Jalen Brunson Grows To Surpass Athletic Expectations
When Jalen Brunson (Adlai E. Stevenson H.S./Lincolnshire, Ill.) first picked up a basketball at 5 years old, his parents likely expected him to be a natural athlete. After all, his mother played college volleyball at Temple – the same school where his father, who also played nine years in the NBA, played college basketball. They probably did not expect, however, just how tremendously talented their son would grow to be 13 years later.
The 2015 Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year, Brunson not only helped USA Basketball to a 5-0 record and gold medal at the 2014 FIBA Americas U18 Championship this past summer – averaging 12.0 points and 5.6 assists per game along the way – he again was asked suit up for his country as one of 11 U.S. high school seniors that will take on the World Select Team in the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit on April 11 in Portland, Oregon.
“I am really excited to know that I have been selected to play in such a prestigious event, and also just the names that have played before me,” Brunson said of his appointment to the 2015 USA Junior National Select Team. “I’m just really blessed and honored.
“It’s an unreal feeling,” Brunson added about wearing a jersey with USA across his chest.” It’s one of the best feelings that I’ve ever had. When I first put it on, I thought I was dreaming. It really means a lot just to be able to represent your family and your country.”
Brunson will take the court at the Moda Center in Portland alongside six of his U.S. teammates from the 2014 USA U18 national team.
“These guys are so talented and beyond that, they are really good teammates, really good guys to be around,” Brunson said of his upcoming reunion. “And so, it just makes the experience a lot more fun.
“My goal is to win the game. That’s really the most important thing. It’s something that the USA hasn’t been able to do consistently in this event recently, and so I just want to try and help the USA to win it.”
Since he took the court with USA Basketball for the first time this past June, Brunson of course has made improvements to his game, and he said that competing against the best players in the country every day in USA practices had a lot to do with his progress. Furthermore, despite the fact that the eight-team U18 championship was played at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Brunson said the international competition widened his perspective.
“I just learned that there is so much that I have to improve on individually,” Brunson said of his U18 experience. “And as a team, just to take everything out of it you can. There is so much in the world that I have yet to experience. There are so many different cultures in basketball, so many different styles of playing. We got to experience a lot, and it was just really fun.”
After earning gold, Brunson returned to Stevenson, where he is zoned in another one of his biggest goals – winning a state championship. Since he dedicated himself more seriously to basketball after his freshman season, Brunson and Stevenson in the past two seasons have finished the state playoffs in third (2014) and second (2013) place – just shy of the Illinois High School Athletic Association Class 4A state crown.
He scored 41 points on March 10 against Notre Dame College Prep and 25 points on March 13 to help Stevenson capture the Waukegan sectional championship with a 57-49 win over Lake Forest High School.
“The season has been going pretty well,” Brunson said. “We only lost to one team in state and two games out of state, and so, I mean, besides that. I think I’m having a really good season. We just have to finish it out.
“That is the most important thing right now, just trying to win it. We have to take it one step at a time.”
There aren’t many more steps for Brunson to take. On Tuesday, Stevenson will play Riverside-Brookfield High School (28-3) in the Chicago State supersectional, where the winner advances to the state finals.
In the stands for the final games of his prep career will be Brunson’s father, whom he credits for his seemingly unending motivation.
“I would have to say definitely my dad,” Brunson said when asked what helps him continue to work hard. “It is something that I’ve always wanted to do, be better than my dad. He’s been a McDonald’s All-American, he’s played in the NBA, he’s played in college. And at every step, I want to better than him. And that starts with a state championship.
“He’ll always say, ‘You’ll never be better than me,’ but I know that the hard work that we put in together, he really wants it for me and believes I can achieve it.”
Brunson has his own advice for young players who are trying to find a balance between school, basketball and socializing.
“It is tough, but I think I do a pretty good job of balancing things,” Brunson admitted. “I have my parents to guide me through it. I also have the right people in my corner, who tell me what is important and what’s not -- not going out, not hanging out with friends all the time. That stuff can wait for later in life. So, I have the mindset and I’m prepared for what I have to do.”
In the next few weeks and months, Brunson will say goodbye to his time as a high school student and athlete and transition to Villanova University, where he has signed a National Letter of Intent to attend.
“The family atmosphere,” said Brunson on his college choice. “Villanova is a great academic school, first and foremost. The coaching staff, I just really fell in love with their coaching style, the way they push their players, something about them really just reminded me of my high school. And I really want something like I have here.”
Before that, however, don’t miss Brunson, his experienced USA teammates and the talent-laden World Select Team in the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit. Stay tuned to usab.com for television broadcast information, and if you are in the Portland area, get your tickets now.