LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jalen Brunson could be on his honeymoon right now. He’s playing for his country instead.
Let this serve as incredible proof of how badly Brunson wanted to play for USA Basketball at the FIBA World Cup that starts later this month: He and his now-wife moved their wedding to make it happen. Instead of getting married on Sept. 2, as was the plan, Brunson and Ali Marks got married this past Saturday.
And on Thursday, Brunson was going through his first practice with the World Cup team. The honeymoon will wait. There’s a gold medal to chase first.
“There was really no convincing,” Brunson said. “I asked her. Shakingly, asked her. It was actually a very easy kind of transition. Everything worked out, actually easier than expected.”
When U.S. coach Steve Kerr called Brunson a couple of months ago and popped the question about playing for USA Basketball this summer, the answer came quickly. Brunson said yes without even giving it a second thought.
There was one teeny-tiny issue: Brunson previously popped a question of his own.
He and Marks, his girlfriend going back to their high school days, got engaged last fall. He asked the question at midcourt of his high school gym, and in a wild bit of foreshadowing, the photos of that moment just happened to have a U.S. flag in the background. He had no idea that the wedding date would conflict with the World Cup schedule; Sept. 2 is in the second round of the tournament, about a week after play begins and eight days before the gold-medal game.
He asked Kerr when the tournament was. And then Brunson said he’d have to call him back.
“He told me when the wedding was supposed to be and I just immediately turned the page,” Kerr said. “I said, ‘Oh well, nevermind, let’s touch base another time.’ I didn’t think there was any chance.’”
Kerr was thrilled to be wrong. Brunson and Marks moved the wedding. He would play for his country this summer after all.
Commence a whirlwind: black-tie wedding in Chicago on Saturday, shooting workouts in New York on Monday and Tuesday, flight and initial team meeting in Las Vegas on Wednesday, first practice on Thursday. Camp in Las Vegas lasts through Sunday, the first tuneup game comes Monday against Puerto Rico, and then more games follow in Spain and the United Arab Emirates before the Americans head to Manila for a tournament that starts Aug. 25.
“You don’t really get a lot of opportunities like this,” said Brunson, who averaged career bests of 24 points and 6.2 assists per game last season for New York, in his first season with the Knicks after four years in Dallas. “I obviously had to make sure everything was OK on the personal side, but everything worked out.”
To put it mildly, USA Basketball was blown away by what Brunson and his now-wife did to make this happen.
The wedding plans were basically done. Invitations had been sent out. Everything was booked. USA Basketball managing director Grant Hill completely understood — he got engaged July 24, 1998, got married exactly one year to the day later and had to pass on an invitation from his national team because of those plans.
But Brunson and Marks basically pulled together a new plan within 24 hours.
“I’ve always admired that kid,” Hill said. “And I just felt as you start looking at the next iteration of USA Basketball, and the guard position, I like our young guys. They’re all good people. And I don’t want this to come off the wrong way, but just from a character, substance standpoint, he was a guy who I just thought is incredible. When he said, ‘It was always a dream of mine to be a part of this and I don’t want to miss this opportunity,’ I just said ‘Wow.’”
Jay Wright wasn’t surprised by any of this.
Wright coached Brunson at Villanova and is a past USA Basketball assistant. He’s known Brunson’s now-wife for years as well, and remembers being part of a text exchange with Kerr and former U.S. coach Gregg Popovich about roster possibilities for this summer.
Brunson was discussed, and Kerr texted Wright back when he learned the wedding was changed.
“I already love Jalen Brunson,” Kerr wrote to Wright, “and now I love his fiancée even more.”
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