This past Friday and Saturday I covered the exciting Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City. In the semifinals, fifth-seeded Providence upset top-seeded Xavier in a thrilling overtime finish; second-ranked Villanova beat Butler later that day.
In the championship game, Villanova beat Providence 76–66, also in overtime. Mikal Bridges, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, hit two big three-pointers for Villanova to seal the game. When the basketball was over, I interviewed some of the players from the winning teams in their locker rooms.
If you could be drafted to any NBA team, which one would it be?
Jalen Lindsey, Providence: “I’d probably go with the Lakers because I like the L.A. area.”
Kalif Young, Providence: “Toronto Raptors. That’s my home. I’d love that.”
Jalen Brunson, Villanova, who was named to the Big East All-Tournament team: “Any team that has faith in me, I’ll be willing to play my heart and soul for.”
Omari Spellman, Villanova: “Whichever team wants me. But it would be cool to go back home. So Cleveland, the Cavaliers. That would be really fun to be a part of.”
Eric Paschall, Villanova: “To be honest, I would like to say New York, only because I’m from New York, and I’m so used to it. That would definitely be my dream team.”
Do you have any secret talents?
Isaiah Jackson, Providence: “I can cook.”
Alpha Diallo, Providence: “Ping-pong. Champion. Haven’t lost yet.”
Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova: “I can juggle. I can juggle anything. Give me three items, and I’ll juggle anything.”
Bridges: “I can juggle. I think that’s my only talent I’ve got.”
Paschall: “Probably not. Basketball is my secret talent.”
Jackson: “I wanted to a superhero, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.”
Young: “Teacher. That was my big thing.”
DiVincenzo: “I wanted to be a soccer player. I wanted to go play professionally overseas. Somehow I picked basketball and it’s working out well for me so far.”
Spellman: “NBA basketball player.”
Paschall: “Basketball player. I feel like I’m living the dream right now, to be honest. Just knowing that I can live my dream like this, play at this level, with a very great team, means a lot.”
Brunson: “I wanted to be a basketball player; I wanted to be a professional. My dad was a professional, and [it’s] something I just have to keep working for.”
Who is your favorite athlete?
Lindsey: “I’m a big Odell Beckham fan. I think he’s dope; he’s very, very talented.”
Jackson: “Kobe Bryant. Just his mentality he [brought] to the game, how he approached it. He works extremely hard at his craft, and that’s what I look to do.”
Young: “Tough one. When I was younger, it was Chris Bosh; he was my favorite, because I’m from Toronto. He was a big guy for us.”
DiVincenzo: “Russell Westbrook. Because he plays with so much energy and so much fight and I try to model my game after him.”
Spellman: “DeMarcus Cousins. He’s really aggressive—the way he plays the game. I try to emulate [that]. I love the way he plays.”
Bridges: “I’ve got multiple. I’ve got Damian Lillard; Todd Gurley plays football; Paul George plays basketball; Kevin Durant. Those are my favorite ones.”
Brunson: “Cristiano Ronaldo. I like his approach, I like his demeanor, I like everything about him.”
Jackson: “My favorite sport to play is football, but I don’t get the opportunity to play that anymore.”
DiVincenzo: “Soccer. I grew up playing soccer in high school, and then I switched over to basketball. I love to kick the ball around.”
Spellman: “Football. I played QB when I was in 8th grade. I wasn’t very good, but it was fun.”
Paschall: “I’d say football or soccer. Soccer is a very interesting sport, but definitely football.”
When you come to these tournaments, are you missing school?
Jackson: “Thank God, right now we’re on spring break, so we’re not as behind as we would be, but sometimes when we travel to away games, we might miss one or two days of class, so we just have to make sure we stay on top of our books to be prepared.”
What’s your favorite memory of watching March Madness when you were younger?
Diallo from Providence and Spellman from Villanova both remembered Kemba Walker’s famous 2011 game-winning shot for UConn in the Big East Tournament. Said Diallo of the moment, “That was crazy. I was watching that on TV.” Added Spellman, “Watching Kemba Walker step back, drop his defender, and get his team into the NCAA tournament.”
Several Villanova players recalled watching Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beater to win their school’s national championship two years ago. “I’m not going to lie, so far it’s been the Villanova game-winner two years ago,” said Young. “That was a good one.”
“I actually did not watch a lot of [NCAA tournament] basketball when I was in high school,” said DiVincenzo. “But [for me it] probably was my freshman year, when I watched from the sideline when we won the championship. Seeing Kris’s shot go in was the best memory.”
Added Paschall, “I’d definitely say my favorite memory was me sitting out there that one year we won the championship. That was very cool to be down in Houston and see Kris make that shot.”
Photographs by (from top): Elsa/Getty Images (Bridges celebrating with team); Mike Lawrie/Getty Images (Jackson and Lindsey); Zach Harwayne (author with Brunson)