Columns/Opinion, Men's Basketball, Opinion, WVU Sports

COLUMN: If Jalen Bridges reaches a higher confidence level, he could share a similar story to former star Joe Alexander

MORGANTOWN — If there was a way of putting points on a basketball scoreboard other than putting the ball through the hoop, then there would be little concern about Jalen Bridges’ game.

If we were to judge the kid’s hustle and heart, defensive abilities, his willingness to play team basketball, as well as blocking a few shots here and there, Bridges would be as solid a player that could be found throughout the Big 12.

To be sure, all of that mentioned above is evaluated by those who make a profession out of scouting players for the next level.

It’s just those aren’t the first attributes they look at. Probably not the second or third things on their list, either.

They look at size and athleticism, which the WVU forward easily checks both of those boxes.

And then they look at scoring and shooting percentages, which to this point, Bridges has yet to really establish himself as a true threat.

“I was looking to get to the basket more than I have all season,” he said last week, after the Mountaineers knocked off Youngstown State before the Christmas break. “I was just trying to dominate, whether that was scoring the ball or rebounding the ball. I was just trying to do whatever I could and play aggressively to help my team win.”

“Playing aggressively” factored into just six shots for the forward, in which he made three of them and finished with nine points.

He also added eight rebounds, a couple of steals and blocked a shot.

A good all-around game, to be sure, but the Mountaineers (11-1) are about to begin Big 12 play against No. 17 Texas on Saturday, and the Longhorns just may be the best defensive team in the country.

This is no longer the time for Bridges to simply feel things out, as they say, or let the flow of the game dictate how aggressive he can be.

That’s fine against Bellarmine, Eastern Kentucky and Elon, but it’s a whole different type of game against Texas, Kansas and Baylor, who have the dudes to keep up with WVU’s leading scorers Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil.

It’s here I’m reminded of a conversation many years ago with former WVU star Joe Alexander, who oddly enough wore the same No. 11 Bridges does today.

Much like Bridges, Alexander was loaded with enough size and potential that had people thinking he could one day become an NBA guy.

It was Alexander’s junior year, and while he had a number of great games for much of the season, there seemed to be another level he could reach.

He reached that level, Alexander admitted, when a switch was flipped in his mind and he simply decided come hell or high water that he was going to be that guy.

As analytical as Alexander was, he remembered the exact moment in the exact game when the switch was flipped.

If memory serves correctly, Alexander said he had caught a pass near the foul line, where he usually looked to set up a play with another pass.

Except this time, the switch flipped and he just went right at the basket and kept doing it the rest of the season all the way to becoming the No. 8 overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft.

Now, it obviously doesn’t happen that way for everyone on a basketball court and we don’t know if it will happen that way for Bridges.

To be honest, if Bridges was a jerk, it would be more difficult to wonder if that switch will flip for him or not.

Except he’s not a jerk, not at all. He’s a great kid with a light-hearted personality who has worked very hard to get to where he is.

Earlier this season, WVU coach Bob Huggins eluded to Bridges maybe being too nice of a guy, which that can be seen just by speaking with the young man.

To that point, Alexander was a great kid, too, one you never had to worry about going out and doing something wrong that would hurt his team.

And so here we are getting ready for the gauntlet that is the Big 12 schedule and the Mountaineers desperately need another go-to guy.

Bridges checks off so many boxes to be that guy. He’s got the speed, the size, the outside shot, the athleticism and the talent.

But does he have the confidence?

If that answer one day becomes a “yes,” then the belief here is that switch will flip quickly for him.

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