ATLANTA — The Villanova Wildcats had four players on last season's NCAA tournament championship roster make the NBA this year.
Saturday night, two of them battled against each other -- Omari Spellman, a first-round pick by the Atlanta Hawks vs. Mikal Bridges, a first-round pick by the 76ers traded to the Phoenix Suns.
Wildcats coach Jay Wright has found a way to mold guys into NBA players. Villanova has won two national championships in the last three years. Its players are reaping the benefits.
”Good culture, good organization, teaches people to play the right way,” Spellman, selected by Atlanta with the 30th overall pick in the draft, told Amico Hoops before the game. “Couple that with talent, and potential people just end up being really good basketball players.”
The 6-foot-9, 245-pound Spellman only played there one season, which is actually rare at Villanova. The other three players drafted had played multiple seasons there.
“Me and Mikal are very close,” Spellman, who is averaging 5.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 17.4 minutes in 44 games (10 starts), shooting 39.7 percent from the field, 34.7 percent from deep and 69.8 percent from the free-throw line, said. “Especially at Villanova, we were all close, tight knit. We would go out together, have meals together, play video games together. Just all those things, and that’s how he got us to be so close and that’s why we played the way we did.”
While he is confident he would have been successful wherever he went to college, the 21-year-old knows things may not have turned out the same if he had not gone to Villanova.
“I don’t know what would have happened to me other places,” Spellman, a Cleveland native, said. “Definitely very grateful of Villanova and it’s a very unique place. I don’t think things turn out the same other places, but I’m confident I would have been successful other places
“I think Villanova gave me not only the platform, but the tools to be successful.”
Spellman, 21, scored nine points on 4-of-6 shooting and added three rebounds, one steal and one block in 22 minutes off the bench, helping the Hawks to a win and getting the best of his buddy Bridges, who finished with six points on 2-of-10 shooting, four rebounds, three assists and a steal in 34 minutes off the bench.