2017-'18 Season Coverage
updated: 3/24/2014 11:01 AM

Adults need to do right thing in Brunson situation

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  • Stevenson's Jalen Brunson comes off the court in the final seconds of the Patriots' victory over Edwardsville in the Class 4A third-place game Saturday at Carver Arena.

      Stevenson's Jalen Brunson comes off the court in the final seconds of the Patriots' victory over Edwardsville in the Class 4A third-place game Saturday at Carver Arena.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer


Now, more compelling than what Jalen Brunson did or didn't do is what the adults around him will or won't do about it.

The choice is to investigate what really happened near the end of the Stevenson-Whitney Young game or to just let the story fade away.

Reprimanding a star young athlete is complicated these days. He has college scholarship opportunities at stake and his school has notoriety at stake.

Let's go back a moment: The game was inspiring enough to prompt an email to a longtime NBA writer friend in California.

"i just finished watching a remarkable high-school tournament semifinal game," I wrote.

(Please excuse me for channeling e.e. cummings and k.d. lang in all their lowercase glory.)

"whitney young beat stevenson by 7," I continued. "(jahlil) okafor scored 33 for young with 14 rebounds and he wasn't the best player on the court. (former NBA player) rick brunson's kid jalen scored 56 of stevenson's 68 points. he's a junior."

The game was great and Okafor was greater and in my estimation Brunson was the greatest on this given night.

If only the story ended right then (Friday night) and there (Peoria).

But as country singer Brad Paisley's lyric suggests, "The trouble with up is there's always a down."

A great young basketball player -- and by all indications a good kid -- was accused of doing something ill-advised. Now it's up to elders to determine what happened and to decide whether anything should be done about it.

The swirl revolves around a Peoria Journal-Star photograph that caught Jalen Brunson allegedly flipping the double bird up toward the stands.

Maybe Brunson did. Maybe he didn't. The photo sure looks like he did. His defenders insist he didn't.

Either way, a tremendous performance is suffocating in controversy.

A headline on sportingnews.com blared, "H.S. player scored 56 points in playoff game, goes 'double bird' out of frustration."

So here we have the two sides of the spotlight in one package: Cheers for breaking a state-tournament scoring record and jeers for an alleged lapse in judgment.

On the positive side, Brunson's emotions were consumed more by the agony of his team's loss than by the ecstasy of his individual achievement.

On the negative side, fairly or not Brunson will have a difficult time shaking the impression that he's a poor sport unable to control his frustration.

Look, this wasn't a federal offense even if the ensuing noise makes it sound like it was. Sad to say, Brunson might have picked up the finger gesture from college and pro role models who lose their tempers and commit indiscretions similar to what he is accused of.

At worst this was merely a young man who made a young man's mistake and should face some kind of minor consequence.

Some want to shape the issue as a prominent athlete having to be more careful because of all the eyes fixed on him. No, that implies that what Brunson did wrong was get caught. What he did wrong, if he did it, was the act.

Grown-ups who know Brunson best -- relatives, coaches, school administrators -- should encourage an investigation to determine what really happened and why.

If Brunson demonstrated poor sportsmanship, perhaps a suspension of a game or two should be assessed to start his senior season.

If Brunson did nothing wrong, play on!

But what if Stevenson reprimands Brunson, his inner circle objects to the lack of support and they transfer him to another school in protest?

Contending for a state championship might be too important to let slip away like that.

Complicated, indeed.

The Brad Paisley song "Beat this Summer" that refers to ups and downs begins, "Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ho."

That might be what everyone at Stevenson is groaning deep down inside today.


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