Sitting on the sideline last season was one of the hardest things West Virginia University men’s basketball redshirt freshman Jalen Bridges has ever done.
“First and foremost, it was super, super challenging to just sit there and watch,” Bridges said Thursday afternoon. “Even though I was a part of [the team], it just killed me not being able to play because I’ve been playing all my life. I’ve never really had to just sit there and watch.”
Bridges, a top-100 recruit in the Class of 2019, did something very few top recruits do. He chose to sit out and redshirt for his entire true freshman season. Following a standout high school career at Fairmont Senior High not far from WVU’s Morgantown campus, Bridges said the original plan for his recruitment was to take official visits to five schools and then spend a post-graduate year at Scotland Campus in Pennsylvania.
He had visits lined up with West Virginia, Xavier, Indiana, Alabama and Miami. After his first visit to WVU, however, Bridges put his original plan to the side and committed to the Mountaineers.
“I just felt so comfortable with the visit, with Huggs, with the players that I felt like I didn’t need to waste my time on any other visits,” Bridges said. “I was supposed to leave for prep school on Tuesday and I ended up committing on Sunday and announced it Monday.”
Part of what made committing to WVU an easy decision for Bridges was that, as a West Virginia native, he understands what playing for the Mountaineers really means.
“Here we really don’t have that much,” Bridges said. “We obviously don’t have any professional teams so WVU really is our state’s professional team. Every single kid in the state looks up to us as their sports team. Being an in-state kid, I really understand that way more than the other guys because where they’re from they have all kinds of different colleges, all kinds of different pro teams and we’re all we have. It’s really just an honor to be able to put on for where I’m from and wear that name across my jersey.”
From there, Bridges made the decision to preserve a season of eligibility and redshirt.
“I just felt like, mentally, I wasn’t ready to make that big jump to the college game so I just decided to redshirt. My dad was on board with that, coach Huggs was on board with that and I just felt like it was a great opportunity for me to get stronger and just learn how to play at the pace of this level.”
Even though he redshirted last season, Bridges was still with the team. He practiced, he trained, he even went through pregame warmups.
“My dad would tell me, ‘Just go out like you’re going to play, just work on your game’,” Bridges said of pregame warmups. “It’s really just time for me to go have fun, I might as well go get something out of it. I was just trying to work on my ball-handling, working dribbles into shots and stuff like that.”
Now, after a season of learning and growing, Bridges says he feels good about his decision and is ready to play college basketball.
“It was just a difficult challenge, but I feel like I learned a lot. I put myself in a good position, I know what’s going on, I got stronger and I feel like I know how to play at this level now,” Bridges said. “Right now I’m about a solid 220 [pounds]. Last year I was 220 and it was a lot of water weight but I’m solid now. I’ve gotten way better at handling the ball, being able to scan the floor, make plays for myself and my teammates. I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing against other guys because we go to war every day in practice and it’s going to be a fun season.”
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins agreed that redshirting in 2019-20 was a good thing for Bridges.
“I think he’s benefited a great deal [from redshirting], particularly physically,” Huggins said earlier this month. “He’s really done a good job in the weight room. He’s gotten stronger, he’s playing so much more assertive.”