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Columbia native Jordan Bruner is finally having the type of success he envisioned after injuries slowed his college career early on.
Bruner, who chose Yale over in-state Clemson in November of 2015, played a big role in the Bulldogs winning the Ivy League this season and reaching the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in school history.
The junior is averaging more than 10 points and 8 rebounds per game for No. 14 seed Yale, who will face No. 3 seed LSU in the first round of the tournament at 12:40 p.m. Thursday in Jacksonville.
“This is like the dream as a college basketball player,” Bruner told The State Wednesday.
While it has been a dream season for Bruner, his college career has been anything but easy. The former Spring Valley High School star missed the entire 2017-18 season with a knee injury and was forced to watch as the Bulldogs struggled to a 16-15 season.
Sitting out last year helped Bruner learn where his team needs him the most.
“The worst part of sitting out is just seeing my guys go out there and have to play without me — any game where we lose or where I see that my team is struggling at a place that I could really help them. Like right now, I’m an emotional leader,” Bruner said. “They kind of lacked that last year, and that was kind of difficult to watch at all times through the year.”
But Bruner kept faith and always believed that his time would come. It finally has this year.
In addition to scoring 10.2 points per game, Bruner finished second in the Ivy League in rebounding (8.3), seventh in assists (3.0) and third in blocked shots (1.6).
Bruner isn’t always having the offensive productivity that he would like, but he has found plenty of other ways to help his team pile up victories. The Bulldogs are 22-7 entering the NCAA Tournament.
“Just emotional leadership, energy. I haven’t really been playing the way I’m capable of offensively, but just coming out there and being the piece that helps glue the team together offensively and defensively,” Bruner said. “I can’t control every shot that I put up if it goes in or not, but I can control how hard I play, and I think my teammates feed off of that.”
Even though Yale is back in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in four years, this season has had its share of difficulties as well. Unlike last season, this year the Bulldogs had Bruner to lean on during difficult times.
All of the tough times were worth it when Yale beat Harvard in the Ivy League Tournament to clinch its spot in March Madness.
“It was special because of how we did it. There were times that we were down in the season and we had a players meeting where we just talked about what we meant to each other and how we needed to continue to grow,” Bruner said. “It wasn’t as much as what we accomplished as how we accomplished it, and me being grateful for the guys around me.
“The experience of winning the game was cool, but I was just glad that we were able to do it as a team. That meant more to me than anything.”
HOW TO WATCH
Who: No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 Yale
Where: NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Jacksonville Regional, VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena
When: Thursday, March 21, 12:40 p.m.
Watch: truTV, Stream online via NCAA.com