Jalen Brunson, the star point guard at Stevenson, is entering some exclusive territory.
The 6-2 senior is already a two-time all-stater, gold medalist for USA Basketball and a likely McDonald’s All-American. And he’s building a résumé that could place him among the all-time great players in state history.
A household name in the high school basketball world, Brunson already has a remarkable 84 career wins in just over three years. Aside from his pure basketball talent and smarts, Brunson has earned the reputation as a “tough, hard-nosed winner.”
There are very few players who have won 100-plus basketball games in their high school career. Jahlil Okafor, Tyler Ulis and Cliff Alexander fell short of 100 wins. Anthony Davis and Eddy Curry didn’t win 100. Neither did Corey Maggette, Darius Miles or Derrick Rose, though the latter won 94 games in just three years of varsity basketball.
For comparison sake, Jabari Parker’s Simeon teams won 118 games in his four varsity years. Glenbrook North’s Jon Scheyer won 110. Sergio McClain of Peoria Manual won 124 in the 1990s. There are a few others, but Brunson will surely surpass the 100-win total and be added to a very short list.
Among those 84 wins, Brunson has led two Stevenson teams to Peoria, finishing second in the state in 2013 and third in the state in 2014.
Then there are the staggering offensive numbers and production. Brunson has the ability to destroy opponents. He poured in 50-plus points twice last season, including an electric state semifinal performance in a loss to Whitney Young. Brunson’s 56 points set a new IHSA state tournament scoring record.
Brunson has already topped 2,000 career points. As Brunson currently sits at 2,039 points, he has a potential 28 games remaining (if Stevenson returns to Peoria). If he averages 25 points a game, a reasonable number considering he averaged 26 points a game last season, Brunson will add 700 points to his escalating total.
That would put Brunson at 2,739 for his career. Poor Milik Yarbrough of Zion-Benton will have had the Lake County career scoring record for 12 months when Brunson breaks it later this year.
Brunson is also climbing the all-time state scoring list. While he has no shot of breaking the all-time state scoring record held by Charles Vaughn, who scored 3,358 points in the 1950s at Tamms, Brunson is on pace to break into the top 15. Brunson’s 2,739 would put him No. 15, a group that includes Scheyer, Jacksonville’s Andy Kaufmann, King’s Jamie Brandon, Lawrenceville’s Marty Simmons and Westmont’s Pierre Pierce among others.
But all of it –– the prolific numbers and milestones, the accolades and awards –– is secondary to Brunson as he embarks on a senior year with one goal in mind. That elusive state title remains attainable and realistic.
He just recently watched teammates, friends and classmates win a state football championship last month, cheering them on –– and salivating over his own potential title –– along the way.
“The thing about that team is they played every game like it was their last,” says Brunson of Stevenson’s Class 8A football state championship team. “Those are a lot of my friends, and we’ve talked about it –– how we were both going to win state championships –– since we were freshmen. They earned it. Now it’s up to us to go do it. But we have to take it one day at a time.”
Winning a state championship would certainly add to the growing Brunson legacy. Okafor was in a similar situation a year ago, a superstar with a sparkling career through three years but who was missing one major detail: a state title. He walked away with one last March before heading off to Duke.
“I already remember being so close two different times,” Brunson says of losing in Peoria to Parker and Simeon two years ago and Okafor and Young last season. “It does burn inside me. There probably isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think of winning a state championship.”
Brunson does understand the significance of it all. However, he isn’t wrapped up in what it will do for him individually or how it will impact his legacy as a player. This kid is
“The focus right now is on winning and playing with your friends,” says Brunson in a refreshing response. “It will probably mean more when I’m older and I look back at when I was 16, 17, 18 years old and knowing those were some of the best times of your life, playing with your friends, trying to win a championship with them.
“Basketball is a team game, and it’s a chance to play with my friends, and I know I will feel a little unsatisfied and a little less accomplished if we don’t win that state championship. I would take a state championship for my school, playing and winning it with my friends over any scoring records or player of the year honors.”
Brunson is certainly carving out a path of his own and one that will be remembered regardless, but his legacy as a player is a question that will be answered at the end of the season.
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