IHSA reverses Brunson suspension

IHSA reverses Brunson suspension
March 22, 2014, 8:00 pm
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Scott Phillips

A day of speculation followed after an image of Stevenson junior point guard Jalen Brunson flashing an inappropriate hand gesture surfaced following his team's win over Whitney Young on Friday night.

The IHSA went on to announce a suspension for Brunson, but later reversed the decision prior to Saturday's game.

After making a three-pointer that game officials disallowed with under a minute remaining in the Patriots' 75-68 loss to Whitney Young, Brunson threw his hands up in the air and a still photo captured the junior with two middle fingers in the air — although no game officials saw the gesture and no comments were made about it in the post-game press conference.

Rumors began flying around Carver Arena on Saturday afternoon that Brunson would be suspended for the third-place game against Edwardsville on Saturday for the obscene gesture. Stevenson's school superintendent and school lawyer drove down to Peoria to meet with IHSA officials regarding the potential suspension.

The Stevenson guard took to Twitter after the game on Friday night to apologize for his actions.

"To the Whitney young fans, I really apologize the hand gestures towards the end of the game. Completely an accident just frustration. Sorry."

Shortly after, Brunson deleted the tweet.

But on Saturday afternoon, Brunson sent out a tweet clarifying that he wasn't sorry for his actions, only for the image that was captured.

After a closed-door meeting late Saturday afternoon involving IHSA officials, the Brunson family and Stevenson officials, Jalen's father, former NBA guard Rick Brunson, addressed the media — including CSNChicago.com — and said the IHSA had allegedly suspended his son for the Class 4A third-place game against Edwardsville.

"Somebody is going to have to explain this. Somebody has to explain this to our family. This is not over," Rick Brunson said to reporters right outside of the closed-door meeting that was still in progress.

Rick Brunson defended his son's actions and questioned how the IHSA could suspend a player that wasn't called for anything by officials during the actual game against Whitney Young.

"You can get a technical foul and get two free throws but you can throw your hands up, nobody sees it, and get suspended?" he said to reporters.

Soon after Rick Brunson spoke to reporters, IHSA officials ended the closed-door meeting and went out a back door as the Class 4A third-place game between Edwardsville and Stevenson was 15 minutes from tip-off. IHSA officials did not comment on the matter to reporters following the meeting.

Edwardsville began warming up with 10 minutes remaining without Stevenson taking the floor, and the Patriots finally took the floor to warm-up to a loud ovation from their fans with about eight minutes to go before the opening tip. Brunson was allowed to play — with no comment from the IHSA to reporters — and the junior was introduced in the starting lineup against Edwardsville and played in the Class 4A third-place game with no further incident.

The IHSA then released a statement on the matter:

“The Board respects (IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman) Dr. Hickman’s initial decision and believe it was the correct decision based on the resources he had at the time,” said IHSA Board President and Wauconda High School Principal Dan Klett. “There is precedence for individuals being suspended from IHSA State Final contests for this type of conduct.

''This was a unique situation in terms of how the gesture was brought to our attention via social media. As a Board, we wanted the opportunity to hear from the student-athlete and review additional materials. After doing so, the Board agreed that the gesture could have been inappropriate. However, without additional supporting evidence, we could not make the determination that the gesture was intended as an unsportsmanlike action and chose to overturn the ruling.”

Brunson scored a state-tournament record 56 points in the loss to Whitney Young on Friday night and has averaged 32.5 points per game in Stevenson's six playoff games before Saturday's game against Edwardsville.

The junior was also named Illinois' Gatorade Player of the Year early on Friday, an award which recognizes athletic excellence, high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the court.