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March 30, 2018

Oscar Robertson

Joe Mitch

Vahe Gregorian

Jay Wright

Jalen Brunson

San Antonio, Texas

USBWA Oscar Robertson Trophy

THE MODERATOR: This morning we're joined by USBWA Executive Director Joe Mitch; Hall of Famer, the legend Oscar Robertson; the USBWA trophy winner, Jalen Brunson; his head coach from Villanova, Jay Wright; and the president of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, Vahe Gregorian.

VAHE GREGORIAN: Good morning, everybody, and welcome to our player of the year announcement, given annually in the name of Oscar Robertson, the great Oscar Robertson who is here in the middle of the table with the iconic trophy in front of him. I'm Vahe Gregorian. I'm president of the USBWA and represent our nearly 1,000 voters, members, I should say.

But it's through that process that we came to an overwhelming selection of Jalen Brunson as our national player of the year. Jalen is the first Villanova player to win the Oscar Robertson Trophy. He's a 6'3" junior from Lincolnshire, Illinois. Is that the right way to say it, Jalen?


VAHE GREGORIAN: He averaged 19 points and 4.8 assists this season while making 41.4% from 3-point range to lead the Wildcats to a 27-4 regular season record and top seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The former freshman starter on Villanova's 2016 national title team has been even better in NCAA play, averaging 21 points, four assists and four rebounds to be named Most Outstanding Player in the East Regional and propel the Wildcats to San Antonio in the Final Four.

Jalen is a communications major who also is the consummate student-athlete. He carries a 3.34 GPA and as I understand it is on pace to graduate this summer.

He has been named Big East Scholar-Athlete of the Year and a Second Team Academic All-America by CO-SIDA. More over, if you've ever been around Jalen, you'll be struck by the class and humility that reflect the selfless mindset of being a true point guard. As he accepted the AP National Player of the Year award yesterday, his first words were to express gratitude to his parents for making sure he did everything that he was supposed to do in the classroom and as a person ahead of basketball. He thanked coaches from middle school on up and noted that the award really is a team honor.

Congratulations, Jalen. We'd love to hear from you on receiving the Oscar Robertson Trophy.

JALEN BRUNSON: First, I want to say thank you to, again, my parents, just for raising me the right way, being a citizen first, being a student first and obviously a player last.

I want to thank you for the nomination for this award. It really means a lot, especially in your honor (referring to Robertson). It was great hearing from you right before we got on the stage, and so just a lot of history in the game of basketball. And then just to be the first Villanova player ever to win this award, I'm definitely humbled by that. And thankful that I have the teammates I have and the community that I have at Villanova and the coaching staff, Father Peter, athletic director Mark Jackson.

There's so many people I can thank. And I'm just so honored to have this moment, especially with Coach Wright, especially with this community that follows us around. And I'm just really humbled and it's something I'm going to cherish forever. And just really thankful for this.

VAHE GREGORIAN: Before we hear from Oscar Robertson, I'd love Coach Wright to speak to this moment. And thanks for making time for this while you have so many other things going on.

COACH WRIGHT: Well, it's a great honor and it's important to be here. We're very proud of Jalen. And we all have great respect for Oscar Robertson and his career and for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. We follow this each year, too, and to have Jalen the winner of this award, I think, is perfect. I think he exemplifies everything that you want a student athlete to do and especially a Villanova student-athlete.

He's going to graduate in three years. He's receiving this individual honor with a complete commitment to his team. Everything he's done this year is to be a leader on the team, to be unselfish to think about his teammates first, and he's also one of the best basketball players I've ever been around.

I hesitated to say to Oscar -- Jalen and I had a thrill talking basketball with him about ten minutes before we came up here, and Jalen said to me, wow, some of those names, you guys were talking about were legendary. And I said to Oscar, he could back it down on a guy and post him up just like you. And then I thought for a second, but he's not that big and powerful. But it is a true honor for Jalen. It's an honor to be Jalen's coach and it's a great honor for Villanova University.

VAHE GREGORIAN: Oscar, we'd love to invite you to comment. Oscar was our First National Player of the Year winner when the USBWA began giving the award in 1959. And his name's been on the trophy for 20 years now and it's our pleasure to have Oscar here.

OSCAR ROBERTSON: Thank you very much. I think this is wonderful, the Basketball Writers Association, I think they got it right. I must say also that things have changed a lot. When I won this award years ago they sent a letter to the athletic director and he told me I won the award. So it's a little different now.

But it's really wonderful to see a basketball game today and see a young athlete like Jalen to win this award, because I must say you did it quietly and your players relied on you to get these things done. And I think that's a tremendous honor. Whether you get this or not, but your players, they know what you can do for them. I think it's wonderful. I think you and your coaches have done well together.

I think anytime you can succeed in a sport like this it means a lot. And I think that, you think that you had a great career so far, it's all in front of you now and I think you'll be surprised all the things -- the way you play, you're going to be wanted everywhere at the next level.

And I'm happy for you, happy for your coach and your team because I think that when you're consistent the way you guys have been, it means a lot. It means a lot of hard work and dedication, a lot of sacrifices too. Sometimes things don't go right for you when you play basketball. But when you get together as a team that's how you win. I'm so happy for you and I congratulate you.

VAHE GREGORIAN: We have a few minutes for questions, I believe, if there are any.


Q. Oscar, how much do you appreciate guard play in today's game of basketball? And what do you say when a guard like Jalen, who can do so much, wins a major award, a player of the year award?
OSCAR ROBERTSON: It means someone really understands basketball. I think that a guard like Jalen controls the game. I played guard and I know what it takes.

I know how you speed things up, slow things down. You get your team set for the offense. When they're all out of proportion, they're running all over the court, boom, you go out and settle down. They watch you.

And to see what you can do. If you don't get upset, you stay cool, they're going to do the same thing. So Jalen has done that this season.

I think guard play is the key to winning championship of basketball, games on any level, to be honest.

Q. Oscar, can you describe how the game has kind of evolved? Seemed like at every level it's a guard's game now where maybe when you played it was a Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain game. But now the guards seem to be the most in demand at every level?
OSCAR ROBERTSON: When I was talking to Coach Wright a moment ago -- that's because the guard centers, Russell, Chamberlain, Nate Thurmond, those defensive players stayed under the basket. Now you don't do that because you've got a guy that's 6'11" who can go outside and make 3s, you have to go out and follow him.

That means as a guard there's a lot of territory you can go in and be very, very aggressive going to the basket. And this is what Jalen does so good. He can post those guards, I think it's a tremendous offensive player to be able to do that. The thing about it, when you go down, they know what you're going to do. That's the best thing about the whole thing.

It's really wonderful. When you don't have centers blocking shots, like they did when I played, it's a different basketball game. And I think it's great that kids can shoot the ball the way they have. If you can make it, if you can shoot it -- I had a brother who could shoot, he could shoot like that. But he never passed the ball at all. (Laughter).

Q. Jalen, what is your background with the history of basketball? Does your dad talk about it at all when you were growing up about guys he played with or guys that he admired when he was growing up?
JALEN BRUNSON: Growing up, my dad always talked about how difficult it is just to be able to stay in the NBA. That's the most important thing he talked about, because it's always been my goal is to play at one of the highest levels of basketball. So he always talked about how hard you have to work and how there's some players who were gifted who didn't really have to work as hard to be on the team.

But why just rely on your talents or why just rely on your God-given gifts? You have to be able to work as hard as you cannot, not just on the court but off the court. I think he instilled that characteristic in me and just said whatever you do work hard.

There's a lot of players in the NBA who, or everywhere, who have the ability to do a lot of great things but they may not put the time or dedication into it. So if you have the talents and you have the hard work ethic, then a lot can happen for you.

Q. Jalen, who were your basketball idols and who were your dad's basketball idols?
JALEN BRUNSON: One of my favorite players of all time is Steve Nash, for sure. And I guess in today's basketball, I love Chris Paul, the way he plays. Those are my idols just because they're not, like, overly athletic. They're not going to wow you with eye-popping athleticism or quickness or whatever like that, but they lead their team; they get the job done. And they're very smart and they use their talents and just their IQ just to get things done. And I really admire that. I really watched the way they played.

For my dad, I don't even know who his favorite player. That's something you'll have to ask him.

Q. Oscar, there's a lot of debate about there's so much money in college sports about whether athletes, particularly basketball players, should be paid in some way. Just curious where you stand on that debate?
OSCAR ROBERTSON: I'll tell you a story about Oscar Robertson. When I first was recruited, I went to this one school. I won't tell you the name. But I sat there in front of him and he asked me a question. I was naive and young. He said, I know you're not the type of kid who wants money to go to school. And I didn't know what he was talking about. So help me God, I didn't know what he was talking about.

I think the rules that are set forth by the NCAA today are obsolete. I think they've got to go back and look see what's going on in the world, how socially we've changed as a people and whatnot. Some young people come to school to learn different things.

But what about if you go to a five-star restaurant and you see utensils over. How do you meet the president? How do you go out to dinner? Do you ever go to the symphony or the ballet to do certain things?

There's so much other than in life than being in class sometimes. And I think Coach knows that when a kid gets in front of a microphone to be asked a question, he should be in control and not be worried about what his answer is going to be. All those types of things are important to me as an individual.

I didn't get it when I was in school. I mean I hardly said a word to anybody because that's the way it was in those days but now it's different. You have to be accomplished in different ways and athletic, schooled and also socially.


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