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Naismith Contender: Villanova guard Josh Hart

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Villanova guard Josh Hart might be the most unassuming yet supremely-talented player in college basketball.

While he won’t dazzle with off-the-charts athleticism, Hart will win people over with his toughness and smarts.

This is not to say he isn’t athletic. He is, but he won’t drop jaws the way Josh Jackson at Kansas or Markelle Fultz at Washington can.

What he is: a winner.

A champion.

Surely you remember Villanova winning last season’s NCAA title after beating North Carolina in one of the most memorable championship games ever.

Although seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu got most of the love on the Wildcats last season, Hart was Villanova’s best all-around player. He is coming off a season in which he averaged 15.5 points (which led the team), 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, while being named to the All-Big East First Team.

It should come as no surprise that Hart was named to the Associated Press Preseason All-America Team as well as being tabbed the Preseason Big East Player of the Year. This is why he is a early candidate for the Naismith Player of the Year Award.

Now a grizzled senior, Hart is the perfect player to take the baton from Arcidiacono and Ochefu and become Villanova head coach Jay Wright’s new leader.

What makes him such a special player?

First, he has the skills.

Hart is most adept at attacking the basket and letting his psychical attributes take over. He is a ram going to the hole and has a certain swagger that can’t be denied. Hart is simply one of the best finishers in the game and is not afraid of contact.

As with any typical wing in Wright’s offense, Hart can stroke it from deep. While he doesn’t have the prettiest form, Hart shot a respectable 35.7 percent from three-point range last season, after he shot a stellar 46.4 percent as a sophomore.

Although not the most gifted passer, Hart is unselfish. Playing in Wright’s system has trained Hart to find the open man when need be. For his size, the (almost) seven rebounds per game he averaged last season is a fantastic number for a wing.

With a toughness matched by few in the game, Hart is also one of the country’s better defensive players. Hart is a grinder who can body up and play the passing lanes exceptionally well. He averaged 1.2 steals per game last season. When he gets a nasty streak going, Hart is a very intimidating player to deal with.

What also will work in Hart’s favor to capture the Naismith Award is his combination of hunger and experience. Hart turned down the chance to enter to the NBA draft last May. He wants a repeat more than anything. He appreciates the fact that he was part of a championship team last April, but Hart still has the desire for more. That’s what separates him from the pack.

More from Nicole Auerbach of USA Today on Hart’s inexhaustible intensity:

“Obviously, it was a great moment — probably one of the highest points of my life, but I don’t want that to be the defining point,” Hart says. “That’s one thing. That was in April — four or five months ago — so I’m leaving that in April. Now it’s time to focus on this year and focus on this team. If we want to have another run like that, we can’t just sit here and watch that game every week. We’ve got to focus on now. We’ve got to focus on what this team can do and how we’ve got to improve.”

Lastly, his experience can’t be denied.

Learning from Arcidiacono, Ochefu and previous Wildcat stars Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston in years past, Hart has absorbed what it takes to be a leader. He, Darryl Reynolds, and NCAA championship game hero Kris Jenkins are all approaching their senior seasons as though they haven’t won a title.

Hart won’t let his teammates rest on their laurels. With his skill, experience, toughness and moxie, there are not many players in college basketball with his complete composition.

All those traits make him a good bet to win the Naismith and add to his legend at Villanova.

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