‘It's just such a great story’: Stevenson grad Brunson doing just about everything for Knicks

Jalen Brunson's postgame routine at the United Center required some choreography.

The former Stevenson High School star engaged teammate Josh Hart in some friendly trash talk in the locker room, spoke to reporters, then headed out to greet friends and relatives.

Some were set up with family passes and were stationed in the hallway near the locker room entrance. Brunson's younger sister Erica was in attendance, her first time watching him play at the UC.

Another group of friends, at least 30, waited in the seating area. When Brunson finally emerged, his father, Rick, a Knicks assistant coach, kept a close eye on the timing, not wanting to miss the team bus to the airport. United Center security guards hovered nearby, trying to hurry things up so the arena could prepare for the next event.

Brunson also dropped 45 points and 8 assists on the Bulls that night, which has become a routine occurrence. Was it special to pour in 45 points in his hometown?

“This place, I wouldn't say this city; outside of this city where I went to high school, it's a special place,” Brunson said. “I have a lot of people from there come to the game and support me. That means more than scoring 45.”

Brunson put on a solid display of how to win in the NBA. He's learned how to always make the right play while becoming an efficient scorer. No matter the defender, Brunson always seemed to bury a demoralizing 3-pointer whenever the Bulls got close. His last basket of the night against a good contest had Bulls guard Coby White shaking his head when it hit the net.

“He’s just really good at what he does,” White said of Brunson. “He’s crafty around the rim, knows how to get to his spots, hits contested threes off the dribble and the catch. He does a little bit of everything. He’s the engine for that team.

“He’s one of the best guards in the league this year, has been doing it all, especially down the stretch even with them dealing with so many injuries.”

New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson celebrates after making 3-point basket during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls in Chicago, Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) AP

Since March 14, a span of 14 games, Brunson, now 27 years old, is averaging a 34.8 points per game, best in the NBA. And he has the Knicks in contention for a top-three seed in the East, despite losing forward Julius Randle for the season and new addition OG Anunoby for about two months.

“I think I'm playing better than I did at the beginning of the season,” Brunson said. “But I just know there's always room for improvement.”

New York coach Tom Thibodeau had plenty to say about Brunson's rise to become one the NBA's biggest stars, starting with what makes him so difficult to guard.

“Just shifty,” Thibodeau said. “He can get you off-balance and put you at a disadvantage. Changes speeds, herky-jerky, clever, cunning and really fundamentally sound. Then he's unselfish. If you're running to get the ball out of his hands, he's going to hit the open man and we can play off that.”

Thibodeau has a unique perspective on Brunson's life and career, because Jalen was a toddler when his father played for the Knicks, while Thibodeau was an assistant to Jeff Van Gundy. Brunson's high school years happened while Thibodeau coached the Bulls.

“It's just such a great story because this didn't happen overnight, although it appears as if it did because now everyone sees it,” Thibodeau said. “But if you watch the work this kid put in his whole life, he's prepared himself for this moment. It's a credit to him, his family. Very driven and all about the right things.

“So it doesn't surprise me because he has great belief and confidence from the work he's put in. the best part of it is the humility to go along with it. He's a great teammate and he helps to bring the best out of people.”

True, Brunson almost never shows any sort of emotion, unless he's unhappy about the lack of a foul call. Asked what he did to build the stamina to carry such a heavy load for the Knicks, Brunson's answer was “nothing.”

This is a competitive MVP race, but Brunson has a chance to finish in the top four or five, likely behind Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

“They're not empty stats. It's impacted winning in a great way,” Thibodeau added. “We had a lot of guys out, we've got a number of guys with minutes restrictions and everything else, and this guy just delivers night after night.”

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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