From 2016-18, Jalen Brunson led Villanova to two NCAA titles during a three-year span. While that period of time was an obvious special occasion, nothing was more special for the 6-3 Dallas Mavericks guard than what transpired this past weekend.
That’s when Brunson returned to Villanova and walked across the stage and received his college degree in communications during the school’s graduating exercises.
“It meant a lot just because my family, we really pride ourselves on getting an education,” Brunson said. “Just seeing my mom and dad having their degrees, being at such a great school like Villanova, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.’’
Brunson actually went into crunch mode, took several hours during three summer sessions and graduated from Villanova last July after just three years at the Philadelphia-based school. But as far as walking across the stage and having that coveted diploma placed in his hands, Brunson had to exercise some patience.
“I could have walked (across the stage) last year and I had an opportunity to,” said Brunson, who was the 33rd overall pick by the Mavs of last summer’s NBA Draft. “But I thought it would be better if I just walked with my class — my original class.”
While he admits the ceremony was “great,” Brunson had mixed emotions during the proceedings.
“Even though I had been away for a while, it also was kind of sad seeing everyone going their separate ways now,” he said. “But I’ve definitely got some friends — not just from my (basketball) team — but classmates there that I’m definitely going to keep in touch with and keep those relationships, because that’s probably the biggest thing I’m going to take away from that school.”
Brunson’s parents – Sandra and Rick – both graduated from Temple University and were in attendance for their son’s memorable occasion. An occasion that came about thanks to a lot of grit and determination on Brunson’s part.
“Every summer (the basketball team) had to be (at Villanova) just to work out,” Brunson said. “So, I just overloaded (with classes) when I got there and I tried to take as many (hours) as I could.”
And how many hours was that?
“More than I should have,” Brunson said. “More than was asked of me. I was just trying to knock it out.”
As it turned out, science was the most challenging class for Brunson.
“Science is not for me,” he said. “Anything else I could do. Math is cool, writing papers or anything like that. But science is not for me.”
Brunson was so dialed in and adamant about getting his college degree that he skipped some important basketball camps in order to attend class. These were prestigious camps that had a direct impact on his future as an NBA player.
“A couple of years before I opted out of doing the Nike camps and the Adidas camp and all those camps that the people do for the summertime,” Brunson said. “I just decided not to do it.
“I just stayed on campus, went to school and just worked out so I could be at one place in one time. I knew the NBA wasn’t going anywhere, so I just took my time, I got better each year and I got my degree.”
Brunson also got to participate in Villanova’s annual Senior Day, although that was a bit tricky. The Mavs had three days between games after playing in Cleveland on Feb. 2 before playing a home game against Charlotte on Feb. 6, so Brunson took that opportunity to return to Villanova and participate in the popular Senior Day experience.
“The year before — even though I was graduating — I technically wasn’t a senior, my mom always wanted me to have that Senior Day where I get to walk out and basically just be recognized for being a senior,” Brunson said. “When I got the opportunity and the time to go back and do it, I did and it was pretty special for my family and it was pretty cool.
“We played Cleveland and we had a day off the next day, so I flew to Philly on the day off that morning, and then came back after the game. It was crazy, but I was just trying to find time to rest. So soon as I went home I just went to sleep and found ways to find sleep on the plane and just be rested and caught up on rest the next couple of days.”
As far as what he wants to do far, far down the road when his NBA career is history, Brunson has some long-range plans dancing in his head.
“I’m not sure at what level yet, but I definitely want to coach the game of basketball,” he said. “And then (pursue) sports broadcasting and broadcast journalism, so we’ll see.
“I just love this game so much I don’t know what I would do without it. It’s taken me places where I never thought I would be before, so I just want to continue to give back by teaching the game and also have the game take me places I’ve never been before.”
And that includes walking across the stage to receive his prestigious college degree.