Two things you ought to know about Waubonsie Valley basketball star Jared Brownridge that you probably didn't know until now:
1. He wears jersey number 23. Sure, it was Michael Jordan's number. That's why most athletes wear it. But not Brownridge.
"When I was growing up, my sister Lauren wore it at Waubonsie Valley. She played point guard. She is four years older than me. Back in the day, we used to play one-on-one in the driveway and at the gym. She put a beating on me sometimes. Before I was good, she always won. I'd get mad but I knew she was older. I always knew I'd be a basketball player. I kept working at it."
2. Before Santa Clara began recruiting him during the summer before his junior year, Brownridge didn't even know the school was located in California. After all, when was the last time Santa Clara recruited an athlete in the Chicago area?
"I was playing with the Illinois Wolves in an AAU tournament in Milwaukee," the 6-foot-1 senior guard recalled. "They said they liked me, that I had a good shot. They were impressed by my defense. That's what drew their attention."
Until then, Brownridge had never even heard of Santa Clara, which is located 30 miles from San Francisco. After doing some research on the Internet, as he had done with every school that was recruiting him, he learned that NBA star Steve Nash had played there. And he learned that Santa Clara has a very good business school, which also peaked his interest.
He also was considering several Missouri Valley schools. He had scholarship offers from Illinois-Chicago, Illinois State, Bradley, Drake, Southern Illinois and Missouri State. Finally, before his senior season began, he committed to Santa Clara.
"As time went on, I realized they had a good opportunity for me on the academic and athletic side," he said. "They have a good business school. It is a great opportunity after college. The weather didn't have anything to do with my decision but it was a plus."
Brownridge has emerged as one of the best unheralded players in the Chicago area. He is averaging 19 points per game for a 17-7 team that is chasing front-running Neuqua Valley in the Upstate Eight's Valley Division and hopes to surpass the 20-victory milestone and advance beyond the first round of the regional for the first time since 2008.
He scored a game-high 23 points as the Warriors pulled away in the second half for a 56-30 victory over East Aurora last Friday. The defense, keyed by 6-foot-5 junior Jack Cordes, allowed only two points in the first quarter and 13 in the first half. Bryan Jefferson added 13 points.
"Brownridge is the best shooter I have ever coached in high school," said Waubonsie Valley coach Steve Weemer, in his eighth year at the Aurora school. "He is a great kid off the floor. He puts in extra work to compete at a high level. He has a great attitude. He is a fun kid to coach."
How good is he? "Brownridge is one of the best catch-and-shoot guards in Illinois in the class of 2013, possibly the best. He is capable of burying shots from well beyond the three-point arc. If he gets any ounce of room to spot up and get a good luck, it is usually money," said recruiting analyst Roy Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye.
"He also has improved his ball-handling and has shown that he can plush the ball up the floor and score on the break. His on-the-ball defense also goes unheralded. The bottom line is that he is a systems player and the system that he will be a part of at Santa Clara is one that is perfectly conducive to his skills."
As they prepare for Saturday's conference duel with Metea Valley, the Warriors are eager to improve on last year's 18-9 finish, which saw them lose to Hinsdale Central in the regional opener. They haven't been to the sectional since 2008. But with three starters returning, Weemer was optimistic about this season.
"Our goal was to win 20 games and go deep into the playoff," the coach said. "We're on a pace for that. We have played well since Christmas. We're sharing the ball. We're getting inside and outside scoring. And our defense has gotten better. Our kids have bought into what we are trying to do."
They could use a little luck, too. They lost to Neuqua Valley by three points, to Bartlett in triple overtime and to Metea Valley on a last-secondshot. In their recent rematch, Brownridge scored 35 points as Waubonsie Valley smashed Bartlett 67-49.
Brownridge is surrounded by Cordes (5 ppg, 6 rpg), Jefferson (16 ppg, 8 rpg), a 6-foot-5 senior, 5-foot-10 senior point guard Gary Sutton (2 ppg, 3 apg) and 6-foot-4 senior Jaravas Stewart (2 ppg, 4 rpg). Matt Gialamas, a 6-foot-2 junior, Jay DeHaan, a 6-foot-1 junior, and Dylan Warden come off the bench.
"To keep it going, we know Jared and Bryan will score," Weemer said. "But the key is if the other guys will hit key shots if Jared and Bryan have an off night, relieve the pressure and step up on defense."
For his part, Brownridge knew he had to get better if his team was going to improve on last year's 18-9 finish. He averaged 20 points per game last season and was an all-conference selection. But individual honors don't mean much if the team doesn't experience success.
"At the end last year, it got shaky for us," he said. "We didn't stay on a strong path. When I look back, I try not to think about it. I use it as motivation. I want to go farther this year.
"I knew they guarded me tight last year. They knew who I was for the first time. So I wanted to have new moves this year, to stay aggressive throughout the game."
A combo guard who can play point and handle the ball or shoot, Brownridge stayed after practice to improve his shooting skills. In the summer at the YMCA, he often put up 1,000 shots a day. He worked from spots in the corners, wings and the top of the key.
"I like to make 10 before I missed three, then move on," he said. "How much better am I this year? I was a good shooter for the past two years. But, to me, I have become a better shooter this year. Now I can shoot off the dribble better and get more arc on my jump shot.
"I'm able to make moves and create my own shot this year, when people are guarding me close. I also attack the basket more and I am a lot quicker."
Most of all, he is confident that he and his teammates have what it takes to accomplish what recent teams haven't done--win 20 games and the regional.
"We have more intensity on this team on offense and defense," Brownridge said. "We are attacking the glass better. Everyone has bought into their roles. Beating Bartlett showed us our character. It showed how tough we are."