In this era of college basketball players having checked out before they check in, when an NBA-caliber kid stays in college long enough to earn a degree, it qualifies as breaking news.
If he actually earns his degree, the world shakes.
He could have done it last year. He earned his degree in three years, before he came out early to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft.
He missed the 2018 ceremony because of pre-draft workouts, and one online course he needed to complete. He officially graduated in August of last year.
He wanted to walk with the class he entered Villanova with in the fall of 2015, so he waited until the May 2019 ceremony.
“When he graduated there was a range of emotions,” said Jennifer Brophy, who is the director of academic support for athletics at Villanova. “He was one of the best student athletes I ever encountered, which that says a lot. I was so happy to see him graduate, but I was so sad because he was leaving.”
An NBA player coming out early who has his degree is about as common as a Winter Olympics.
Becoming a college graduate was just as much of a priority for Brunson as was becoming an NBA player. He has done both.
“I wanted to get my degree,” Brunson said. “Both of my parents have their degrees. My dad left Temple around 1994-’95, and he didn’t get his degree until 2004. I saw that. I saw him work for that.”
His father, Rick Brunson, was a standout guard at Temple under coach John Chaney from 1991 through ‘95. Rick Brunson was a starter on a team that featured other standout players Eddie Jones and Aaron McKie. All three players would play in the NBA.
“I remember me and mom dropping him off at classes, or tutoring. Seriously. I remember that,” Jalen Brunson said. “I remember thinking, ‘I want to get a degree.’”
As is the case with many pro players these days, they don’t necessarily need the degree. The money is so big, and if they manage their wealth correctly, the college degree is not going to for them what it is supposed to do for the regular student.
Jalen was a brilliant college player who could have left Villanova earlier and likely would have been selected in the draft. The degree was simply a priority.
From the time Brunson was recruited, he had a plan to finish his degree.
“He was not the norm,” Brophy said. “He knew exactly from the start what he wanted to major in, and that he wanted to graduate early. Typically, a student athlete during their season will carry 12 hours. He carried 15 in both fall and spring semesters. And then he would do the maximum in the summer.”
Brophy said Brunson entered Villanova acting like a guy who thought he could do all of this - be a good student and basketball player - just as easily as he did when he was in high school.
“He had flown through high school so when he got here he could see the difference,” Brophy said. “I don’t know if he liked to do it, but the one thing he would do is ask for help. He would say that to me or his professors. He never complained or whined about any of it.”
When Brunson looks back at the course load he carried, his eyes and expression grow tired. The time commitment to be a Division I student athlete is ridiculous.
“It was tough. It was really tough,” he said. “I didn’t want to be doing the school work now (when he was in the NBA). Now that I got it down, I can say I am done with school.”
So no Master’s Degree?
“As of right now?” he said, “Hell no.”