Mikal Bridges Projects To Fit Seamlessly Into NBA System

Owners of the No. 7 pick, the Bulls worked out Bridges in early June.

Eli Hershkovich
June 18, 2018 - 8:49 am
Villanova wing Mikal Bridges

Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports

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Eli Hershkovich--

(670 The Score) Defense wins championships.

It’s one of the most overused sports clichés. But for Villanova wing Mikal Bridges -- a projected lottery pick in the NBA Draft that takes place this Thursday -- it’s reality.

Guided by his defensive prowess, the 6-foot-7, 210-pound Bridges totaled a mere 23 losses in three seasons apiece at Great Valley High School and Villanova, respectively. He also won two national championships amid his three campaigns with the Wildcats.

"It (winning) gives a foundation to a player," then-Great Valley coach Jim Nolan said. "The game doesn’t change."

A Malvern, Pennsylvania native, the 21-year-old Bridges will likely be available when the Bulls are on the clock with the No. 7 pick, and he worked out for the organization on June 4. Moreover, his development as a teenager should interest the franchise just as much as his recent accolades.

Bridges played at a neighboring school district through sixth grade before transferring to the Great Valley School District the following year. After failing to stand out, he returned to his precinct before entering Bishop Carroll High School. There, he failed to earn a spot on the junior varsity roster.

Aiming for a fresh start, Bridges and his mother met with Nolan at the end of his freshman year to return to the district. Nolan admired Bridges’ engaging personality, yet he was only the sixth man after joining the roster as a sophomore, needing to embrace the fundamentals -- this was symbolized y his poor dribbling technique.

"Anyone that comes into our program, it definitely is a culture shock," he said. "It was just maturation, both physically and mentally."

Entering Bridges’ junior season, Nolan recognized the youngster was on the verge of a breakout campaign because of a four-inch growth spurt. He contacted five Division-I schools as a result, including Virginia Tech.

"'We get this call all the time,'" Nolan recalled the Hokies’ staff saying. "In the spring of his junior year, they called me with a scholarship offer ... He became influential in our success."

Great Valley (28-4) had its best season in school history, and Bridges dominated at each end of the court, averaging 19.5 points and 11 rebounds per game. His defense stood out the most, Nolan said, as he used his length, speed and athleticism to buckle up elite scorers. Nolan credited Bridges' ability to predict an opponents’ next move as well, which derived from spending an ample amount of time studying scouting reports.

He also played the role of hero along the way. In the fourth quarter of the district quarterfinals, the Patriots held a 14-point lead before blowing it with under a minute left. Trailing by one, Nolan called a play in the huddle, where his star represented the final option. Bridges instead drilled a 3-pointer from the wing to send Great Valley to the Final Four.

After falling to Lower Merion -- Kobe Bryant’s alma mater -- in the subsequent game, Bridges fell ill and missed the district consolation contest. To Nolan’s surprise, Villanova coach Jay Wright arrived with the intention to watch the prized recruit. Wright was in for a shock, too, as Bridges wasn’t even on the bench.

Nolan didn’t hear from Wright until early that May, as Bridges went on an official visit to Villanova.

"Mikal goes in after he already had about 20 offers," Nolan said. "He felt there was a fit really quickly. Sliding into a system. That's no different than what we did."

Bridges verbally committed to the Wildcats in June 2013 and redshirted a year-and-a-half later. Coming off the bench in the 2015-'16 season, he emerged as a defensive force down the stretch. Bridges forced then-Kansas point guard Frank Mason III into a turnover in the waning seconds of the Elite Eight, sealing Villanova’s trip to the Final Four, which eventually resulted in a national title.

Bridges continued to progress last season, averaging 17.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from behind the arc. He notched the 12th-highest offensive rating in college basketball on KenPom.

Nolan noted that although Bridges' ceiling isn’t as high as other potential lottery picks, he won’t have to alter his game -- like his ex-Wildcats teammate Jalen Brunson -- to have success in the pros.

"He's a great complementary teammate and player," Nolan said.

After allowing the fourth-most points per game last season (110.0), the Bulls could use the best 3-and-D wing in the draft.

Eli Hershkovich is a producer for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @EliHershkovich.