Mikal Bridges hasn’t missed a day of work in over six years. The guard/forward for the Western Champion Suns stopped by for a conversation with The Association about Phoenix’s Finals run, playing with Chris Paul, and playing in 365 straight games — dating back to his freshman year at Villanova.
The Suns went from being a lottery team to Western Conference Champions in one season. Did your experience in two NCAA Championship games for Villanova play a factor in your approach?
We weren’t very good my first couple of seasons — we won 19 games in my first year. But last season was an amazing experience, going to the playoffs and playing in that atmosphere. I grew up watching the NBA Playoffs, and I always wanted to be in that situation.
Being at Nova — our championship runs [definitely] helped me. At school, our mindset was to always focus on the next game, and that translated well in a series [format]. Even though it was a best-of-seven, I learned to look at it like, “Just win our next game.” That was easier for me personally, from a mindset standpoint, to always think about the next game and not too far ahead.
What have the conversations been like in the locker room, particularly after the Game 6 loss? Is there hunger for more — an “unfinished business” vibe around Phoenix?
After our Game 6 loss, there was an understanding that we all love and care about each other, and that we wanted everyone to come back. We had players whose contracts were up, but guys came back. We recognized that we had a heck of a season, and we’re using it as fuel for this coming season.
I’m excited to have our team back, and it was clear that bringing our team back for another run was a priority. We have the right mindset about the upcoming season, and we’re [going] after different results. We’re bringing this mindset with us into training camp.
We hear so much about Chris Paul’s leadership on the court, but what is he like behind the scenes?
Chris has been through it all. He lent his playoff expertise to our team throughout all of last season. He talked with us specifically about the playoffs — he taught us to approach them as just another game. We knew it would be more physical, but he encouraged us to just keep playing our games and not get caught up in the playoff hype. It made things easier for guys to go out there and be themselves on the court.
How did he help you personally come playoff time?
He’s a great leader. He helps you see and think through things on the court that maybe you’ve never thought about before. He definitely helped me out by sharing his knowledge of the game, teaching me the little things like how to draw fouls and talking more on defense. He really set the tone for us as a team.
You’re the Iron Man of basketball. Between college and the NBA, you’ve played 365 straight games! Is this something you’re aware of?
I’m definitely aware of this now, but I didn’t give it much thought at the time. In college, you can’t just miss games, especially with Coach [Jay] Wright, unless you’re seriously injured. But I didn’t think of it much in college. I just wanted to be out there and play. In the NBA, I’m just trying to stay healthy. I don’t think about it too much — I just go out there and play hard.
Did you play through all of high school, too?
I missed one game my junior year. I was sick.
What part of your game have you been focusing on the most in the offseason?
I always say everything, but working on my shot has been a priority this summer. I’ve also been working on my ball-handling, being comfortable, and getting better on both sides of the ball.