CHAMPAIGN — Jalen Bridges walked across the baseline at the State Farm Center in Champaign, backpack firmly secured over his shoulders, into a throng of reporters.
Bridges, a 4-star and consensus top-100 prospect from Fairmount, West Virginia, who will play his final season of high school basketball at Scotland Campus in Pennsylvania, had just finished his first game of the NCAA College Basketball Academy.
The first-year event is a developmental academy for prospective college basketball players for the classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022. It was created in response to the recommendations from the Commissions on College Basketball, chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It was designed to give prospects a sample of the college basketball experience.
"Geez," said Bridges, a 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward, when faced with a combination of six or more television cameras and recorders.
He's quiet by nature, letting his play on the basketball court speak for him. He's got an offer from Illinois and said he's contacted by assistant coach Orlando Antigua "every day" with either conversations about basketball or as the recipient of a GIF, imploring him to come to Champaign.
“I like being under the radar. I’m not going to lie to you," Bridges said, with a wry smile.
The first game of the academy, by his own admission, wasn't his best, but he still hit a smooth 3-pointer early in the game and closed the game with a dunk. Since the spring, his recruitment has blown up, he said. He's gaining major interest from a handful of Division I, Power 5 programs.
Xavier, Indiana, Marquette, Ohio State and Illinois all have stood out. He's scheduling an official visit to Miami and plans to reschedule an official visit to Marquette, which was initially slated to take place on Aug. 1.
He's taking his increased recruiting in stride, but it can get hectic, even for someone who is going to have his pick when it comes to a home to play college basketball.
“I just try to respond to everybody," Bridges said. "Sometimes it gets a little stressful and I want to throw my phone at the wall, but I just deal with it."
The academy is held on four campuses throughout the country: Grand Canyon, Houston, Connecticut and Illinois. This trip to Illinois for the camp is showing Bridges the ins and outs of the school. Assistant coaches Chin Coleman and Jamall Walker were in the stands watching and a large contingent of the Illinois men's basketball team took in the first half of the game, including Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier, Da'Monte Williams, Tyler Underwood, Kofi Cockburn, Kipper Nichols and Tevian Jones.
Bridges' first game was on the floor at the State Farm Center and he said he enjoyed the facilities on campus.
“I like it," he said. "It’s basically like a visit. I’m staying at the dorms and going all around the campus to different facilities."
Bridges said Antigua tells him that his style would be a "perfect fit in Champaign." He showed a little bit of everything in his first game, including his range, scoring ability and play-making ability.
There's improvement to be had in some aspects, he said. He wants to finish around the rim better and through contact. There's still plenty of time for that, but his size and skills are enough to draw interest from major programs.
“I feel like I bring versatility," he said "I can do a lot of different things. I can create for my teammates, I can create for myself and I can play defense. I feel like I can really help out.
“I’d say I’m a do-it-all type of guy. I can take it off the bounce, I can shoot the 3, shoot mid range, play defense and pass the ball."
When asked how he would evaluate his own performance in the first day of the first session of the academy, which wraps up on Thursday before the next group of players come in to finish out the week, Bridges rolled his eyes and said, "Not very good."
But it was an experience — a chance to build connections with other players, many of whom had varying offers from Power 5 programs to Mid Majors to Division II and Division III programs. He was invited to participate, so he figured he'd give it a shot.
“It’s the first one, and I was invited to it so I was like, ‘Why not?’ Just show up," he said.
Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25
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