On the Beat | Confident Hart Ready for NBA, Appreciative of Sixers Connection

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

CHICAGO, IL - Josh Hart was just about ready to park himself down behind one of the tiny round tables inside the media workroom at Quest MultiSport, when he realized he forgot something.

Moments later, he returned, prepared for his scrum with reporters at the NBA Draft Combine.

“Back and better than ever,” Hart cracked with a smile.

The statement seemed appropriate for the moment.

This time a year ago, Hart was literally in the exact same place he was Thursday - in Chicago, participating in the combine.

Ultimately, after a handful of pre-draft workouts in the weeks that followed (one of which was with the Sixers), Hart, a driving force for the Villanova Wildcats during their 2016 national championship run, determined that his long-term basketball interests would be best served by returning to school, so he did.

For his final act on the Main Line, Hart didn’t disappoint. He averaged a personal-best 18.7 points per game, to go along with 6.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.5 steals. The do-all Big East Player of the Year was also named a consensus First-Team All-American.

After getting a “taste” of the combine last year, Hart said he felt confident making a return visit to Chicago’s west side. This go-round, though, he noted that the experience was a little bit different, as he sat out five-on-five scrimmages. That decision aside, the 6-foot-5, 195-pound 22-year old feels he’s well-prepared for the next phase of his hoops career.

“I think I’m mature physically and mentally,” Hart said, when asked about his growth over the past 12 months. “I’m a senior, I’m a four-year guy. I guess I’m an ‘old head’ compared to some of these guys. I think I’m able to come in and make an impact right away coming from that culture...just being polished.”

True as that statement may be, Hart was still an enticing prospect on the heels of his junior year. Posting 15.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.9 assists in 2015-2016, he was widely viewed by draft experts as a potential second-round pick. Fast forward to the present, and round two again seems to be a likely landing spot.

Spending four full years at Villanova, however, is a choice about which Hart has no regrets. As for the perception that veteran collegians might not make appealing draft targets, he’ll hear nothing of the notion.

“I think saying a four-year guy is old is foolish, to be honest,” said Hart. “That’s the first time someone at 21 or 22 years old is ‘old.’ I don’t think that’s smart.”

Why does Hart speak about this subject with such strong conviction?

“A lot of times, the draft isn’t about the best basketball player, just about who has the best potential,” he said. “You can’t knock that, because guys athletically, physically are freaks, long, crazy wing spans, tall, and their potential and ceiling is through the roof, and that’s no knock on them.”

But, and there was a ‘but’...

“When it comes to playing this game, and knowing how to impact the team offensively and defensively, that’s what four year guys are. You can go down the list with so many four-year guys able to go in and make an impact right away,” said Hart, citing players like Jimmy Butler and Malcolm Brogdon. “It’s not, ‘Ok, we’ll groom him for two, three years to see what happens.’ There’s no seeing what happens with a four-year guy. You know what you’re getting.”

As for the value he might be able to bring to one of the NBA’s 30 teams, Hart points to his versatility. He considers this asset critical to his draft stock, and sounded as if he won’t allow himself to be pigeon-holed.

“I’m a basketball player is my position, especially how this game is kind of transcending,” he said, noting that “a lot of organizations are going small” in terms of their personnel.

“You see small forwards playing power forward, and that’s just how this game is going, so I’m not going to label myself as a shooting guard, I’m not going to label myself as a small forward. I’m a basketball player who can play four different positions on the court, and defend four different positions on the court.”

If not for Hart’s direct connection to a member of the Sixers’ coaching staff, perhaps his path would have been different. Billy Lange, one of Brett Brown’s assistants, was on Jay Wright’s bench when Hart was in high school at Sidwell Friends. Lange became one of Hart’s primary recruiters.

“My man B. Lange, that’s my guy!,” Hart said Thursday. “I got all love for him, his family, mamma Lange, the Lange gang. They meant so much to me. They really started my transition to Villanova, and they’re a big part of that.”

Hart said that the summer before his freshman season, he took the news hard that Lange would be leaving the Wildcats in order to pursue an opportunity with the Sixers.

“I’m thankful for [the Lange family], and that’s a relationship I’m always going to have.”

On the cusp of an exciting crossroads in his life, Hart said that regardless of whether or not he continues his basketball career in Philadelphia, the region will always have a special place in his heart.

“It’s been great,” said Hart. “Anyone that knows Philly, that’s a blue collar city that has that grit, that toughness to it. Just playing there for four years, that’s kind of what I am. Having that support has been amazing.”