The Real Deal
With a similar game to his father’s, point guard Jalen Brunson has risen to the top of his class.
by Krissy Harper / @CSNKrisHarper
For those who follow AAU circuit, the power-stacked Mac Irvin Fire squad should ring a bell.
The Fire have been known to house some of the best talent in the Chicagoland area, such as six-year NBA veteran Luther Head, former Duke floor general Sean Dockery and former DePaul guard LaVar Seals. The talent level has not wavered over the years with big-name alumni like Duke-bound forward Jabari Parker, 2013 NCAA Champion Wayne Blacksheer and Ohio State small forward Sam Thompson. Two of the nation’s top-five prospects—Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor and Curie’s Cliff Alexander—currently suit up for Mac Irvin as well.
Given the team’s rich history, it’s no surprise that Jalen Brunson of Stevenson (IL) High decided to become a member of Mac Irvin Fire.
The 6-2, 180-pound point guard—son of former Bulls and Bobcats assistant coach, eight-year NBA journeyman Rick Brunson—has received offers from some of the top Division I programs in the country such as Illinois, Michigan, UConn and Ohio State, according to ESPN. Not a bad list for a rising junior who averaged 21.7 ppg during the ’12-13 season. But the attention hasn’t affected Brunson’s humility.
“It is a really great feeling but he tells me I can’t settle,” Brunson said. “It is just another step to get to my dream and I just have to keep working hard. And if I keep working hard the better it will be.”
Rick followed suit, saying, “We don’t get involved in the numbers, that is just someone’s opinion. From experience I was one of those guys, I was top 10 and I say that because when I got to college I just wasn’t a good player my sophomore or junior year. So it’s good for him if you like reading about yourself, but at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter.”
In a highly competitive showcase earlier this summer, Brunson suited up for his high school at the Riverside Brookfield Shootout just outside of Chicago. There, he went up against inner city hoops powerhouse Morgan Park standing opposite his AAU teammates. And after a hard-fought battle, Brunson & Co. came up short against the defending 3A state champs. Brunson took the loss as a learning experience.
“It was a really hard-fought game,” he recounted. “Playing against my whole AAU team, my AAU coach; it was really competitive, it was just like practice. I was just trying to grind it out but didn’t come out with the win. Just have to go back to the gym and keep on working.”
Having a father with extensive experience as a player and coach has boosted Brunson’s drive and knowledge of the game. As any son in his situation would, he has tried to learn as much as possible from his dad.
“He knows so much and he tries to teach me,” Jalen said. “I am really getting to the age where I really need to start paying attention and learning and taking everything in because sooner or later it is just going to get harder and I’m going to have to fight through adversity and he is not going to be there. So I really have to take it in now.”
With the NBA season running concurrent with Jalen’s high school season, Rick is unable to attend as many games as he would like. So when the offseason rolls around, he takes full advantage of being able to watch his son excel in the craft they both love.
“In the wintertime I don’t get to see him play too much, so in the summertime I try and make as many games as possible when I’m around,” Rick said.
Growing up with more than a few NBA players to look up to—as he tagged along with his father to practices and road games—has played in Jalen’s favor. Seeing that strong team and brotherly bond at such a young age made a remarkable impression that has stuck with him from day one.
“Yes, it did motivate me because of what he did, I just love the atmosphere, just being around guys who love basketball and he is one of them,” Jalen said. “He has shown me a lot of people and a lot of coaches. So it really has inspired me to just play basketball and take it to the next level.”
Rick continues to provide guidance for his son, informing him it takes more than just natural abilities to get to the next level.
“I just think when you mix hard work and talent, that’s a very good combination and I just try and teach him about being self-motivated. You have to love the game,” Rick said. “You have to want to work out on days you don’t feel like working out. You have to do it every day, as much as you can.”
And although young Brunson is set on following in the footsteps of his dad—aspiring to one day play in the NBA—Rick understands from experience the importance of a college education coupled with learning from an athletic system best suited for his son.
“Well first of all it’s every kid’s dream to play in the NBA, so that’s his dream, but as a goal for us and our family it is to get him a scholarship and play for a coach that can teach him the right way to play,” Rick said.
Already with just under 1,200 career points, it may be easy to overlook that Brunson still has a couple years of high school left. As he looks to the upcoming season, he desires only to win and take home a state championship.
“This year, and obviously the next two years, I want to win the state title. But right now we have to focus on the upcoming season, the key pieces we have and just really put that together and make a good puzzle,” Brunson said.
Rick said it best, “Just to play hard, play unselfish, and give every ounce he has.” And with such a strong family unit backing Jalen, it is safe to say the Brunson legacy will definitely live on.