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Yale’s Jordan Bruner, his pro plans stalled by the coronavirus, now among most sought-after transfers in college basketball

Hartford Courant 2020-03-26 15:37:28

In that crazy 24-hour period in which the sports world went from full swing to completely shut down, Yale’s Jordan Bruner saw doors open, doors shut, opportunities dance like moving targets.

The Ivy League was ahead of the curve in canceling its men’s basketball tournament, giving its automatic NCAA bid to regular-season champion Yale. Then the NCAA Tournament was canceled.

Bruner, who was set in his mind to launch a professional career, made his intentions known on March 13.

“So I figured I was going to go the pro route the day after they decided they were going to cancel the season,” he said.

Then he had to walk it back. The NBA was shut down, and so were its pre-draft events.

“The same day I decided to go pro," Bruner said, "they cancelled Portsmouth Invitational, which I would have gone to, and they continued to cancel a lot of the exposure events where I felt I could have improved my stock a lot. I would have played well in the workouts and the events. Without those, there are a number of NBA guys who hadn’t seen me as much as they could have, and I feel like the more I’m seen, the more attractive I am.”

Bruner has a year of college eligibility left, but a year he cannot use at Yale, because the Ivy League doesn’t allow redshirting or grad students to play, so he joined the hundreds who have put their names in the NCAA’s transfer portal. And right now, with immediate eligibility, he is one of the most sought-after players in college basketball.

“I think it’s over 50 now,” he said, as to the number of coaches who have reached out. UConn’s Dan Hurley was one of the first.

Bruner, 6 feet 9 and 205 pounds, averaged 10.9 points and 9.2 rebounds for Yale (23-7), shooting 44.3 percent, 32.3 on 3-pointers. Among his eye-opening performances were a 10-point, 13-rebound effort at Clemson on Dec. 22, and a 17-point, 15-rebound night at North Carolina on Dec. 30.

With the coronavirus restrictions, Bruner can’t visit schools or be visited by coaches, so everything is happening over the phone, with texts and email. He’s home in Columbia, S.C., finishing his studies online.

“Most of it is phone calls,” he said, “conversation about systems, descriptions of the offense. They send me video to watch. Full games, that’s what I’ve asked for, so I can get a feel for how they play, if I haven’t seen them as much. ... I think I do everything well, shoot he ball well. even better than my numbers. I pass the ball, handle the ball, rebound and guard. There isn’t anything a coach can ask me to do that I not capable of.”

Among the schools that have shown interest, Bruner said Maryland, Alabama, Arkansas, Baylor and Georgetown are “recruiting me the most, or the hardest.” He’s looking for the best combination of the opportunity to play, and a level of competition that will raise his stock for the 2021 draft.

Eric Monroe finds Jordan Bruner

Watch on ESPN+ ➡️ https://t.co/nDXIukWSix#ThisIsYale pic.twitter.com/gHauupKAk0

— Yale Men's Basketball (@YaleMBasketball) March 8, 2020

“The goal is to go to the NBA,” Bruner said. "So finding a school and a situation that put me in best position to do so makes the most sense. The level of competition definitely plays a big role in that.”

At UConn, the priority is a short-term replacement for Akok Akok, 6-9, who ruptured his Achilles in February and won’t play until midseason, if at all in 2020-21. Bruner could bring versatility to the small or power forward position, and the Huskies, who finished the season strong and have high expectations going into the Big East next season, are searching the transfer portal for experience. Hurley has one scholarship to fill, with Alterique Gilbert leaving as a grad transfer, and could have another if someone else leaves.

“[My conversation with Hurley] was pretty similar to other conversations,” Bruner said. “He told me about how he had a big opportunity. I could come in and I was a good fit for what he was trying to do, and I could help them win.”

The chance to win is something Bruner takes as a given, if he does invest another year in college ball.

“I feel like anywhere I go, I’m going to have the opportunity to win,” he said. "There’s no school I could go to where we wouldn’t have a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament. I feel like any team I go to, I’m going to make that team good enough to win.”

The extra season is in Bruner’s back pocket due to the knee injury that cost him all but one game of the 2017-18 season at Yale. He ended up playing 84 games, including the Ivy League championship and NCAA Tournament first-round loss to LSU in 2019. He will graduate with a degree in African American studies, but if playing another season at Yale was an option, Bruner would consider it.

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“Being true to who I was from the beginning was a very big thing for me," he said. "I played three years, we managed to win two championships. I was in a place where I was able to make my team better, make my teammates better, and that’s what I take the most pride in, the success my teammates had. The chance of going to three straight tournaments with those guys would’ve been a story, definitely something to think about.”

The Portsmouth Invitational in Virginia is a showcase for seniors. UConn’s Christian Vital would have been a candidate, too, if it were played. In a normal period, Bruner could have lined up workouts for individual teams, perhaps gained an invitation to the NBA Draft Combine, which is scheduled for May 21-24, but is obviously in jeopardy. Bruner has not ruled out going pro in the U.S., or perhaps overseas, though there is no telling when pro basketball will next be played anywhere. Options remain open, and as for a final decision, he says he’s “getting there.”

“I’m just waiting for more information,” Bruner said, “then it will be easy for me to make a concrete decision. Every day they talk about cancelling summer workouts, it gives me a better idea what’s going on.”