by Danny Hazan / @DeeHaze24
Jalen Brunson’s 11 points in the Mac Irvin Fire’s 60-55 victory over Meanstreets in the 17U Platinum Division Championship at the NY2LA Sports Swish ‘N Dish Sunday is a poor reflection of the impact the sophomore point guard had on the Fire.
The 6-foot Stevenson (IL) High product burst onto the scene as one of the best freshmen in Illinois a year ago, and followed up by proving himself as one of the best players in the state regardless of age as a sophomore this season.
Competing up an age group this spring and summer with his new club squad, perennial power Mac Irvin Fire, Brunson’s on the fast track to staking his claim as one of the best point guard prospects in the country.
His signature performance at Swish ‘N Dish was a 31-point outburst during a 78-77 overtime victory over the St. Louis Eagles in the quarterfinals. He injured his knee during the first half of the championship, but came back in the second half to help his squad gut out the title.
“I thought coach Mike (Irvin) and the Fire family could really help me get some exposure,” Brunson said. “They did a really good job of that in the past couple years with some of the top-10 recruits they had. Jahlil (Okafor) is a very good post player and we have a lot of good guys that can help us on both ends, so coming out with them was a big decision for me. (Jahlil) is like two people, man. He’s a really good force inside, and a good guy on the perimeter like me makes a pretty good duo. No regrets.”
The cornerstone of the Fire is Class of 2014 top-ranked prospect, 6-10 Jahlil Okafor, and he was dominant in helping the Fire to a 6-0 record at the three day tourney in suburban Milwaukee.
But Brunson, who along with Okafor was named co-MVP of the 17s division at Swish N Dish, gives the Fire a completely different dynamic, as he is as lethal a scorer as he is a distributor. He may not possess truly elite athleticism, but just about every other aspect of his game is on as high a level as any of his peers. In most cases, his skill and feel for the position trumps his counterparts.
It’s hard for defenders to speed Brunson up, and the shifty guard has high-level footwork that enables him to free-up space for shots off the dribble. So far, the son of former NBA player and current assistant with the Charlotte Bobcats—Rick, has collected offers from Illinois, DePaul, Purdue, SMU and Xavier.
On the heels of a run in which he led his high school team all the way to the Class 4A State title game before losing to Simeon and All-American Jabari Parker, along with at least seven other DI prospects, Brunson is starting to get much more attention from college coaches. The attention and subsequent recognition on rankings services is welcomed, but his focus remains on winning.
“I feel like I can be the best [point guard in the country], but I won’t say I am because that’s someone else’s job,” Brunson said. “But if I work hard a lot of things will be granted to me. I’d like to get some more national and major school looks, but my goal right now is to win an EYBL championship.”
He’s unquestionably going to get, at least, looks from some of college hoops’ blue bloods—and judging by the Fire’s performance at the Swish ‘N Dish a crown in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League isn’t out of the question.
OBSERVATIONS FROM THE 17U DIVISION
— Meanstreets point guard Tyler Ulis only sports offers from Iowa and DePaul, but has interest from several high-majors as well, and the 5-8 skinny point guard’s game is a lot bigger than he looks. He averaged 22 points a game as a junior at Marian Catholic (IL), and proved to be one of the most prolific scorers in the state. Running with five-star Class of 2015 wing Charles Matthews (St. Rita) and a slew of other DI hopefuls, Ulis played the role of creator and distributor beautifully by leading them all the way to the ‘chip. When opposing teams went to a zone defense on Meanstreets throughout the tourney, Ulis utilized his slick handle to get into the teeth of the 2-3 at will and also knocked down shots from the perimeter to keep them honest. His ability to create for himself and run an offense is great, but it’s his innate ability to know which hat to wear—and when—that separates him from many.
The 6-5 Matthews is a consensus nationally ranked top-20 player in the Class of 2015, with offers from the Illini, DePaul and SMU, and has rare defensive instincts that can’t be taught. As he continues to polish his game offensively, he will cement himself as one of the more highly coveted targets in 2015.
— So far, 6-9 combo forward Casey Schlatter has handful of mid-major offers but most notably from Creighton, and he possesses an inside-out game similar to Doug McDermott’s. That’s not to say he will or won’t have the same type of success, but Schlatter’s versatile skill set for a kid his size could be attractive to mid to high-major programs as he and the Iowa Barnstormers continue on the circuit. His shot is money when he has his feet set, with range out to the three-point arc, and can score a little off the bounce. He also has a willingness to guard and crash the boards, but his biggest hurdle will be adding some weight and muscle as he goes to the next level. The Barnstormers also feature a bevy of dead-eye shooters including Northern Iowa pledge Wyatt Lohaus, Spencer Haldeman and Kyle Haber.
— The Illinois Wolves have been one of the best programs in the Midwest for close to the last decade, and they will remain one of the toughest outs of any tournament they participate in. Ohio State-bound Keita Bates-Diop is the top prospect, and the 6-7 wing has pro potential because of his length, athleticism, disruptive nature on defense and ever-improving shot-making ability. But the Wolves also got major boosts from DI prospects Malek Harris, Erick Locke, Ore Arogundade and JayQuan McCloud who all helped the Wolves reach the semis before losing to the Fire.
Harris is an intriguing 6-7 forward prospect with offers form DePaul and Iowa because he possesses many qualities that can’t be taught, and has shown improvement in his skill that can only come from work. Whatever the combo guard Locke loses with his 6-foot height, he makes up for with his strength. He has an unconventional shooting stroke, but can knock shots down from the perimeter. But his most impressive quality is his ability to get into the lane and finish through contact with the trees.
— Lamonte Bearden ran the show for Germantown during an undefeated, state championship season in Wisconsin’s largest high school classification in the winter and has continued his effective play. The 6-2 wiry point guard was at the head of the Wisconsin Swing’s attack at Swish ‘N Dish and was able to score the ball hitting shots off the dribble, knocking down catch and shoot three pointers or by taking the ball to the rim. His offer list consists of UW-Milwaukee and North Dakota State currently, but he looks primed to attract many more if he plays the way he did at the Swish ‘N Dish.
— Ray Allen Select guard trio of Riley LaChance, Reed Timmer and Brady Ellingson, had the eventual 17’s champ Mac Irvin Fire on the ropes in the tourney opener before losing on a Jahlil Okafor tip-in at the buzzer in double OT and also lost a nail-biter to runner-up Meanstreets 54-52 in the semis. Despite no player holding a high-major offer, RAS’ success is no fluke. All three suburban Milwaukee guards are underrated nationally, and each have an expanding collection of mid-major offers.
But LaChance—a 6-2 point guard—has high-major ability and knocked down clutch shots throughout the tourney even during games things weren’t going his way offensively early on. The 6-4 Ellingson delivered a spectacular game-winning three pointer to beat the Iowa Barnstormers in the quarters, and was virtually automatic from downtown all tourney when given an inch. Timmer has offers from UIC and Toledo—with some Ivy League schools starting to show interest—and while the 6-1 lefty combo was up and down at the Swish ‘N Dish offensively he didn’t let it effect him defensively.
— Besides the dominant play of Okafor and Brunson, the Fire’s success also hinged on the production of Morgan Park teammates Torre Johnson and Lamont Walker. Walker (6-4) can guard the one through three, and has a non-stop motor attacking the glass while Johnson (6-2) is an underrated combo guard. Johnson hit some threes for the Fire all weekend, was effective with good decision making in transition and iced the Meanstreets from the free-throw line by going 6-6 with under a minute left in the championship.