When Penn and Villanova face off on Tuesday, most eyes will be watching the scoreboard to see if the Quakers can somehow compete with the defending national champions.
The folks over at Nexxt Level Sports, however, will be much more concerned with the game’s point guard play. That’s because not only did Nexxt Level train Penn sophomore point guard Jake Silpe, but they also worked with Villanova’s sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson. In fact, the two New Jersey natives met regularly for workout sessions over the summer at Nexxt Level’s training facility in South Jersey.
Silpe and Brunson both did extensive training on their own, but the two agree that their joint sessions were critical components of their offseason training.
“He’s a great player-- he’s very strong, very quick, just a smart basketball player,” Brunson added. “He’s a tough guard. When you play him defensively, you’ve just got to be ready for anything.”
While their trainer at Nexxt Level, Marcus Bullock, would usually start Silpe and Brunson with skill work and shooting, a video posted on Nexxt Level’s Facebook page in July showed the two players battling in various one on one situations.
“What most people saw in the video was the one on one battles we had, and that was kind of their doing,” Bullock said. “They really wanted to do it.”
The competitiveness of Silpe and Brunson is something that has also impressed Penn coach Steve Donahue.
“They’re totally different as players, but I think their similarities are they both want to win really bad,” Donahue said. “I think they both compete, they both work extremely hard, make their teammates better. Those are the things that I think Jalen brings to their team and Jake brings to our team.
But for all the hard work Silpe and Brunson put into together during the summer, their seasons have gone in quite different directions so far. With a whole new crop of backcourt talent joining the Red and Blue this year, Silpe has struggled to carve out a role for himself, averaging only five minutes per game. Over on the Main Line, however, Brunson has started all six games for the #2 ranked Wildcats, averaging 12 points a game and establishing himself as a potent offensive threat.
Regardless of how their seasons have gone, the two will definitely enjoy the opportunity to play together on such a large stage. Though Brunson played his high school basketball in Illinois, both players grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and have known each other since they were five. The two played together frequently growing up and have continued to stay in touch all these years later.
As close as they are with each other, this game will still just be business as usual for Silpe and Brunson. This game being the Big 5 opener, the stakes are very high for both teams. The Wildcats need to take care of business to stay at the top of the rankings, and there is no telling how much a victory over the defending national champions would mean for a Penn team that hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2007. Needless to say, don’t expect Silpe and Brunson to take it easy on each other come game time.
“Even though we’re playing a mutual friend, he’s on the opposite side,” Brunson said. “So we’re just going to have to, you know, not be friends for this game.”