The FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 has witnessed a blazing start by the United States, with Anthony Edwards and Austin Reaves dominating the headlines. Yet, amidst this youthful talent, Jalen Brunson quietly shines.
Amidst a roster where most players fall within a similar age range, ranging from 20-year-old Paolo Banchero to the seasoned 28-year-old Bobby Portis Jr., Brunson stands out as the experienced campaigner. His unique celebration of his 27th birthday in Manila was no mere coincidence, partly attributed to his father Rick’s professional basketball career in the Philippines and chiefly due to Brunson’s successful past in FIBA events.
Rewind to 2015, and Brunson had steered the USA to the summit of the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup in Heraklion, Greece, securing a nail-biting overtime victory against Croatia in the final, 79-71. Brunson’s pivotal role included 14 points and 7 assists, earning him the coveted MVP of the World Cup award.
Reflecting on that historic moment, Brunson fondly recalls, “I remember everything. It was fun, it was a great experience. Happy we came away with a gold,” often reminiscing about it when reuniting with former teammates in the NBA.
Perhaps this previous USA experience serves as a valuable asset in the current World Cup in Manila. Brunson acknowledges its influence, saying, “A little bit. This is a different challenge, a different group of guys. Playing before, you can use that experience to know how the games could go, how they are different from the NBA, but it’s a different group, it’s gonna be a different challenge, but I’ll use it.”
Coach Steve Kerr attested to Brunson’s leadership qualities, noting that “Jalen is such a natural leader, some guys just, it just comes naturally to them.”
Teammates from their victorious NCAA championship days at Villanova, like Mikal Bridges and Josh Hart, echo this sentiment. Bridges commends Brunson’s multifaceted skills, calling him a vocal and exemplary leader, while Hart adds, “He’s a great teammate, and I’m happy to be along the journey with him.”
Brunson and Hart’s camaraderie extends beyond the basketball court, as the duo also shares the bond of being New York Knicks teammates, often engaging in playful banter on social media.
When asked if they’ll ever tire of each other, Josh quips, “I’m bored of him now,” to which Jalen humorously retorts, “The feeling’s mutual. I see him way too often and I don’t plan on hanging out with him the rest of the trip.”
On a more profound note, Brunson acknowledges the significance of their Villanova connection in the summer of 2023, emphasizing, “It’s fun. It’s really fun. These guys haven’t changed at all, they are the same dudes like seven years ago, my freshman year.”
Brunson doesn’t shy away from assuming the role of leader within the USA squad, saying, “I try and lead, I just try to make sure that we are all on the same page. When it comes to the court, sometimes scoring is needed, and sometimes playmaking is needed, it’s all about how you read the game. The thing I try to do the most is keep everybody together and ensure we’re all on the same page.”
Reflecting on the successful USA teams of the past, Brunson understands the key to victory lies in sacrifice. When you have 12 players accustomed to significant minutes and prominent roles in their respective teams, making them comprehend that there’s only one ball and one collective goal can be challenging. He draws inspiration from the selflessness displayed by those iconic USA teams, stating, “That’s what I want to take from everybody.”
The sacrifices made under Brunson’s leadership will undoubtedly yield rewards, as he guides his team toward the ultimate goal—victory in the World Cup.