ball you hit in the first part of the 2nd half of the Championship game.  How were you able to keep that confidence in your shot to take the big shot even though you weren’t getting a large volume of shots in the flow of many of the games?

Jalen Brunson: Most importantly, I know that I have to keep my confidence no matter what, that involves staying at practice a little longer, getting extra shots up, talking to teammates and saying “I will be open and whenever you hit me I will be ready to shoot” because always being ready to take the shot helps.  It is a credit to my teammates and coaches and my family that they always have confidence in me.  They have so much confidence in me that I actually have the same confidence in myself.


VUSports: How do you feel about your individual defense going into this season.  Last year you may not have gotten as many minutes towards the end of games that you may have gotten if Coach wasn’t looking to add more defense, rebounding, or size to the line-up …

Jalen Brunson: I think my defense is getting better.  It is a process.  It is not really a finished product - nothing is a finished product.  My defense is getting there and it is something I have to come into practice everyday and focusing on my defense and getting better at it.


VUSports: There is a perception that Kris Jenkins, Josh Hart, and Phil Booth are more low key, jovial guys that lead by setting the example and performing well while Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono were viewed as being more serious, let’s get down to business type leaders.  Are you more of the serious type and in some respect will help keep the Seniors and Junior in focus?

Jalen Brunson: I think I am kind of more serious now.  I am getting older, getting more mature and understanding what needs to get done, understanding that when we come in here it is not really time to joke around.  We come in here to get better.  I think it is our mindset.  With Josh and Kris and Darryl [Reynolds] as Senior captains they are doing a great job and doing a better job of making sure we are coming to practice and coming to practice every day with the right mindset and trying to get better.

Villanova Senior, Darryl Reynolds shared some thoughts on Brunson's game with VUSports at Big East Media Day: "Jalen is going to do what Jalen does.  When you look at what it was - Jalen in many ways played the 1 last year and he is playing the 1 this year in the same way.  His game has not changed a ton.  He is making better decisions.  He is getting better on defense.  His shot has improved.  He has improved in every way.  His passing … he has improved across the board.  I don't think his game is going to change tremendously.  He is a leader in his own right.  He doesn’t defer to anybody.  He will lead this team one day.  He understands that we are Seniors but that doesn’t mean he is not a leader.   That doesn’t mean that anybody can’t lead at any time just because we have the Senior title and we have been here longer doesn’t mean that somebody else can’t lead in a way and Jalen definitely makes sure that he does that.  He is a natural-born leader.  You can see that his people really instilled all that in him from a young age.  He is definitely a great leader."

Here is a great look at Brunson's pre-Villanova career that gives some perspective on the making of the player and person:

Wildcat fans should expect big things from Brunson this season.  He will take on larger roles across the board - leadership, scoring, ball-handling, and initiating the offense.  He is hardened and experienced for a Soph and will play above his years.


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