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Jalen Brunson’s winning mentality, versatile game could fit Suns at 31

Jalen Brunson’s 103 college victories during his three-year run at Villanova make him one of the most experienced, big-game tested players in the 2018 Draft. (Nathanael Gabler/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — As the waning seconds ticked off the clock in San Antonio, Jalen Brunson embraced his coach, tears of joy streaming down his face.

Brunson’s junior season capped a magical run at Villanova under coach Jay Wright, culminating in April’s blowout of Michigan in the national championship game – Villanova’s second title in two years.

The Phoenix Suns could be looking to harness in a little bit of that magic come the June 21 NBA draft.

“He’s an established winner and he’s been a gigantic leader for a team that’s kind of really built on leadership,” said Suns Assistant General Manager Pat Connelly after Brunson’s workout on Thursday. “The proof is in the pudding with how much they won there with him at the point guard.”

In Brunson’s three seasons at Villanova, the Wildcats went 103-13. Brunson never lost a Big East tournament game and went 13-1 in the in the NCAA Tournament in route to two national titles.

His junior season, Brunson averaged 18.9 points and 4.6 assists on 52 percent shooting and 41 percent from three, capping his career with an elusive duo: the Naismith Player of the Year award and the National Championship.

The last player to bring home both awards in the same season: Anthony Davis.

“I want to try and help change the culture,” Brunson said about the Suns. “I want to be part of a winning culture. I’ve been winning my whole life.”

Brunson is ranked 30th according to NBADraft.net and 32nd according to The Ringer’s draft guide. With the Suns picking at 31, Brunson could be in a perfect position to lead this team from the point in the future.

“(I’m) not afraid to be a risk-taker, not be afraid to be a leader. I think that’s one of my best qualities,” Brunson said after his workout in Phoenix.

A leadership mentality is something the Suns could certainly use. In addition to having the league’s worst record, Phoenix had the league’s youngest roster this past season with an average age of 24.1. Brunson will be 22 by the start of the upcoming season.

On the court, Brunson could slide in perfectly alongside Devin Booker, as a point guard who can both handle the ball, spread the floor, and finish in traffic.

“It helps that Booker is such a good player that he makes guys around him good. But guys that can get him in his positions, create for him maybe not have him on the ball all the time,” Connelly said. “We want all our guards pushing, doing different things, being versatile.”

Although Brunson lacks the athleticism of a prospect like Aaron Holliday, one of his more unique traits is his ability to use his body and angles to create space and finish around the rim.

“I’m crafty enough to get to wherever I have to get to on the court,” Brunson said.

Combining his craftiness with his ability to shoot the lights out — 41 percent on 211 threes last season — and distribute the ball, Brunson could be an intriguing option with a winning pedigree for the Suns at 31.

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