Brunson takes Stevenson to the next level

Brunson takes Stevenson to the next level
January 16, 2013, 4:37 am
Share This Post

Pressure is being the 16-year-old son of a nine-year NBA player who is regarded as one of the leading prospects in the class of 2015 and is expected to lead his team to the state finals for only the third time in school history.

Jalen Brunson, welcome to life in the fast lane.

"He has an adult brain in a kid's body," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said about the 6-foot-2 sophomore point guard. "He has a mature mindset and a very poised demeanor. He understands the game at a very high level."

A student of the game, Brunson learned from his father Rick, a one-time McDonald's All-American who played with nine different NBA teams, including the Chicago Bulls twice, and currently is an assistant coach with the Charlotte Bobcats.

"I'm used to that pressure. My dad pressures me all the time, in school and in basketball," Jalen said. "He tells me to be happy, be satisfied, take advantage of my talent. The pressure isn't to ruin my family's name. I want to be the best player I can be. My goal is to make it to the NBA. I want to be a difference-maker, to do what my dad wasn't able to do.

"There is pressure to perform. Every time I walk on the floor there is pressure to play as hard as I can. I know I might not score as much every time but I can show how much I care and how hard I can play is something they can't stop you from doing. I want to be known for playing hard all the time, playing with my heart, for me and for my team."

At the moment, Brunson and his team are doing quite well. After losing to highly rated Morgan Park and Oswego to finish fourth at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, Stevenson (12-4) swept Mundelein 71-61 and Vernon Hills 73-55 last weekend. The Patriots will meet North Suburban Lake leader Zion-Benton Friday, Warren next Tuesday.

Against Mundelein, Brunson scored 13 of his 29 points in the third quarter and converted 12 of 15 shots. Against Vernon Hills, he had 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. He scored a career high of 35 points against Lake Forest in December, making 15 of 19 free throws.

"I put in a lot of work in the gym last summer," he said. "I'm shooting better than last year. My field goal percentage is up and my free throw percentage is up, too. I worked with my dad, 250 to 300 shots a day. If you prepare and work hard, it gives you confidence, even in school. It will come easier and more natural. I don't work hard for one day and take three days off. I take 25 good shots. That's better than taking 200 bad shots."

Brunson is averaging 21 points and five assists per game. He has scholarship offers from Purdue, Xavier and Southern Methodist and interest from Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Virginia. But recruiting clearly isn't on his priority list at this time. He has two more years in high school.

Recruiting analysts Van Coleman of Hot100Hoops.com and Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye are impressed with Brunson and his potential.

"He definitely is one of the top rising point guards in the class of 2015," Coleman said. "I had him at No. 52 nationally in the preseason ranking of the sophomore class. He is a quick lefty lead guard who can get to the rim, finish with both hands and is an excellent passer.

"He has range to three but likes to use dribble drive and kick to set up teammates. He has solid court vision and tools to be a high major point guard down the road."

The Schmidt brothers said Brunson is capable of being the No. 1 prospect in Illinois in the class of 2015. As of now, they rank him with D.J. Williams of Simeon and Charles Matthews of St. Rita at the top of the list.

"He is a pure point guard and smooth shooting lefty who gets into the lane and can make shots from beyond the three-point arc. He has a great work ethic and and lot of intangibles," Roy Schmidt said.

"I don't want to get my head too big about it," Brunson said. "I have a lot of time, a long way to go. I will take unofficial visits and enjoy what I have. I have a long time to make a decision. As I get comfortable with a school and a coach, that's what I'm looking for."

In the meantime, Brunson wants to enjoy his high school experience and take his team to the state finals. In his 14th year, Ambrose believes this is one of the best teams he has had, despite starting two sophomores and a junior. After finishing 17-10 last year, Ambrose had high expectations for this season. And he hasn't been disappointed.

"I was happy with 10-4 coming out of Proviso West," the coach said. "We have grown and matured. We shoot well, handle the ball well and are very guard oriented. We start four guards. We spread the floor, drive and shoot. The only thing that worries me is a big kid, someone we can't handle inside. Can a young but not deep squad weather the storm and mentally and physically take the grind of a tough schedule?"

Time will tell. First up is Friday and Zion-Benton and 6-foot-6 junior Milik Yarbrough. Stevenson will counter with Brunson, 6-foot-3 sophomore Connor Cashaw (15 ppg, 8 rpg), 6-foot-3 senior Andy Stemple (10 ppg, 5 rpg), 6-foot-3 junior Matt Morrissey (6 ppg, 4 rpg) and 6-foot-3 senior Adam Cohen (4 ppg). Top reserves are 5-foot-6 senior Jason Berkson and 6-foot-4 sophomore Parker Nichols (4 ppg).

"Any team I coach I look at our field goal percentage and the other team's field goal percentage," said Ambrose, who is a disciple of former Naperville North coach Dick Whitaker.

"We have to hit in the high 40s. And we have to held them to under 40 percent or in the 40s and not give up second shots. With four guards and a small center, we have to get in everyone's face and pressure the ball. On offense, we have to play up-tempo, share the ball and get good shots."

Winning three of five games at Proviso West, the Patriots learned they are better than they thought.

"We played a lot of tough teams and that will help us to prepare for later in the year. We saw some of the best players in the state. Guarding and trying to lock down those players will help us. Our team defense is key to our success. It showed us that playing harder with more intensity will help us down the road," Brunson said.

He knows his role. He is a pure point guard, a pass-first point guard. That is his future, not as a scorer or a shooter. He knows he must work to improve his defense. Sometimes it can be suspect, he admits. Last year, he said he fell asleep on defense on occasion. Opponents sometimes took advantage of his youth and inexperience. Not anymore.

"Some games I know I have to get the team involved," he said. "I know they will harass me on the ball. I know there are games where I have to take over. I know I have to pass a lot. I like to make good passes, make my teammates feel good, be a team player, be unselfish. But sometimes I know I have to take a shot. What I do best is lead my team. That's my best asset. I take the role very seriously."

Brunson has taken basketball very seriously since he was a sixth grader. Earlier, he played baseball, soccer and football. But he soon realized that "basketball was the sport that had me going all the time. I never played a game when I didn't want to play and perform. Other sports didn't excite me in every game. But basketball has kept me going every time I step on the court," he said.

The proverbial light went on in fifth grade, when he was playing with seventh graders. He was surprised when his AAU coach started him ahead of two older guards whom Brunson thought were better than him. "It gave me confidence. It inspired me to get better every day, even if I was sitting at home, laying in my bed and shooting a ball at the ceiling," he said.

So it isn't surprising that Ambrose would first single out Jalen's "adult brain in a kid's body" rather than his shooting stroke or ball-handling skills when discussing the talented youngster.

"I think three plays ahead. When I'm playing, I'm all instinct," he said. "I work on a lot of moves so they become habit so I don't have to think about them. They become natural to me. I know what will happen, how they will defend me. I'm constantly aware of what is going on on the floor."

And he's only a 16-year-old sophomore.