NBA

Jalen Brunson has confidence to succeed with the Knicks

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Jay Wright remembers the look. It was a steely look of fearless determination.

Kevin Durant was criticized for Team USA’s struggles at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, and Wright, the team’s head coach, didn’t think that was fair. But fair or unfair didn’t matter to Durant. His whole goal was to win. Everything else was noise. The pressure didn’t affect him at all.

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This reminded Wright of one of his former players: Jalen Brunson, the Knicks’ new point guard.

“I look at that same deep confidence and that same focus that Jalen has. You only see it in a few guys, and he has it,” Wright, who retired as Villanova coach in April, told The Post in a phone interview Wednesday.

The 25-year-old Brunson, Wright said, was never shy about a challenge or afraid of an individual opponent. Brunson has won at every level – from high school to college to the professional ranks. He led Team USA U-19 to the World Cup title in 2015 and was the tournament MVP. He won two national championships at Villanova and was the national player of the year as a junior. He helped the Mavericks reach the NBA Western Conference Finals last year while taking his game to another level, averaging 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists in the playoffs .

Jalen Brunson, right, signed with the Knicks for four years and $104 million in the offseason.
PA

“He has absolutely no fear of failure – none. I think he believes he’s going to do whatever I have to do to win, and if I fail I’m going to come back stronger and work harder. and make up for that,” Wright said. “He just has a belief that way, and he knows he lives that way. If you play with him, coach with him, in these tough times, you watch him in the eyes and see that there is no fear – none – of any situation, of any player. He has great confidence.”

Now Brunson is stepping into a new world, as a point guard for the Knicks, a job in New York playing sports up there being the center fielder for the Yankees and quarterback for the Giants.

He’s got a big deal, a four-year, $104 million deal, and sky-high expectations to go with him. He is expected to fill a decades-long void in the position. A bull’s eye will be on his back.

Former Villanova coach Jay Wright
Former Villanova coach Jay Wright
Getty Images
Jalen Brunson helped Villanova win the national championship against Michigan in 2018.
Jalen Brunson helped Villanova win the national championship against Michigan in 2018.
Getty Images

“There’s nothing like the pressure of being expected to deliver in New York as a professional, especially at Madison Square Garden. There’s probably not much to compare to that in sports,” said said Wright.”[But] I don’t think anything in New York is going to affect [him]positively even praise which can be difficult to manage in New York too, or criticism.

“He’s very comfortable having all this pressure on him,” Wright later added. “When Lucas [Doncic] was out [for Dallas], he was very comfortable taking on that responsibility in the playoffs. But he is really smart and he really knows that he also needs good players around him. His basketball IQ is off the charts. He will look at the game as a coach and a general manager. His ego doesn’t get in the way. But he will never back down from responsibility. He likes that.”

Wright was in contact with Brunson during his brief foray into free will. Brunson, Wright said, didn’t want to leave the Mavericks. He liked to play with Doncic. Dallas wrote and developed it. But he felt drawn to the Knicks, due to the numerous – and well-documented – ties that included the team’s president (Leon Rose), coach (Tom Thibodeau) and his father, Rick, who recently was hired as an assistant on Thibodeau’s staff.

“Go with your heart,” Wright told her.

This move, however, was not just about family. Yes, it played a role. Of course he did. But so are the possibilities Brunson saw with the Knicks, for himself and for the franchise. He has won at all levels and at all stages of his career.

“He’s going there because he believes they can win,” Wright said. “I think making this move reinforces what Leon and Thibs are trying to build there, with real tough, tough but professional guys who are really determined to win. I think this move is kind of a statement move. Other free agents will see this.

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