Boys Basketball All-Area Team: Player of the Year and First Team
PEORIA Friday Mar 15 2013 Jalen Brunson | Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media
BOYS BASKETBALL ALL-AREA FIRST TEAM
Jalen Brunson (So.), Stevenson
The progeny of NBA journeyman and former Chicago Bull Rick Brunson, Jalen Brunson already is beginning to create his own identity. The 6-foot-2 point guard is the total package, a player who can score and get others involved. While spearheading the Patriots (29-5) to Peoria for the first time since 2007, the two-year starter averaged 20.2 points per game to go with 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Jalen Brunson was named to the Associated Press Class 4A second team.
Matt Mooney (Sr.), Notre Dame
As a junior starter last season, Mooney showed the kind of player he could become when he shined during a regular-season loss to Simeon, finishing with 10 points. Mooney, a 6-foot-4 guard, blossomed this season, leading the Dons (24-6) to a regional championship by averaging 17 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Mooney, who has committed to Air Force, was chosen as the MVP at Lane’s tournament and Wheeling’s tournament and named an all-ESCC selection.
Malachi Nix (Sr.), Niles North
A four-year varsity starter, the 5-foot-8 Nix is the face of the school’s basketball program. He helped the Vikings to three regional titles in a row, the program’s first-ever sectional championship and two CSL North titles, including a 10-0 campaign this season on the way to the team’s 27-5 record. As a senior, the all-CSL guard averaged 17.2 points to eventually become Niles North’s all-time leading scorer. He also averaged 3.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.8 steals this season.
Steven Cook (Sr.), New Trier
A role player last season, Cook’s emergence as the go-to player as a senior helped the Trevians win a program-record 28 games and capture the team’s first sectional championship since 2005. The 6-foot-4 forward and Princeton recruit scored a team-best 18 points a game — the highlight was his career-best 30-point game in the sectional final — and averaged a team-best eight rebounds a game. The all-CSL selection also was New Trier’s best defender, as evidenced by his three blocks and three steals per game.
Sean O’Brien (Sr.), Mundelein
Richard Knar called O’Brien’s senior season one of the best he’s ever seen as a coach. The Southern Illinois-bound O’Brien was dominant on both ends of the floor and led the Mustangs (17-14) to a regional championship by beating rival Lake Forest. The 6-foot-7 O’Brien averaged 21 points and 11.1 rebounds a game. His 55 blocks this season raised his career total to a program-record 150. O’Brien also finished second in career rebounds for Mundelein.
Updated: March 21, 2013 2:25PM
It was another offensive take during a pre-Peoria practice at Lake Forest College.
It was nothing too special, just Stevenson running a play against a defensive look Edwardsville might present in the Class 4A state semifinals.
Even then, Brunson’s artistry with the basketball was evident.
The 6-foot-2 point guard sees plays before they happen, and one of his passes to an unsuspecting teammate in the post demonstrated that. It appears that Brunson realizes his teammates are going to be open before they do.
Despite the degree of difficulty in what he does, Brunson makes everything look easy. It’s hard to believe he’s only a sophomore.
“He is no doubt the most confident player anywhere, the most confident basketball player I’ve ever seen,” Stevenson senior guard Andy Stempel said. “That’s one reason why he is so good. He doesn’t back down from any challenge. He makes everyone better. That’s why I get open looks.”
A two-year starter, Brunson headlined Stevenson’s best-ever season. The Patriots finished 29-5 and took second place to Simeon, which won its fourth state title in a row.
The youngest headliner on any of the four Class 4A teams in Peoria, the Pioneer Press Boys Basketball Player of the Year led the Patriots in scoring (20.2) and assists (3.5) this season and has won 48 games in high school.
Dickey Simpkins, a former Chicago Bull, first started working with the prodigy three years ago. Brunson plays for Simpkins’ AAU team.
“He’s very advanced for his age, and his basketball IQ is very high,” said Simpkins, who has known Rick Brunson, Jalen’s father and a former NBA journeyman, since high school. “He just sees the game at a high level, and that comes from his dad and being around the game for such a long time.”
Jalen Brunson said he developed his drive to be the best while following his father, now an assistant coach with the Charlotte Bobcats, around the country. Rick Brunson played for eight NBA teams, including two tours with the Chicago Bulls, during his nine-year career.
“It was key for me to see how hard they had to work at it,” said Jalen Brunson, who moved to the Chicago area from Cherry Hills, N.J., before enrolling in high scool. “There a lot of good players out there, so you really have to want it and go after it. Seeing that really fueled me.”
Jalen Brunson still maintains a connection with the NBA talent because of his friendship with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a rookie with the Bobcats. Brunson said he’s known Kidd-Gilchrist since the “second or third grade” from their days on the East Coast.
“He’s always told me not to lose confidence in myself,” Brunson said. “The key is to always stay positive at all times.”