Kezo Brown exploded on to the local scene at the Chicago Elite Classic in 2014. The freshman guard flashed eye-popping speed and had the look of a future superstar. One highly respected national evaluator at the event said Brown was probably the best freshman in the country. His first season was a success, he received more playing time than any freshman in Simeon history other than Jabari Parker.
Then last summer Brown disappeared from the basketball court. Simeon coach Robert Smith says it was a health issue and that it took most of the season for Brown to get back into shape.
“If he had been able to play we would have had a good chance to win the state championship,” Smith said. “We had a good chance even without him.”
Brown wasn’t always with the team on the bench and probably played less than 30 minutes in the entire season.
“He practiced a lot, he was just up and down weight wise and there were some other things,” Smith said. “We didn’t want to have a whole lot of pressure on him. We wish we could have gotten him out there more.”
Brown didn’t waste any time reestablishing his reputation this spring. He’s been opening eyes playing with the Mac Irvin Fire 16U team.
“It’s lovely to be playing again,” Brown said. “I’m just happy (Nick and Mike Irvin) gave me another chance after what I went through, gave me another chance to play the game I love. I know how to be big time and I want to prove everyone wrong.”
The Fire’s 16U team is probably the most exciting group in the area. Brown, Morgan Park sophomore Ayo Dosunmu, Simeon sophomore Talen Horton-Tucker and Solorio freshman Khalil Whitney all have high-major futures.
“It’s going well, we lost in the championship game [in Fort Wayne],” said Brown. “Ayo and I were killing, playing really well together.”
Brown has scored more than 20 points in several games this spring. His shot has clearly improved since freshman year.
“He’s been great, nothing but the Kezo Brown that I’ve known since grade school,” Mike Irvin said. “Against national competition he’s still one of the best guards out there. It surprised me because we didn’t see him too much this past season. Usually with guys that don’t play much it takes them some time but he got started right away and made an impact.”
Brown picked up interest from dozens of colleges during his freshman year but most of them disappeared when he stopped playing.
“A lot of coaches haven’t been calling since I didn’t play during the season,” Brown said. “Nebraska and DePaul stuck with me through it all. They stayed around when I was down.”
Irvin, who has been heavily involved with dozens of top-level recruitments in the area over the past decade, doesn’t understand why college coaches would give up on a sophomore.
“That didn’t make any sense,” Irvin said. “It’s not like you can go to college after sophomore year anyway. Nebraska and DePaul keeping in contact let [Brown] know there was still light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes that can keep you going, keep you motivated.”
Brown’s comeback could be the key to Simeon’s 2016-17 season. The Wolverines only have one standout senior, Evan Gilyard, returning. They could be the youngest team Smith has coached.
“Kezo will handle the pressure fine,” Smith said. “You can tell his conditioning is back, his weight is good. He’s all the way focused and he’s doing well in school, which is the most important thing for us.”