Top basketball players of the century: Boys No. 1, Jalen Brunson of Stevenson

  • Stevenson's Jalen Brunson celebrates his team's 2015 Class 4A state championship in Peoria.

      Stevenson's Jalen Brunson celebrates his team's 2015 Class 4A state championship in Peoria. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Stevenson's Jalen Brunson drives toward the baseline during the 2015 Class 4A state title game against Normal Community in Peoria.

      Stevenson's Jalen Brunson drives toward the baseline during the 2015 Class 4A state title game against Normal Community in Peoria. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/6/2020 3:42 PM

He barely spoke as a freshman. Not to teammates on the court. Never to the media, deferring to his older teammates.

Jalen Brunson, expressionless and quiet, would change. He learned to speak up -- and ended up creating the loudest cheers in Stevenson basketball history.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A jaw-dropping 2,682 points over four varsity seasons, capped by the Patriots' first state championship, made fans from the Lincolnshire school scream with excitement. Fans might go hoarse just cheering him on in a game of H-O-R-S-E.

"In his early days at Stevenson, he wouldn't talk," Rick Brunson, a former NBA player, said last year during his son's rookie season with the Dallas Mavericks. "I'd tell him, 'You got to learn how to direct, be the coach on the floor.' That took time."

During Brunson's run from 2011-2015, there was no better time to watch Stevenson basketball. The 6-foot-1 point guard quickly became a fan favorite, and when the sophomore was leading the 2012-13 Patriots to their first North Suburban Conference championship in 21 years and runner-up finish in the state, gyms grew loud.

Brunson and his teammates settled for third place at state his junior year. Fans packed gymnasiums wherever Stevenson traveled, mainly to watch Brunson, who was being recruited by the country's best college basketball programs. He poured in a school-record 57 points in a double-overtime win at Lake Forest and 56 in a state-semifinal loss to Whitney Young.

Brunson committed to Villanova before his senior season, then directed Stevenson to a 30-3 record and the Class 4A state title. When it was over, the McDonald's All-American smiled and, like Stevenson fans, screamed happily. He went on to win two NCAA championships with Villanova.

"He didn't have gimmicks," Rick Brunson said in describing his son's high school career. "He played the right way. He tried to lift everyone around him. He played for an unbelievable coach in (Pat) Ambrose who taught him how to play, how to be a great teammate and how to be a great leader."

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