Nets star Mikal Bridges had his jersey retired by Villanova on a night that couldn’t possibly have gone any better.
After Bridges spent four years on the Main Line and helped the Wildcats to two national titles, he was honored at halftime of Friday’s game.
Villanova cruised to a 57-40 win over Maryland, making the night extra festive.
“Man, real special. I never thought this day will come. I never really thought of it ever happening,” Bridges, 27, told the media before the on-court ceremony. “But real special just being here four years and everything we accomplished as a team and this whole program. Just blessed, honestly.”
Bridges redshirted as a freshman, helped Villanova win the 2016 NCAA championship and started every game en route to the 2018 title.
His Wildcat career exceeded all of his wildest expectations.
“Leave with a degree and try to play. That’s really it, was just trying to find minutes every year. Nothing bigger than that, honestly,” Bridges said. “I think just everything comes with just playing well and winning. So all my goal was just to obviously go get a degree and just go try to get some minutes out there.”
Bridges found those minutes, first reaching the NBA Finals with Phoenix and now as the centerpiece of the Kevin Durant trade and face of the Nets’ rebuild.
After being arguably the best player for Team USA at this summer’s FIBA World Cup, Bridges is averaging 20.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists for Brooklyn.
He credits much of his success to the foundations he got at Villanova.
“Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be the player I was if it wasn’t for (former coach Jay Wright) and everybody here,” said Bridges “Just (learning) mental toughness, I think just going through tough times and be able to get through adversity.
“And he just showed me how to work hard. I thought I worked hard until I got to college, and even when I was working hard I still felt like I wasn’t working hard enough. So I think just falling in love with the game more when I came here. It all starts with all my coaches.”
The 27-year-old Bridges has become the Nets’ foundational piece, and despite still seeking his first All-Star berth is a player that stars want to play with.
Rather than the trappings of success, it’s the relationships he’s built with other NBA standouts that he treasures.
“Yeah, I think maybe just the players that I grew up watching and idolizing and wanting to play like and be like and was a big fan of, just getting close with them and then being friends with them and them complimenting me and stuff like that.
“So I probably just take away just the players I play against,” Bridges said. “I’m really close with (Damian Lillard); he’s one of my favorite players ever. And it’s just how we became friends and close through a trainer was really dope.”