Bulls

Son of Bulls' assistant Brunson already making noise

609230.png

Son of Bulls' assistant Brunson already making noise

Like many freshmen starting on varsity, Stevenson High School point guard Jalen Brunson has created a buzz. Unlike most, however, one-third of the Bulls' potential roster attended his game Tuesday night.

The presence of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Ronnie Brewer and Keith Bogans in the stands may have partially diverted the focus of the crowd's attention, but by the end of the contest, all eyes were trained on the contest itself. Unheralded Stevenson knocked off the the preseason No. 2 team in the state, conference rival Warren, 44-43, in what was the still-young Illinois high school basketball season's biggest upset thus far.

While senior sharpshooter Michael Fleming -- an elite student in the classroom, reportedly considering attending academically-oriented Colgate -- was Stevenson's high scorer and made what would eventually be the game-winning shot, the Bulls players present to see "Little Rick," as well as the rest of the audience, came away extremely impressed with Brunson. One former Bull, Dickey Simpkins, was also in attendance and as his AAU coach, offered a unique perspective on the budding star.

"I really didn't have any expectations for Stevenson's ability to make that a close game or win it, but I did know that Jalen was going to be fine out there because of his poise and composure. Obviously he knows a lot of those guys because he plays in our program and he sees those guys all the time, and the fact that Jalen has worked out with those guys -- he plays up in our program -- I knew his confidence level and his poise would kick in," said Simpkins, who also coaches Division I-bound Warren seniors Darius Paul (the 6-foot-8 younger brother of Illinois guard Brandon Paul is headed for Western Michigan) and Nathan Boothe (the younger brother of Stanford women's player Sarah Boothe is a 6-foot-9 center who will attend Toledo next fall) in his NLP (Next Level Performance) program. "You're not going to rattle Jalen and that's pretty impressive for a kid as a freshman playing against the No. 2 team in the state, a team that lost in the state championship last year. Playing against them as a freshman in this early part of the season and him being as poised as he was, I pretty much expected that he was going to play at that level."

Brunson scored 14 points on the evening, an impressive total for a freshman. However, the way he played was more impactful than anything recorded in the final statistics. The 5-foot-11 southpaw ran his team flawlessly, played extremely unselfishly, picked his spots to score -- showcasing a savvy mid-range game, a deft shooting touch and range on his jumper -- and displayed some eye-popping dribble moves to excite the crowd.

More significantly, as Simpkins emphasized, he seemed unnaturally calm throughout the whole contest. It was a bit like watching a flashback.

"He does a little bit of everything that his dad did," said Simpkins, whose NBA career overlapped with Jalen's father's, Rick, now a Bulls assistant coach. "He resembles his dad to the fullest -- the left hand, the great control of the game, the craftiness and the skill set to be able to shoot the mid-range, being able to see the court and deliver it, distribute the ball -- he plays just like his dad."

For even the most ardent NBA fans, that might not seem like glowing praise initially, as the elder Brunson was considered the prototypical journeyman throughout his nine-team, eight-year career, which included two stints with the Bulls and crossing paths with head coach Tom Thibodeau in New York and Houston. But Brunson garnered tremendous respect among his peers for his determination and ability to adapt and knowledge of the game. Something developed in an accomplished amateur career that included being the co-MVP of the McDonald's All-American Game (with Chris Webber, the college teammate of another Jalen, Jalen Rose) before playing for Hall of Fame coach John Chaney at Temple University with two fellow future longtime pros, Eddie Jones and Aaron McKie, now a Philadelphia 76ers assistant.

"I'll just tell you this," said the usually loquacious Brunson. "I'm trying to teach him how to be self-motivated and work hard."

While he's refreshingly modest about his son's potential, it's obvious that Jalen has a bright future. It's too early to predict the future, but Simpkins is cautiously optimistic about his prospects.

"I think Jalen's got a lot of upside because I can imagine him getting a little bit taller. He's got good body structure, where if he continues to develop natural strength and then if he starts to to do physical strength training, he's going to become stronger. As he gets older, his athleticism should keep improving and he should develop more quickness, so I see a lot of upside for him once those things start kicking in and add to his ability, knowing the game, his basketball I.Q., feel for the game and his skill set, he has a tremendous quickness," opined Simpkins. "I think Jalen is going to be a really sought-after player for his class when he gets ready to graduate. I kind of look at Jalen right now like the kid at North Carolina sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall, a preseason All-American, according to several media outlets. He's a young version of Marshall. I think Jalen can be like him, but even better because I think Jalen can really shoot the ball better than he can. But I visualize Jalen being that kind of player and every Division I coach wanting a player like that."

Still, the Brunson -- whose mother played volleyball at Temple, where she met Rick, her eventual husband -- is likely to stay grounded, as he gets basketball advice not only from former pros like his father and Simpkins, but from current players, such as Noah. The elder Brunson appreciates the wisdom passed down from Noah -- the son of a former professional athlete himself -- and cites one piece of knowledge as "the best advice" anyone has given Jalen: "Humble yourself or the game will humble you."

"I think that he has a chance to be a hell of a player, but when you're in ninth grade and you're getting a lot of attention, I always tell young players that it really doesn't mean anything. It's all about your character at the end of the day, how hard you're willing to work because you see it all the time," said Noah, who wasn't considered an elite-level prospect coming out of high school. "Guys start off top players in the country from a young age, get all this attention and they're not focused on getting better. If your mindset is about getting better, then it's hard to make it at this level."

Brunson is a long way from the professional ranks -- let alone college, as he'll matriculate to college in the fall of 2015 -- but with the extended network of legitimate advisers surrounding him, good genes and precocious ability, he's in excellent hands, especially if it's assumed that his father's determination was inherited. For now, however, the next four years of basketball at Stevenson should see plenty of special moments like the one witnessed Tuesday night.

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
 
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
 
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn have moments in highlight-filled rising stars challenge

2-16_markkanen_dunn_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn have moments in highlight-filled rising stars challenge

LOS ANGELES—Kris Dunn wanted to have some fun in the Rising Stars game while Lauri Markkanen wanted to get a win.

Both accomplished their goals, being on opposite sides for the first time as the best first and second year players were divided into U.S. and International teams, with the World Team winning 155-124 Friday night at Staples Center.

It wasn’t set up for either Dunn or Markkanen to truly stand out considering the presence of Lakers and Celtics players who were more notable and flashy, along with the spectacular exploits of rookies Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Dennis Smith Jr (Denver).

Those two certainly wowed the crowd at times with half-court alley-oop passes, giving a preview of what Saturday night will look like, considering both will be in the dunk contest.

Dunn scored nine points in 18 minutes while Markkanen scored 15 in 22 minutes. Both came off the bench, ceding to the likes of Sacramento’s Buddy Hield (29 points) and Bogdan Bogdanovic, who turned the game into his own 3-point showcase with 30-foot bombs, hitting seven triples for 26 points off the bench.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown led all scorers with 35 points and 10 rebounds, playing for the U.S. team, showing his entire bag of tricks with spectacular dunks and dribble moves for jumpers.

Markkanen had his moments in the “game within a game” category. When prompted by World coach Rex Kalamian that the first player to get a block would get $100, Markkanen tipped the next shot at the rim and pointed to the scorer’s table, but wasn’t credited with the block.

However, he felt like he got his pound of flesh with Dunn on a tip-dunk. The two didn’t have their moment

“I almost jumped over his head. That counts,” he joked.

Dunn made sure that although he and Markkanen were on opposite sides that he remained Markkanen’s biggest fan.

When asked who was his pick for rookie of the year, he repeatedly said “Lauri Markkanen”, over the likes of Mitchell and Kyle Kuzma from the Lakers, another standout rookie.

His reasoning was simple.

“Why? He hit eight threes in Madison Square Garden,” Dunn said, half-jokingly.

Half-jokingly.

“For Lauri to be a rookie and have so much confidence in himself and to play in big time games, especially at Madison Square Garden. I’m gonna keep bringing that game up. Because He had eight three’s. You don’t see that too mnay times. Lauri is a big player for us,” Dunn said.

Markkanen probably won’t win the award but to see Dunn so steadfastly support his teammate in this way is a good sign for a budding relationship, despite the light moments of competitiveness where Dunn said he wanted to take advantage of Markkanen on the perimeter.

Markkanen’s game has been aided by Dunn on the floor and one could see how the quality of looks Markkanen had in the past few weeks suffered with Dunn out due to a concussion.

Dunn’s turnaround directly led to the Bulls turning around their season in December, and he remembers what he was doing this time last year at the All-Star break when he wasn’t selected to be part of the rookie challenge.

“Thibs had me in the gym,” Dunn said.

It seemed unlikely but he’s rebounded nicely, being a shoo-in for 15 points, eight assists and two steals on a nightly basis. Turning the corner has been a bright spot in the season.

“I wouldn’t say a specific game but each and every game I started to get more comfortable, not with myself but with my team,” Dunn said. “Being a point guard, you gotta build that chemistry with your teammates and try to figure out where everybody needs the ball. How you can be aggressive and lead at the same time.”