Josh Hart is a winner.
Hart is an All-American, a former Sixth Man of the Year turned finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year. He’s the reigning Big East Player of the Year and was recently given the Julius Erving Award as well, an honor bestowed on the NCAA’s best small forward. Josh Hart is a National Champion, a two-time Big East tournament MVP and as accomplished as four-year players come in collegiate basketball.
Now, Hart wants to prove he can win in the NBA too.
In 36 games in 2016-17, Hart averaged 18.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game for a Villanova Wildcats squad that made a serious run at back-to-back NCAA titles. Before their early tournament exit at the hands of Wisconsin, Hart led Villanova to a No. 1 seed and an overall record of 31-3.
Furthermore, Hart joined Kerry Kittles as the only two Villanova players to have at least 1,800 points, 700 rebounds, 250 assists and 150 steals in their careers.
Despite the impressive resume, Hart is currently slated as a second round selection almost across the board. And while the 22-year-old is getting looked over in favor of younger, more explosive athletes, Hart is certain that he can provide mature and versatile basketball skills that teams can utilize immediately.
“I’m not going to label myself as a shooting guard,” Hart said. “I’m not going to label myself as a small forward. I’m a basketball player who can play four different positions on the court — and defend four different positions on the court.”
After his junior year — and, of course, a national championship — Hart toyed with the idea of jumping to the NBA and attended the Combine last spring, but eventually returned for one final run. Even with the extra year of mileage on his legs, plenty of teams should line up to take a swing on the flexible, well-rounded Hart. With no shortage of confidence, Hart believes he’s ready to contribute in year one — ask him to jump, he’ll ask how high.
“Guys that have seen me play at Villanova know that I’m going to be the one that’s defending, you know, down on the floor for a loose ball at the end of the game to seal a victory. That’s what I do and I think that’s how I fit in.”
Buddy Hield, another four-year player drafted recently, actually had a comparable season as a senior for Oklahoma back in 2015-16. Although Hield scored about six more points per game, he tallied 5.7 rebounds and two assists per game on 50 percent shooting in a Consensus All-American campaign. Sound familiar? Even at the age of 22, Hield’s strong season and deep tournament run — which ended, ironically, at the hands of Hart and Villanova in the Final Four — led to him flying up draft boards, eventually selected by New Orleans with the No. 6 overall pick last June.
Unfortunately for Hart, the crowded freshman class this year has made the draft scene tougher to navigate than it was for Hield.
Undoubtedly then, Hart will look to follow in the footsteps of Malcolm Brogdon, an early second round selection in 2016 and current contender for Rookie of the Year honors. Brogdon graduated after playing four seasons in five years at Virginia and became a mainstay in head coach Jason Kidd’s rotation for the playoff-bound Milwaukee Bucks. His ability to knock down the open three-pointer and facilitate the offense on a Giannis Antetokounmpo-focused team awarded Brogdon big minutes almost immediately — most often at the expense of veterans like Jason Terry and Matthew Dellavedova.
While the Brogdon comparisons leap off the page on their own, Hart hasn’t shied away from connecting the dots for any franchises lagging behind the pack.
“I think saying a four-year guy is old is foolish, to be honest,” Hart said. “That’s the first time that somebody at 21 or 22 is old. I don’t think that’s smart. . . When it comes to playing this game, and knowing how to play the game and knowing how to impact the team offensively and defensively, that’s what four-year guys are.
“That’s why you see Malcolm Brogdon being successful, maybe being Rookie of the Year. You have Jimmy Butler, you can go down the list with so many four-year guys that keep it going and make an impact right away.”
Even with Hart’s successful collegiate stint, Brogdon’s status as a frontrunner for major award honors should do the former Wildcat plenty of favors before next month’s draft.
Hart is no stranger to the big moment either, always eager to hold the ball when the game is on the line. From dashing Seton Hall’s dreams of back-to-back Big East crowns to sinking DePaul last December, Hart doesn’t just swim in important situations, he thrives in them.
Of course, you won’t find Hart’s name atop any category as a league leader and his 18.7 points per game slotted him in at 66th-best in Division I in 2016-17 — but to him, personal statistics have never mattered all that much anyways.
“[I’m] someone who’s a winner,” he said. “Anybody that knows me, knows where I come from, definitely with Villanova, knows it’s about winning. It’s not about the individual, it’s not about an ego, I’m a team player. I don’t care about going out and scoring 25 [points] as long as we win — I’m going to do the little things.”
At the Combine, Hart noted that he had talked to the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans, Miami Heat, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Timberwolves and Dallas Mavericks thus far in his pre-draft efforts. This week, he worked out for the Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets, but that number could continue to rise over the next month. For teams looking to add a strong perimeter defender with a penchant for the big moment, Hart fits the bill.
In a year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Hart knocking down shots in the postseason for a contender like the Utah Jazz or Houston Rockets, and, as of publishing, he’s been mocked to those franchises at No. 42 and 45, respectively. Even scarier would the prospect of San Antonio Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich getting ahold of Hart at No. 29 as a potential Patty Mills replacement like CBS Sports predicts.
No matter where he goes, however, Hart is ready to do whatever it takes to win.
“It’s not ‘OK, we’ll groom him for two, three years and see what happens,'” Hart said. “There’s no seeing what happens with a four-year guy, you know what you’re getting.”
And what you’re getting in Josh Hart is a bonafide winner.
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