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Article updated: 1/17/2013 11:32 PM

Brunson's brush with fame? It's just getting started

By Patricia Babcock

There was a rumor floating around that Michael Jordan attended last weekend's boys basketball game between Stevenson and host Mundelein.

"I had heard that too. But it didn't happen," said Stevenson sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson, who likely would have been the reason for a Jordan visit. "I wish he would have been there, though."

Brunson, who poured in a game-high 29 points in Stevenson's win over the Mustangs, needs to clear something up with His Airness. He's hoping that he'll eventually get his chance, now that his dad Rick, a former guard and coach for the Chicago Bulls, is coaching for Jordan's Bobcats in Charlotte.

"I have a Michael Jordan story, but it didn't go so well," Brunson said with a nervous laugh. "I was just a little kid when my dad was playing with the Clippers in a game against MJ, when MJ was with the Wizards. I had gotten a Jordan jersey and after the game I got to meet him and he asked me if I wanted him to sign the jersey.

"I said I didn't want him to because he would mess it up."

Brunson, who was only 7 or 8 years old at the time, didn't realize the value in a player autograph on a jersey, nor in an offer from Michael Jordan of all people to provide one.

"I'm probably the only person ever to turn down a Michael Jordan autograph," Brunson sighed. "Pretty soon, all these other players were going up to my dad and telling him what just happened.

"As I grew older, I realized what I did. I've always wondered if MJ remembers that. I keep hoping that I'll have the chance to re-do that moment and have him sign the jersey. I really regret not having him sign it the first time."

Luckily for the 6-foot-2 Brunson, he has few other regrets when it comes to basketball.

Quick to the basket and a spot-on jump-shooter, he started at Stevenson last year as a freshman and is already a highly-touted college recruit with multiple scholarship offers from Division I programs such as Purdue, SMU and Xavier.

But this isn't a kid who is simply making a fast climb to the top, he's also determined to do it the right way.

"I can't say enough good things about Jalen," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. "He can do it all on the court. And off the court, he's a great student and a great person. He's really a neat kid. He's got it all together."

Brunson could seemingly talk about staying humble and putting the team first all day long. In fact, his decision not to talk with the media last year as an unproven freshman spoke volumes about his desire to stay out of the limelight until he believed he truly deserved it.

And when he says his top priorities are getting good grades and working on his game, it seems like he's walking the walk and not just talking the talk.

Brunson has an Xbox that he rarely plays with, and he barely even knows what's on TV anymore because he's either hitting the books, or the hardwood.

He carries a tough academic load, gets only A's and B's and wore himself out pouring over his books this week for semester exams.

"I did a lot of studying," Brunson said. "I really wanted to do well on my tests."

Brunson, who is averaging about 22 points and 4 assists per game for a Stevenson team that is 12-4 on the season heading into tonight's road game at Zion-Benton, is already doing well at basketball. But his desire to be even better is insatiable. He runs over to the gym every single day to shoot, and sometimes he even pops over after a game in which he didn't play his best.

"I'll just want to work on things and get some extra shots in," said Brunson, whose best game of the season came against Lake Forest when he poured in a career-high 35 points. "I'm a gym rat."

"When I was younger, I played a lot of basketball and my dad would always ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I used to say I wanted to be a professional basketball player just like him. But it wasn't until I really started getting a work ethic in seventh or eighth grade that I realized how much work it would take. Since then, I've just had the mindset that I have to work really, really hard for whatever I get."

Brunson knows that the common assumption about him is just the opposite.

The son of an NBA player and coach must have it easy, with perks and benefits galore. And sure, there are some perks. He knows superstars like Derrick Rose, and he gets to go to countless NBA games and is privy to what life is like behind the scenes for professional athletes.

"People will say to me, 'I want your life.' But they don't realize that I've moved seven or eight times since I was a kid because my dad moved from team to team," Brunson said. "And they don't realize that I've grown up a lot without my dad because he's working or traveling. He's been to about three or four of my games. He has to watch most of my games on video after my coach posts them on our team website. He does his best to talk to me on the phone and give me advice. And when I see him we do a lot together. But it's tough not having him around all the time."

Also tough are expectations. Brunson is expected to be exceptional not because of what he has done or is doing, but because of who he is.

"I really just want to be Jalen Brunson, not Rick Brunson's son," said Brunson, whose dad met his mother Sandra, a volleyball star in her day, when they were both athletes at Temple. "I want to make a name for myself.

"My dad told me recently that when he was at O'Hare someone came up to him and said, 'Hey, aren't you Jalen Brunson's dad?' I laughed when he said that, because I think he was just trying to make me feel good. It worked."

Rick Brunson would score even more points if he arranged for some face time for Jalen with his boss. You know, that boss.

After all, there is still that matter of a jersey that needs to be signed.

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

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