DuPage County All-Area Boys Basketball Captain: Braylen Meredith, Wheaton Warrenville South
In the spring of 2021, during the heart of the coronavirus pandemic, Braylen Meredith was a tall but willowy prospect fighting for minutes on Wheaton Warrenville South's boys varsity team.
His length and athleticism were enticing, showcasing the potential to blossom into an elite player, if he could harness his next-level abilities and develop the traits to mature into a player capable of playing within the Tigers' team-first brand of hoops.
The 6-foot-6 Meredith, who earned DuKane all-conference honors in football playing wide receiver in each of the last two seasons, pointed to last season as the genesis for his dramatic leap in basketball.
"Coming into my junior year, I was on the bench for summer league at first," Meredith said. "I had to work for a starting spot. When the season came around, I eventually earned a starting spot. That motivated me the whole year to strive for more. I knew what I was capable of. My goal was to win an all-conference award."
Right now, the senior small forward is flourishing in basketball, earning 2022-23 DuKane Conference Player of the Year and being named to the Associated Press Class 4A Honorable Mention team.
Two years ago, Meredith's long-range future pointed more toward the gridiron.
Everything changed in the middle of Meredith's high school career.
Meredith showed glimpses of his potential in his junior season, playing vital minutes on a loaded team which won the DuKane Conference and advanced to a Class 4A supersectional.
Meredith built upon his solid junior season, averaging 15.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game this season to be named Captain of the 2022-23 Daily Herald DuPage County All-Area Team.
"I thought I was a good player in my junior year, but nothing crazy," Meredith said. "I couldn't lead a team last year like I did this year. I thought I was a football guy in my junior year, but I'm now leaning toward basketball in college."
On the surface, Meredith's numbers weren't eye-popping, but considering his worth to the Tigers - capturing the conference championship, reaching the sectional semifinals and posting a stellar 27-6 record - his sacrifice molding his game to play unselfish basketball rather than hoist up shots for personal glory added another element to his resume.
Meredith, like many of the top players in DuPage County this season, didn't put up flashy numbers. Nor will he be playing Division I basketball next season.
At times, Meredith was an unstoppable force on the basketball court. Meredith was the most indispensable player on one of the best teams in Class 4A this season. His growth - on the court and off the court - helped the Tigers top the 25-win mark for the second consecutive season. The Tigers lacked the flash of some area teams, but Meredith's athleticism and nonstop two-way motor served as the perfect antidote against superior teams.
Meredith said he worked tirelessly to morph into a standout player but credited the Tigers' coaching staff and past players for showing him the way.
"I expected this from myself," Meredith said. "I knew I was a good player. I knew everything would kick in if I kept working hard. I knew all of the training would pay off for something. I had big expectations for myself and the team. I expected us to win the conference championship.
"Coach holds us to high standards. The seniors from last year really influenced us, guys like me, Colin Moore and Jake Vozza. Coming into the year, even in the summer, we knew we had something special."
Wheaton Warrenville South coach Mike Healy praised Meredith for developing his game to fit into the Tigers' system.
"He got better and better as the year went on," Healy said. "As he kind of got better, we got better. Our guys had a lot of trust in him. He was our go-to guy. He works his tail off on both ends of the floor. He's a good player, no question. He probably had more freedom than a lot of guys we've had. He did some stuff outside our system. It was a lot of give and take with what he was allowed to do because he was very able and capable. He's the kind of kid who does it all. He played big in big games."
Healy said Meredith is a player with a high upside, mentioning his ability to play both ends of the court. Meredith led the Tigers in charges, Healy said.
"He was pretty special on offense, but he was pretty special on the defensive end too," Healy said. "He was a very good football player for us. For a kid like Braylen, when he focuses on basketball 12 months of the year, he could take his game to a level we haven't seen. He's just scratching the surface on his wall of ability. He's going to get stronger and more fundamental. In the next year or two, he's got the chance to play at a four-year school."
Rarely did Meredith attempt double digits in shot attempts in a game, but he sacrificed his possible future potential to play within the Tigers' highly successful system.
"I don't think I shot 15 shots in a game all season," Meredith said. "It's not all about me. We won a lot of games. If it's not broke, don't fix it."
Some games, though, required Meredith to break loose from his shell. He averaged 21.2 points and 4 rebounds in the MLK Tournament, registering 20 points and 5 rebounds, including a pair of dunks, in a win over Wheaton North. He exploded for 27 points, six 3-pointers and 6 rebounds against Larkin at the Jim & Sylvia Night of Hoops on Jan. 21. Meredith scored 33 points and 3 dunks against Glenbard North in early January.
For Meredith, his future is full of possibilities in football or basketball. He has yet to play AAU basketball or spend all his time throughout a full year working on a single sport. Meredith said he's ready to expand his game at the next level, building upon the success he learned from his coaches at Wheaton Warrenville South.
"I'm excited about my future," Meredith said. "If I put all my time into basketball, I can see great things. I can only get better if I work at it 12 months out of the year.
"You have to buy in and believe in yourself and work hard every day in practice and it will sink in. I've matured a lot. I've tried to be a better person and better in everything. I just kept believing in myself. I'm going to continue to work hard, just day-by-day which leads to year-by-year and try and get the same results (in college)."