The Return of the Jalen Bridges

MORGANTOWN, West Virginia — Jalen Bridges, the prodigal son, the West Virginia native, who decided to leave the West Virginia Mountaineers and transfer to the Baylor Bears, will return home to play as an opposing player tonight inside the WVU Coliseum.

When Bridges left the program, it felt like a betrayal to many. He grew up 20 minutes from the Coliseum, he was one of us, and instead of finishing his career with the Mountaineers, he chose to compete for a conference rival. Although it was difficult for West Virginia fans to understand or appreciate, Bridges almost certainly made the right decision to improve his chances of realizing his dream of playing in the NBA.

Bridges, now a senior, is averaging 10.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game while shooting 45.7% from the field and an impressive 40.2% from three point range for the #12 ranked Baylor Bears this season. In addition, he is likely the Bears’ top defender and is shooting a career-high 86.8% from the foul line.

Bridges pulled no punches about the coaching staff in a podcast interview after announcing his transfer: “We had team meetings and we broke it down for the coaches,” Bridges said on The Final Fourcast. “We told them that we understood that they break players down and build them back up, but it felt like they forgot to ever build us back up.

They spent a lot of time drilling us. And to me, if they were cussing us and telling us we’re this and we’re that and it’s not working, why would they continue to do that? Why wouldn’t you switch it up and try a different approach, and maybe see if that would work?”

Bridges continued, “I would rather be taught than just be yelled at. I’m fine with yelling if there’s teaching too. Not that there wasn’t any teaching, but they’d rather yell at you and put you on the treadmill than show you what to do and how to fix it. It’s like a punishment over actually getting better.”

In addition, Bridges said that he set up a meeting with former West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins to “figure things out”, but Huggins didn’t show up for the scheduled meeting with him.

This is second time that Bridges has returned to West Virginia as an opposing player. Last season, Bridges had 10 points and 11 rebounds in Baylor’s win over the Mountaineers.

“Playing here for three years I kind of knew how it was for an opposing team to come in here,” Bridges said in Baylor’s postgame conference following the game last season. “I knew they boo somebody every game so, I mean, it just happened to be me tonight obviously because I went here. It’s one of the best atmospheres you can play in college basketball. My teammates had my back and we just put our faith in the Lord and go out there and play hard and if we win, we win. That’s God’s will and we won, so it was God’s will.”

West Virginia (8-16 overall, 3-8 in the Big 12 Conference) welcomes Bridges and the Baylor Bears (18-6, 7-4) into the WVU Coliseum tonight at 6:00PM. The game will be televised live on ESPN.