In a span of 24 hours, Jalen Brunson experienced the high and low of the AAU basketball circuit.
Jalen Brunson in action for Mac Irvin Fire in Fort Wayne
The 6-0, 160-pound Brunson, a point guard for Lincolnshire (Ill.) Adlai Stephenon and the son of former Temple and NBA star Rick Brunson, is a rising commodity in the 2015 basketball class. He is playing “up” this spring for the Mac Irvin Fire 17-and-under team.
That team worked two men down this past weekend at the Spiece Run ‘N Slam event in Fort Wayne as big men Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander – two of the top 15 prospects for 2014 – did not play. (Okafor has been nursing an ankle injury and could return to action at any time.) That left Brunson and wing Josh Cunningham to lead Mac Irvin Fire at Spiece.
On Friday night, the Mac Irvin Fire team – with just six guys in uniform – was in a tough game with the Ohio Varsity team. With about a minute to play, Brunson had a go-ahead three-pointer go in and out. Mac Irvin Fire still had a chance to win it in the final seconds, but Brunson’s 16-foot jumper was off the mark and Ohio Varsity won 48-47.
Brunson had just a few seconds after the game to gather his stuff before his dad Rick, now an assistant coach for the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats, was in his ear.
“He said, ‘If you had played harder at the beginning of the game … ‘ ” Jalen Brunson said. “And he was right. I did not come out with a great mind-set. He coaches me pretty hard. I take it from a coaching standpoint and not as a dad. I know he just wants the best for me.”
Rick Brunson was a schoolboy star in Salem, Mass. He was the MVP of the 1991 McDonald’s All-American Game before starring for four seasons at Temple. He played nine seasons in the NBA, spending time with eight different teams. He then broke into the coaching ranks and served as the director of basketball operations at Virginia from 2007-09. He joined the Bobcats’ staff last July.
Jalen Brunson said he takes his dad’s instruction in stride.
“It helps me because he is something I want to be,” Jalen said. “He was a McDonald’s All-American. He won the MVP. He played well all four years at Temple. The reason he went to that school was because of a great coach (John Chaney) who recruited him there.
With Mac Irvin's top stars missing, Brunson stepped forward at Spiece
“That’s what he tells me. He says, ‘You have to find a great coach. Don’t worry about the school. Everything else will take care of itself.’ I’m looking for a coach who will help me succeed on the court and off the court.”
Coming back on Saturday, Brunson had 20 points in a pool play win over Team Philly. Later on Saturday, he had 21 points in an 85-75 tournament win over NLP.
For the weekend, Mac Irvin Fire posted a 4-2 record and reached the quarterfinals of the 17U championship tournament – a pretty good finish with two of the top guns unavailable.
Brunson said the opportunity to play up against rising seniors helps his development.
“It’s really good,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for me to get better and learn how physical the game and how much stronger and quicker I need to get. That tells me how hard I need to work.”
He is rated as the nation’s No. 57 prospect overall for 2015, according to the 247Composite rankings. He also checks in as the No. 15 point guard prospect and third-best prospect overall in Illinois in those rankings.
College coaches got to see Brunson and Mac Irvin Fire in action the previous two weekends at the Nike EYBL events in Los Angeles and Hampton, Va. In two weeks, Mac Irvin Fire was 5-4. Brunson averaged 11.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 5.3 assists in those nine games. He shot 34.3 percent (12 of 35) on three-pointers.
“This past couple of weeks, I’ve had some new offers,” Brunson said. “I have to stay patient and not get a big head and just keep working hard. I don’t want to make my decision early. I want to sit back and relax and see what they have to offer. The only reason they want me is because of what I’ve been doing in the games.”
Brunson lists offers from the likes of Creighton, DePaul, Illinois, Purdue, SMU, Virginia and Xavier. He said Duke as well as Big Ten powers like Michigan and Michigan State have also gotten involved.
Here are his comments on some of his top schools:
* On Purdue -- “Coach Painter is a very good coach. I like the way he pushes his kids. I went to one of their practices last fall and they get after it. He is easy to talk to off the court.”
* On Illinois -- “Illinois is a really good school. A lot of my friends have gone there. It is good academically. Coach Groce is an intense coach. He gets after his guys, even during the game. He wants the best for his players. He showed a lot of interest in me by coming to several of my games.”
* On Virginia -- "It's a great school. There's a lot of history behind it and I'm blessed to know what it looks like and to even be in that environment. I liked it there."
There have been rumblings that Duke – which just signed former Mac Irvin Fire and Chicago high school legend Jabari Parker for its 2013 class – could come through with an offer for Brunson.
“They have been involved a little bit,” Brunson said of Duke. “My dad and coaches talk to a lot of the schools. That would be pretty cool. That is another school I want to look into. If they offer me, that would be another great opportunity to me.”
Click here for video highlights of Brunson in action for Stevenson.