Brunson takes Stevenson to the next level

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Brunson takes Stevenson to the next level

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.

2017 CSN Preps Boys Basketball All-Area Team

2017 CSN Preps Boys Basketball All-Area Team

The 2016-17 high school basketball season is finally in the books as the Chicagoland area saw a lot of star performances from throughout the year.

So it's time to unveil the 15-man, three-team, CSN Preps Boys Basketball All-Area team.

While other awards might only count regular-season accomplishments, the CSN Preps All-Area team is unique because we also include postseason accomplishments and titles when considering the three teams.

Only players from the Chicagoland area are consisdered for the All-Area teams as factors such as strength of schedule, final statistics, team accomplishments and personal awards are all weighed in the final decision.

Here's a look at the three All-Area teams and the CSN Preps Player of the Year. 

First Team

Alonzo Verge, Thornton senior guard (Player of the Year) -- The choice for Player of the Year is Verge after he burst back on the local scene after a year away. Leading the Wildcats back to a Class 4A sectional title game, Verge averaged 26 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals per game as he was the most unstoppable player in the area this season. Verge helped Thornton to a Southwest Suburban Red title while he earned MVP honors at the Big Dipper for leading the Wildcats to victory. 

Ayo Dosunmu, Morgan Park junior guard -- The only junior to make the All-Area team, Dosunmu averaged 18.3 points per game while helping the Mustangs win the Public League Red-South and Class 3A state championship. Although Dosunmu didn't play much in Peoria when the Mustangs won state, they definitely needed him to get there as the junior had some big-time playoff performances. 

Cameron Krutwig, Jacobs senior center -- One of the best players ever to come out of the Fox Valley Conference, Krutwig finishes his career with 1,528 points and ninth in state history with 1,258 career rebounds. A monster senior season saw Krutwig put up 15.3 points, 13.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.4 assists per game entering regional finals as he was the area's best post player this season. Led Jacobs to three straight Fox Valley titles, three regional titles in four seasons and a sectional title this season.

Nojel Eastern, Evanston senior guard -- Another prolific four-year player, Eastern was a third-team CSN All-Area selection last season. After a solid regular season that saw him average 18 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks per game, Eastern elevated his play to an elite level in the state playoffs in helping the Wildkits to a Class 4A sectional title. Eastern put up 31 points, 10 rebounds and six steals in the Super-sectional loss to Whitney Young and 29 points and 17 rebounds in a win over Waukegan for the sectional title. 

Lucas Williamson, Whitney Young senior guard -- The unsigned senior had a final year to remember as Williamson helped the Dolphins to a Class 4A state title. The 6-foot-4 Williamson averaged 17.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and 77 percent from the free-throw line. Also the MVP of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, Williamson improved dramatically as a perimeter shooter over his four-year high school career.

Second Team

Nana Akenten, Bolingbrook senior forward -- The Nebraska commit was able to combine high-flying above-the-rim plays along with a lethal perimeter jumper. The 6-foot-6 Akenten shot 49 percent from the field and 45 percent from three-point range during the season. Akenten put up 14.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game for the Raiders, as they finished third in Class 4A. The MVP of the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic, Akenten has as much upside as anyone on this list. 

Evan Gilyard, Simeon senior guard -- After a four-year varsity career, Gilyard will go down as one of the better floor leaders that Simeon has ever had. The senior led the Wolverines to back-to-back city titles and back-to-back trips to Peoria as he averaged 15.9 points, 3.8 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game while shooting 39 percent from three-point range and 86 percent from the free-throw line. The A.C. Williamson award winner at Pontiac, Gilyard is committed to UTEP. 

Elijah Joiner, Curie senior guard -- After helping Curie win a Class 4A state title last year, Joiner had a very strong senior season as he averaged 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game. Joiner helped the Condors win a Red-Central conference title while he had a 40-point game on rival Kenwood. An all-tournament selection at Pontiac, Joiner is committed to Tulsa. 

Teyvion Kirk, Joliet West senior guard -- This uncommitted senior had a tremendous season on both ends of the floor for the Southwest Prairie champion Tigers. The 6-foot-3 Kirk averaged 19 points, four rebounds and three assists per game this season as he recently set his final four schools to Arkansas, Middle Tennessee, Ohio and St. Bonaventure. Kirk helped Joliet West to a sectional title last season and a regional title this season while earning all-tournament honors at Pontiac.

Justin Smith, Stevenson senior forward -- A CSN third-team All-Area selection as a junior, Smith is back on the list after a stellar senior season. Smith put up 21 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in the regular season for the Patriots as he put down some of the best dunks in the area over the last three years. Smith won a state title as a sophomore starter alongside Jalen Brunson and Connor Cashaw and emerged as a star in his own right this season. Smith is currently committed to Indiana.

Third Team

Kyle Sliwa, Fremd senior guard -- One of the area's most efficient shooters, Sliwa hit some of the biggest clutch shots of the season. Sliwa twice helped Fremd beat rival Conant with game-winning three-pointers, including a buzzer-beater to win a sectional title. The 6-foot-1 Sliwa averaged 16.4 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range. Named MVP of the Mundelein Thanksgiving Tournament, the Wheeling Hardwood Classic and the Mid-Suburban West, Sliwa helped Fremd to a 31-0 start and fourth-place finish in Class 4A. 

Dillon Durrett, Wheaton-Warrenville South senior forward -- The area's most improved player was the DuPage Valley Conference's best player after only averaging 2.3 points per game as a junior. Durrett was versatile on both ends of the floor for the Tigers as he averaged 17 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-3 Durrett often had to play bigger for a small team that won multiple in-season tournaments and went unbeaten in conference play.  

Jack Nolan, Benet senior guard -- Clutch players are tough to come by and Benet had a good one in this senior point guard. After Nolan helped lead the Redwings to a second-place finish in Class 4A last season he averaged 18 points per game and made 40 percent of his three-pointers. Also averaging three assists and two rebounds per game, Nolan was all-Tournament at Pontiac, MVP of the Loyola-New Trier Thanksgiving Tournament and an all-conference in the ESCC.

Tai Bibbs, West Chicago senior guard -- It wasn't quite the season that West Chicago hoped for but Bibbs still put up huge numbers, averaging 26 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while drawing a lot of Division I offers. The 6-foot-3 Bibbs was a two-time all-Upstate Eight Valley selection and he was the Valley's Player of the Year this season. Bibbs won MVP of the West Chicago Thanksgiving tournament and also was all-tournament at Dayton as he put up a tournament-best 32.8 points per game.

Demarius Jacobs, Uplift senior guard -- The best player in the Public League Red-North, the 6-foot-3 Jacobs was one of the premier two-way guards in the city. Jacobs helped the Titans win the Red-North and stay in the CSN Preps Power Rankings for most of the season as he averaged 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game. An All-Tournament selection at Proviso West, Jacobs signed with Southern Illinois in the fall. 

Stagg quarterback Kyle Neputy goes 1-on-1 with Edgy Tim

Stagg quarterback Kyle Neputy goes 1-on-1 with Edgy Tim

Student first, then athlete.

Stagg junior quarterback Kyle Neputy has unquestionably taken the student portion of student-athlete to heart. Neputy, who is a high-honors student and touts an impressive 4.73 GPA, has drawn steady recruiting interest from college programs on several levels, including multiple Ivy League schools. Cornell has already extended Neputy an offer.

Neputy, a big, strong and athletic quarterback who measures in at 6-foot-4 and 234 pounds, has the overall size and physical upside to draw looks at multiple positions this spring and summer.

I caught up with Neputy at the fifth annual Franklin Dodgeball Madness Tournament at Franklin Middle School in Wheaton. Proceeds from the tournament benefited the school, the DuPage Hundred Club, Team Red, White and Blue and The Pat Tillman Foundation.

Watch the interview in the video above.