Before he sprouted to 6 feet 2 and became one of the best high school basketball players in Illinois, Jalen Brunson rooted for Steve Nash.
Which explains some of the jaw-dropping passes Stevenson's junior point guard dishes.
Friday night during Stevenson's 79-59 win over Warren in the Class 4A McHenry regional final, Brunson flashed back to his boyhood days.
After small drops of blood soiled Brunson's No. 15 jersey early in the second quarter, he hustled to the bench and pulled a No. 13 jersey over his athletic torso. He wore it the rest of the half.
In his NBA prime, Nash wore No. 13.
"That's actually one of my old numbers when I was growing up," Brunson said. "I didn't really feel any different (wearing No. 13 again).
"But I was just really wanted (No.) 15 back," he added, smiling.
Brunson tied on his cape -- rather, No. 15 jersey -- in time for the second half and played super, man.
He scored 15 of his 25 points after halftime, hitting five 3-pointers, as Stevenson pulled away in beating Warren (17-15) for the third time this season. Connor Cashaw also scored 25 points for the Patriots, while adding 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Brunson had 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 4 steals, as well.
"We thought we had to slow them down and not go out of control," Warren's Adrian Deere, who next season will play for Division-II Emporia State University, said of the Patriots. "Another thing we wanted to do was stay solid -- no gambling, because they're such good players. They fed off bad decisions."
It was the second regional title in a row for the Patriots, who lost in the regional final on their home court to Warren two years ago. Stevenson (28-1) will next play St. Viator (23-5), an 81-64 winner over Zion-Benton, at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Lake Zurich sectional semifinals.
"Anytime you can win a championship in anything, it just feels fantastic," Brunson said. "But we still have a goal to get downstate. St. Viator is next on our list."
Eric Gillespie's 19 points led Warren, which also received double-digit points from Deere (16) and Greg Swane (14). Deere scored on a spin move late in the opening quarter to get the Blue Devils within 16-12, but Matt Johnson (11 points) splashed his second of three 3-pointers, and a Brunson free throw had the Patriots up 20-12 after one.
"They're a great team and they have an excellent coach (Ryan Webber)," Cashaw said of the Blue Devils. "But Coach stresses defense, defense, defense all the time. The coaching staff really got us prepared for this game."
Down 22-12 early in the second quarter after Cashaw scored on an offensive rebound, Warren found itself within 30-24 when Gillespie hit 2 free throws with 1:34 left before halftime. But Brunson's drive had the Patriots up 32-24 at the break.
Stevenson -- and particularly Brunson -- then came out after halftime and dominated. Despite Gillespie, who attempted only 2 shots in the opening half, scoring 12 points in the third, Stevenson outscored the Blue Devils 27-17.
"We stayed focused," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. "We stayed consistent. We stayed true to our identity. We were taking our time, making good shots, playing tough defense, and eventually it turned for us."
"It was definitely our chemistry," Cashaw said of the Patriots' third-quarter tear. "We know where each other is on the court. We fought hard. Warren's a good team, so we had to keep fighting and battling."
Brunson hit four 3-pointers in the third, after not making any in the first half. Matt Morrissey (9 points, 5 rebounds) and Johnson also hit 3s, as the Patriots extended their lead to 59-41 entering the fourth. They never let the Blue Devils get close after that.
"I stayed shooting the same way," said Brunson, who knocked down his fifth 3 in the fourth. "I just caught fire. My teammates gave me confidence, so I kept shooting."