During the time Josh Hart was at Sidwell and Kris Jenkins and Nate Britt starred for Gonzaga, two of the three took a turn as the District’s Gatorade boys basketball player of the year.
On Thursday night, Hart — who missed out on the honor four times — was the only one of the three to be selected in the NBA draft. He was chosen by the Utah Jazz, then dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers as part of a draft-night swap.
The Lakers were ecstatic to acquire the former Sidwell star, general manager Rob Pelinka said in the team’s post-draft news conference.
“Josh Hart is what I would characterize as a champion,” Pelinka said. “He’s a player [where] the word ‘mentality’ just jumps out. When he’s on the court, there’s a presence of respect about him because he respects the game. We know he is going to come here and work as hard as any player on the roster and drive the guys to be better.”
Hart, Britt and Jenkins all had chances to play against Markelle Fultz — the NBA’s top overall pick — at various points during their high school careers when Fultz played for DeMatha. Another former high school rival — Melo Trimble, who starred at WCAC foe Bishop O’Connell before going to the University of Maryland — signed as an undrafted free agent with the Philadelphia 76ers, Hart was no slouch either. The Sidwell grad helped Villanova capture a national championship in 2016, and his knack for leadership and winning was a big part of his first-round draft appeal.
Hart blossomed at Villanova as a senior while racking up a slew of honors, including 2017 First Team All-American, Big East Player of the Year and the Julius Erving Award as the nation’s top small forward. In his final season for the Wildcats, Hart averaged 18.7 points per game and shot more than 40 percent from three-point range. He ended his career as the Wildcats’ No. 10 all-time leading scorer with 1,921 points, also ranking 14th in rebounds with 812 and 15th in steals with 162.
“Having won a championship in college, he is going to bring that mentality,” Pelinka said. “He will be a great young leader and influence on the younger guys we drafted since he is a little more mature than some of them.”
Hart, with his Big East defensive player of the year title and his average of 1.5 steals per game, knew going into the draft process that defense was the place where he could be of immediate help.
“I think I would be able to come in and make an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball,” Hart told the Lakers’ team website after a workout on June 5.
On draft night, Hart gathered with close friends and family in Philadelphia to watch the draft and wait to hear his name called. Among his inner circle was Sidwell coach Eric Singletary.
“It was thrilling, to say the least,” Singletary said. “You’re sitting there with anticipation and a lot of hopes as the picks go by. To hear him get his name called and to be taken in the first round by an organization like the Lakers … .”
When Hart’s name was called as the final pick of the first round, it was NBA legend Magic Johnson — who serves as Los Angeles’ team president — who was on the other end of the line.
“For a guy that grew up a Magic Johnson fan, I could tell you what it meant to see him on the phone with Magic and to fulfill his dreams,” said Singletary.
Although Hart was technically selected by the Jazz, the Lakers made the choice by trading with Utah for the slot.
The Lakers used their own No. 2 slot for Lonzo Ball, who will likely garner the majority of the headlines in Los Angeles. But even if the Villanova grad flies under the radar, Singletary believes that Hart will emerge as a contributor.
“He has a unique motor and one of the best motors in the country,” said Singletary. “When you play that hard and you are that coachable, it allows you to be better. You saw it at Sidwell and every year at Villanova. Being the 30th pick with all of the accolades he racked up at Villanova, he’s going to surprise some people. I don’t see a reason to doubt him at all.”
While Hart was formally drafted, his Villanova teammate and former Gonzaga star Kris Jenkins got picked up by the Washington Wizards camp, according to NBA reporter David Aldridge.
Jenkins, who hit the game-winning bucket in Villanova’s national championship victory in 2016, put together a strong senior year. The former Eagle averaged 13.1 points per game, shot 36 percent from three-point range, averaged just over four rebounds per game and dished out a total of 73 assists. In total for his college career, Jenkins amassed 1,383 points.
Meanwhile, Jenkins’ Gonzaga teammate and brother Nate Britt, who played in college for the University of North Carolina, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Atlanta Hawks to play for the team’s summer league, according to Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Britt played in 40 games for the Tar Heels, making seven starts as a senior. The former Eagle averaged 4.5 points per game and dished out 94 assists while averaging 19 minutes per game.