COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Stevenson High School point guard Jalen Brunson, regarded as the best returning high-school player in Illinois and arguably the top player at his position nationally in the 2015 class, added another accolade to his increasingly impressive resume Sunday, when he was selected to be a part of USA Basketball’s under-18 national team.
Unlike his role for Stevenson or during the AAU season for the Mac Irvin Fire, Brunson is functioning as more of a pass-first floor general, which he insists is more of his game, despite his reputation as a scorer.
“It’s more of my nature because that’s what a point guard’s really supposed to do,” Brunson explained. “But like in any situation, if my team needs me to make plays, if it’s scoring, I’m willing to do it. Defensively, even, just making plays. Rebounding-wise or just anything, I’m willing to do it.”
Playing with and against the likes of Duke incoming freshman point guard Tyus Jones, Brunson faced stiff competition to make the squad and appreciates the challenge.
“It’s been great, just to play against great competition. Also just great people,” he said. “They’re very hard workers and have big careers ahead of them, so just to be able to be in the same breath as these guys is a blessing.”
Brunson also realizes that he’ll need to continue to keep developing as a player in order to keep pace with his elite counterparts down the line, not to mention be a positive contributor in the upcoming FIBA Americas tournament, which begins on-site Friday at the Olympic Training Center.
“A lot of it’s strength. But also just more composure, which I think I have a lot of, but I can get better at,” Brunson said. “Also just being a leader. You have a lot of talented guys, a lot of highly-rated guys. Just being more of a leader with these guys and just be more of a family, not just a team.”
Another benefit for the son of former NBA player Rick Brunson — a coach himself, Brunson was a Bulls’ assistant under Tom Thibodeau for two years before most recently working on the Charlotte Bobcats’ staff two seasons ago — is enjoying the instruction he’s receiving from the team’s staff, headed by Florida’s Billy Donovan, with Arizona’s Sean Miller and Providence’s Ed Cooley serving as assistant coaches.
“It’s been great. You’re seeing just how much focus you need for the next level,” the point guard said. “You need a tremendous amount of focus, and also just how hard you need to work in practice and outside of practice to remember everything that they’re talking about.”
But even as he remains focused on the task at hand, Brunson can’t help think about his senior year of high school, specifically his goal of winning a state title after two consecutive runner-up finishes, to Jabari Parker-led Simeon as a sophomore and Jahlil Okafor’s Whitney Young squad this past spring.
“I know for a fact that I’m going to win a state championship,” said Brunson, who scored a state-tournament record 56 points in the March championship game in Peoria. “There’s nothing that can stop me. That’s my mindset. That’s how I feel. That’s how my team’s going to feel. That’s what we’re going to work for.”
Meanwhile, however, he hopes to get some high-profile practice by winning a gold medal.