2018 Draft Workouts: Jalen Brunson

June 14, 2018 - After his workout with the the Pacers, Villanova's Jalen Brunson spoke to Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss.

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2018 Draft Workouts: Jalen Brunson

June 14, 2018 - After his workout with the the Pacers, Villanova's Jalen Brunson spoke to Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss.
Jun 14, 2018  |  02:19

Pacers Cast Eyes on Another Jalen

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer

He's among the first generation of players named after Jalen Rose, the former Pacers star whose unprecedented first name will be one of his everlasting legacies. Now it's Jalen Brunson's time to make a name for himself — a name that will be remembered in the NBA.

Brunson, who quarterbacked Villanova to NCAA championships this past season and in 2016, worked out for the Pacers on Thursday. He was a solo act, travel logistics making it illogical for him to participate in the typical six-man setting. He was put through shooting drills and tested on defensive reads and offensive sets.

"The little things," he said.

Brunson has excelled at the little things in all levels of basketball. He's a point guard who fulfills the clichés of "making his teammates better" and "finding ways to win." It's the big things — at least as some draft analysts see it — that are holding him down in the mock drafts. Despite being the consensus national player of the year his junior season at Villanova, despite hitting 41 percent of his 3-pointers, despite excelling at executing pick-and-rolls, and despite finishing well around the basket, he's regarded as a late first-round or early second-round draft pick.

He claims not to know or care anything about that projection, which is what you might expect from a player valued for his intelligence and maturity. He certainly said all the right things in his conversation with reporters at St. Vincent Center.

"That's just someone's opinion," he said of the mock drafts. "I honestly don't look at that at all. I just focus on what I can control, and that's how hard I play and my attitude."

Brunson gets downgraded by draft analysts because of his relative lack of size and quickness. He was listed at 6-foot-3 in college but since then has either shrunk an inch or found someone with a more accurate tape measure. The 6-2 cataloguing, in shoes, passes the eye test. He also lacks elite quickness and explosion, which would come into play more often on defense than offense. Given the NBA trend toward switching to defend pick-and-rolls, he would struggle in matchups against taller players. (But then so do most current NBA point guards.)

He therefore draws comparisons to the likes of Andre Miller or another former Pacers point guard, Mark Jackson, neither of which is the worst thing to say about a draft prospect. Although some believe he can be a starting point guard in the NBA, he projects at least as a valuable backup.

He expects more than that.

"I can adapt to any situation," he said. "I expect myself to be the best player I can be. I really believe I can be one of the best who's ever played. That's how hard I work. That's going to be my mindset no matter where I am or what I'm doing.

"I've been able to contribute to a lot of winning teams in my lifetime. It just comes from my mindset. I've not focused on me individually, it's what the team needs."

Thursday's workout was Brunson's seventh for an NBA team, with more scheduled in San Antonio and Boston and perhaps one other place. It likely will wind up being the only individual session for him. He performed before the watchful eyes of about a dozen front office executives, scouts, and other team personnel seated along the sideline, as well as the coaching staff.

Did he feel pressure from all that attention devoted solely to him?

"I just focus on inside those lines and what I can control," he said. "I've been able to play in front of 70,000, twice. It doesn't phase me at all. It's just basketball."

He's also played in Hinkle Fieldhouse in Big East games against Butler. Those didn't go so well for Villanova, which lost in Indianapolis each of the past two seasons. Brunson scored 31 in the most recent one, last Dec. 30.

He hasn't forgotten. A media member began a question about those games following Thursday's workout with "Jalen, your last couple of trips here to Indiana with Villanova...

"Haven't gone too well," Brunson said, cutting him off with a smile.

"That's actually the first thing I thought of when I got off the plane (in Indianapolis on Wednesday)," Brunson said. "I was like, I don't know if I really like it here too much. Hinkle is definitely a hard place to play. I'm glad I don't have to do that anymore."

Brunson, who grew up a Bulls fans in the Chicago area, was well aware of the Pacers' season that just passed. He knew of both their lack of national television exposure and excess of team chemistry from watching them in their playoff series with Cleveland.

"I love the culture they're starting to build," he said. "They showed out. It was pretty cool to watch. They had something special here."

Brunson's solid, mature, button-downed approach to basketball belies his namesake. The original Jalen, Rose, was far less structured and more flamboyant, representative of the Fab Five from the University of Michigan. Brunson's father, Rick, apparently was a big fan, though, and named his son after Rose. Jalen Brunson was born on Aug. 31, 1996, 2 1/2 months after Rose was traded to the Pacers from Denver, where he played his first two NBA seasons.

Rick Brunson was undrafted out of Temple and played in Australia and the CBA before sticking in the NBA. He was a teammate of Rose's with Chicago, where Jalen Rose was traded by the Pacers in February of 2002. That's where Jalen first met the original Jalen.

"Really good guy," Brunson said.

Players named Jalen, or some variation of that, are easy to find now. "A million of them," Brunson said. Jaylen Brown plays for the Celtics, and other the college ranks last season were populated by the likes of Jalen Avery, Jaylen Allen, Jaylen Walker, and Jaylen Key.

Jalen Brunson stood out above all of them. Now he's starting over, trying to take his game and name to another level.

Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.


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