Stevenson 2015 point guard Jalen Brunson checks in at No. 16 overall and the top ranked player at his position nationally in the latest Scout.com rankings. Anyone who has watched the five-star playmaker can see why.
The first aspect that stands out about Brunson is his leadership. He is a dynamic leader that elevates the people around him to another level. Brunson takes pride in winning every single game he plays and that shows both on the court and the scoreboard. His Stevenson squad has a pair of division one prospects and another potential one in the class of 2017.
They faced teams that were deeper with more future college prospects, and in almost every single case Stevenson got the win. Last season he literally put his team on his back to attempt to secure a state semifinal win over a loaded Whitney Young squad.
Brunson is so impressive with his high basketball IQ. It is at the level of a college veteran already. He sees things that others just do not. Evan at a young age, Brunson knows how to direct his teammates, encourage them when needed, and get on them if he has to.
While not being an elite athlete he more than makes up for it with his ability to control a game by shifting gears and controlling pace. Brunson runs his team in the half court, getting them into sets, initiating the offense, all the while directing traffic even when off the ball. In the transition game, he accelerates through the hole as the defense is running back. He has a feel for when to find shooters or slashers and when to look to get a bucket himself.
As a scorer he uses hesitation to set up defenders and keep them off balance. His most lethal move is a sick step back that is almost unguardable on the high school level. His mid-range game is great as he uses pull-ups fakes to get to the free throw line. His shot from three can be a bit streaky at times, but when he is on it is lights out. Overall the jumper has plus form and should continue to get even better as time goes on. As a driver, Brunson displays smooth acceleration, craftiness, and a tight handle to get by his opponent and in the lane where he has a knack for finishing tough shots by shielding his defender from the ball.
People who just watch him in high school might say he takes some forced shots and should be a better passer. However, for Stevenson to beat high-level competition he has to score for them to win. When on the travel team circuit and at camps you can see that, when surrounded by elite talent, he is special as a distributor. His vision is equally effective in both the half court and in transition. He makes the right decision at the right time to put his team in position to score and more times than not, win.
The recruitment of the nation’s premier point guard has been different to say the least. He established himself as a national recruit during his sophomore season, most notably in the state final against Simeon. But even more so that following summer making the switch to the EYBL circuit with the Mac Irvin Fire, he cemented his place among the elite.
Illinois extended a scholarship offer to Brunson on January 19, 2013, becoming the fifth program at the time to do so. More offers would start to roll in soon after. When Illinois landed a verbal commitment from top 2014 point guard Quentin Snider, it seemed like they wouldn’t be as much of a player in the recruitment of the Stevenson star as he wanted the ball in his hands from day one.
But Snider flipped to Louisville and the Illini coaching staff put on the full court press for the top in-state prospect once again. Head Coach John Groce along with his assistant coaches did a tremendous job being a presence at the Brunson’s games throughout his stellar junior campaign and into the spring. They put the work to build a strong bond with not only Jalen, but his family as a whole.
His initial cut to eight programs on May 3 of 2014 brought him to a list made up of three schools from the Northeast (Villanova, UConn, and Temple) and five Midwest programs (Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, and Kansas). There were reasons to believe each one of these had a legitimate shot at Brunson. For a while it seemed Michigan State, Temple, and Kansas had some momentum.
As the process went on through the July evaluation period, the two schools that were emerging turned out to be Villanova and Illinois. Villanova was always the sleeper to actually land the commitment based primarily on Brunson's east coast roots. Illinois continued to gain steam with the Brunson camp, mostly due to the persistence of the staff in being at every event in which Jalen participated.
Brunson settled on five official visits in the order of Illinois, Villanova, Temple, Michigan State, and Purdue. He took trips to Illinois and Villanova the last two weeks and decided that he had seen all he needed to make his decision. The nation’s top point guard will announce his decision on Wednesday afternoon between Illinois and Villanova.
From everything I have heard it seems like Villanova has the final momentum heading into the announcement. One thing I’ve learned about recruiting is usually when they stop the visits to announce, the prospect got the feeling they needed on the final visit and most of the time they go with the school they were at last. Both Illinois and Villanova had one more opportunity in front of Brunson with a pair of in-home visits Tuesday night. This gave John Groce a chance to make his closing statement and to sell his passion for Illinois, his vision for the future, and make the pitch of having the top in-state prospect stay home to take the in-state program to the next level.
As hard as John Groce and his staff worked to re-enter this recruitment after the Quentin Snider fallout occurred, it seems like the Illini will fall just short of landing a star point guard in Jalen Brunson. Brunson presumably has been promised to get the ball in his hands from day one at both schools, and both schools offer plenty of freedom and responsibility to the point guard position. Both Groce and Jay Wright have proven in the past that their systems are extremely point guard friendly. Brunson's visit to Illinois was undoubtedly great and I think choosing Villanova will be extremely difficult for him, but from a basketball standpoint he enters a program he knows in an area he knows, and the east coast location may prove to be one of a couple "X" factors for him. Still, confidence seems to be higher in the Villanova camp with less than 24 hours to go until the pick is announced, so I'm going to go with Villanova on this one.