‘All About Basketball’: Jalen Bridges’ Basketball Career Has Always Been About Learning

There was a time when a young Jalen Bridges might have thought his future was in baseball.

The WVU forward was dragging his bat bag around Bridgeport, West Virginia stadium for his little league games, perhaps one day thinking of the big leagues.

But then he picked up a basketball.

“As soon as he touched a basketball he didn’t want to play baseball anymore,” said Bridges’ father Cory. “He ended up quitting baseball and then from that young age it was all about basketball.”

Cory Bridges said that was around the time Jalen was 7 or 8 years old. It’s been a constant job since, and it has led Jalen to be a dynamic part of the West Virginia men’s basketball team as she looks to make a run in the NCAA tournament, which kicks off Friday with a game against Morehead State.

It’s been all basketball, all the time for Bridges since he was a kid. It would be hard not to be in the game when your dad was state champion in high school and then enjoyed a college career.

But Cory said he never pressured Jalen to play the sport that could one day take him to the big leagues. But once he got started on his own, it was time to go.

Young Bridges started playing travel ball at an early age, and by the time he was in fifth grade the family returned to Fairmont, West Virginia, just down the street in Bridgeport.

That’s when Jalen teamed up with Zyon Dobbs, his eventual running mate at Fairmont High School when the Polar Bears played for four straight State Championships while winning two of them.

Dobbs, who now plays basketball at Fairmont State University, said the connection was instantaneous.

“It was a bit straight away. Our fathers are friends and they were our coaches, ”said Dobbs. “We started clicking as soon as we met.”

In seventh grade, the two were headlining a travel team that was set to play in a national tournament after improving every year for three consecutive years to get there.

But they came across some buzzsaws in Memphis.

“They had a rude awakening because they were playing against children who were already 6-5 years old, 6-6 years old in seventh grade. We didn’t do very well, ”said Cory Bridges. “They took pieces and they learned from them. They knew they had to get much better and keep working.

It’s become a trend for Jalen Bridges – take pieces, learn and improve.

In high school, Bridges played for a busy Fairmont Senior team. He viewed minutes as a reserve in his debut season, which led to the first of two state titles.

But the way Coach David Retton manages his schedule is simple: You play a role and you gain minutes. Bridges and Dobbs both fit that mold and have worked alongside older players until it was time for them to take over the squad.

By this time, Bridges had gone from a gangly 3-point shooter to a 6-foot-6 wing that could spread out on the ground and reach the edge.

Things started to fall into place for Bridges after performing in a storefront in Las Vegas after his junior year and subsequently receiving offers from Marshall and Samford. That’s when the bulb clicked. That’s when he knew he had to take care of it.

“Those two offers just opened his eyes,” Cory Bridges said. “He started to feel hungrier and want more. He always said to me: “I don’t play in D2”.

So he entered the gym with Christian Kezmarsky of Pittsburgh and Shammgod Wells, former record playmaker and assistant coach at Fairmont State and current IUP assistant.

“These two guys were able to get something out of Jalen that we couldn’t get out of him,” Cory said. “He got a lot more focused, just trying to break up and stay in the gym. You could just tell he was changing – his mindset and the way he approached things, it was like business. ”

Wells spent a lot of time watching the Bridges game develop from when he was in middle school through high school, as FSU players frequently checked out the local games in their spare time.

Once he got his hands on him in the gym, Wells wanted to instill confidence and let Bridges get the best of himself.

“Jalen has always been a shy kid so the most important thing was to try and make him really believe in his talent. Don’t get me wrong, he knows he’s good, but he wants to improve,” Wells said. “With that, he’s humble. The side of him I wanted to bring out was that killer, that Mamba mentality, that confidence.”

All the training in the world could have helped Bridges get better, but Wells said it was one thing that really started it all.

“He won’t admit it, but I had to play him one-on-one one day and I beat him,” Wells said. “After that, he started to take everything personally. He started to want to dominate every game and wanted to try to put his mark on every game and every game. I think when he went to AAU and played the best players he realized he could play with these guys. And if they were NBA prospects, why wasn’t they? “

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From there, Bridges worked and worked and worked. He juggled decisions to go to prep school. His action was rising. He was named West Virginia State’s best player in his senior season. The itch was getting stronger.

Bridges’ dad was pushing him to go to prep school, to have the opportunity to upgrade and play against guys his size who could be better than him.

He had already made a few visits to the university and had no decision in mind. He had visited WVU before, but Cory Bridges said the team was a bit dysfunctional at the time. Still, he decided to visit Morgantown once more.

This visit came after a roster redesign, and it was like a whole new team, Cory said.

“It was a culture change the next time we came,” he said. “You could just tell everyone was on the same page. “

Jalen pulled the trigger and made a commitment to the Mountaineers, deciding to redshirt his freshman year on campus.

Since then, he’s only been working his tail, according to his coaches and teammates. That hard work led to a usual role in WVU’s starting five.

“He really worked on it. He’s a guy who goes to the gym and works out whatever you ask him to work out, ”said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. “The other thing is he knows what he can do and what he can’t, so he’s really trying to emphasize the positive and stay away from the negative.”

Jalen this season has appeared in 26 games with 17 starts, averaging 5.6 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 48.6% from the field and 40.7% from 3 points.

In a recent seven-game streak from Feb.9 to March 4, he averaged 10.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per outing. He also lost 22 points and 12 rebounds against TCU during that streak.

“As the season wore on I became a lot more comfortable there,” Jalen Bridges said after that TCU game. “The speed of the game has slowed down a bit for me now. I let the game come to me and try to be as active as possible to help my team win.

Having this red shirt year really paid off, Jalen and Huggins admitted. His teammates have also noticed how the intensity he has gained over the past two years is transferred to the pitch.

“Jalen is slowly becoming the player he was for us last year in training. He was one of the more aggressive guys for us, the way he attacked the offensive glass, the defensive glass, he was chasing after every ball trying to tip it, “said guard Sean McNeil.” To get him to still be a freshman he’s going to be an incredible player. What he’s doing for us right now is really good and really special.

Forward Derek Culver said Jalen is considered a “man of choice … because he will always be ready to score a bucket.”

Point guard Jordan McCabe even said Jalen might just be the most NBA-ready player on the WVU roster.

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And Huggins has never been short of praise for the as-is product.

“I don’t know if he has a cap,” the coach said. “He’s got good feet. He can pass the ball. He’s obviously going to end up being one-to-three and being on the perimeter to keep, pass and handle the ball and that sort of thing. He’s got a lot of things he can on. working to keep developing his game, but the good thing about JB is that he does what you ask him to do, and he really tries to be good at what he’s asked to do. ‘happens more often. “

For those close to him, however, none of these things are a secret.

These scenarios are all things that Bridges and Dobbs used to sit down and dream about when they trained together. Some of these are probably still a topic of conversation for gamers and friends.

But Bridges finds himself in uncharted waters as the Mountaineers prepare for the Friday night tipoff – playing minutes in an NCAA tournament game.

Dobbs, who just finished a stint in the NCAA Division II tournament, could have given his friend some advice, but he chose to let him handle it on his own, maybe even take a few pieces, in learn lessons and improve.

“Jalen doesn’t need it,” Dobbs said. “He’s ready to go.

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