Photo via Twitter @jalenbridgess
Jalen Bridges, a 6-foot-7 small forward, is the newest member of the West Virginia University men’s basketball team. That is a pretty wild sentence to write considering Bridges, a standout at Fairmont Senior, a 247Sports four-star recruit and last season’s Evans Award winner as the top boys high school player in West Virginia, was headed to prep school in Pennsylvania and planned to be a part of someone’s 2020 recruiting class. I covered him once in high school — a 2018 state semifinal win against Philip Barbour in which current WVU football defensive lineman Dante Stills was the game’s leading rebounder — and Bridges could clearly play.
Earlier this month he announced he would commit to a school on Halloween and had West Virginia in his top five along with Indiana, Alabama, Miami and Xavier. Even though he took an official visit to WVU over the weekend, not many people would have predicted he would not only commit to the Mountaineers on Monday, but also immediately enroll and become part of Bob Huggins’ roster for the upcoming season.
It’s a bit unusual to see an athlete enroll two weeks into the semester, especially when the last day to enroll in the 2019 fall semester at WVU was last week, but that’s what Bridges did. If all of this seemed to happen fast, that’s because it did. When Ethan Richardson, a junior college big man who signed with West Virginia in June, never made it to campus it left Huggins and the Mountaineers with an open scholarship for the upcoming season.
Bridges had previously announced plans to play this season at Scotland Campus prep school in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. In a May radio interview with MetroNews Sportsline, Bridges explained his decision to go to prep school.
“I don’t feel like as a student and a student-athlete that I’m ready for college basketball and college in general,” Bridges said. “My mom and grandma help with everything around the house. I want to live on my own and get used to it before being thrown to the wolves in college.”
Sometime between Richardson not making it to campus last week and Monday, Bridges made the decision to not only commit to West Virginia, but he would hop back into the 2019 recruiting class and immediately join the team. Again, this all happened fast and is a bit unusual, but let’s get past that for a minute and think about how Bridges, if he plays, fits in with this WVU team.
At 6-foot-7, Bridges has good size for his position. At Fairmont Senior he could certainly score, but the Big 12 is a pretty big leap to make from West Virginia Class AA basketball. That’s not to say he won’t be able to score in college, but his shot selection was not always the best during his days as a Polar Bear. That shouldn’t be a big problem, however, because this team won’t need Bridges to be that player for them this season.
Bridges would need to bulk up some to play the four when Huggins goes with a small lineup — something Huggins has said he plans to do with fellow 6-7 Mountaineer Jermaine Haley — but that was never really a big part of Bridges’ game in high school. He does, however, fit in nicely as a shooter and slasher coming off the bench. Add Bridges to a recruiting class that already includes forward Oscar Tshiebwe — a McDonald’s All-American — and guard Miles McBride and this class of WVU freshmen likely becomes one of the most anticipated in program history.