Villanova head coach Jay Wright may not have talked to the Knicks about becoming their new head coach. But that didn't stop him from talking about his players -- particulary SF Mikal Bridges.
Bridges, who is regarded as one of the best prospects in this year's draft, could be there for the taking at No. 9 if the Knicks so choose. Wright believes his now former player has exactly what it takes to handle the expectation of playing in New York City on and off the court.
"I really do. It's not just mental toughness. It's an intelligence and humility. He understands what it's all about," Wriight told The Post's Marc Berman. "He's played for two national championship teams here, and during his tenure there was a lot of expectation and attention. I think he's used to it, very comfortable in that positions. He doesn't get caught up in it, either. He understands responsibility, but won't get caught up that it's New York."
With the exit of Carmelo Anthony last season, the Knicks didn't have a solid small forward on their roster. Bridges could fill that void as he is considered one of the best perimeter shooting forwards entering the draft. He is also a tenacious defender, as Wright points out his 6-foot-7 frame can disrupt even the tallest of players on the floor.
Instead of looking at Bridges as the typical "3 and D" player as many have critiqued him to be, Wright thinks he is more of a total package player.
"The NBA uses it, but in our program it's a bad word,'' Wright said. "We want players in our program to be complete players. We don't want them to be limited to just shooting 3s and defending. We want them to rebound, put the ball on the floor, drive it, shoot off the dribble, use pick and rolls, be complete. In our program, '3 and D' is actually not a complimentary term.''
Handling the moment is something Bridges has been able to do throughout college, having played on two championship teams as mentioned before. This past championship season, Bridges came through for the Wildcats in the second half as he buried 15 points to finish with a total 19.
It is pressure-packed moments like this that separates Bridges from the rest in Wright's eyes.
"It's more than just the big shot,'' Wright said. "It's the big play. He got huge offensive rebounds at the end to win games for us. He got big steals at the end of a game, a defensive rebound. He got everything. It's having a feel for what play needs to be made when the game is on the line and being able to do it.''
If there is one thing to criticize when looking at Bridges, it is definitely creating his own shot off the dribble. He may be a great shooter, but if Bridges wants to really be Melo's replacement, scoring on those one-on-one opportunities is a difference maker.
Wright believes he was able to prove that he can create his own shot last season.
"That's the final piece for him this year - he improved upon and created his own shot,'' Wright said. "He learned how to do it in his third year in the collegiate game.
"That's the next step for him. He'll be able to defend anyone, be a great rebounder, great shooter, but I think he'll have to learn the adjustment from creating your own shot in college and creating your own shot in the NBA."
It has been a long road for Bridges to get to where he is today. Wright admitted that when he came into his program as a freshman, he had the physical attributes yet lacked the skills necessary to be considered a lottery pick. Hard work was going to get him to that place when he left school.
He did just that.
"When he started here, he got the body type, and if he does everything he is supposed to do and he's patient, I thought he had a chance,'' Wright said. "[But] there's no way when we first got him [did he think], he'd definitely be in the position at the end of his junior year. No way we thought that. We thought if he did everything correctly, he had a chance. He did everything correctly."
The Knicks could be that team to land him in the Top Ten next month.