If you observed Sterling Brown outplay Jabari Parker and everybody else in the finals of the Class 4A tournament in Peoria last month, you know why the 6-foot-4 junior from Proviso East is rapidly climbing up the charts as one of the leading prospects in the class of 2013.
"He is a top 25 player nationally," Proviso East coach Donnie Boyce said. "He had to sacrifice a lot of his game as a junior because of our guards and for the betterment of the team. That shows what type of character he has.
"But I wasn't surprised by how well he played in Peoria. I expected him to have a good game against Parker. Earlier in the season, he was outstanding against (Belleville East's) Malcolm Hill. He is willing to accept one-on-one challenges.
"Downstate, big-time players always step up and seize the moment. He got into rhythm. For us to be successful next season, he has to be a 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds) type of guy as a senior. He has the capability of averaging a triple double."
Plaudits aside, Brown has several goals on his plate for the 2012-13 season. Among his priorities are improving his perimeter shooting and ball-handling and becoming more aggressive and assertive on the floor, win a national AAU championship with the Chicago Fire, become a McDonald's All-American, choose a college that will be the best fit for him and his style of play and surpass Parker as the No. 1 player in the nation.
Ambitious goals indeed. But they don't rank 1-2 on his list. First, he wants to lead Proviso East to the state championship in 2013. Second, he wants to beat his older brother Shannon in a one-on-one matchup for the first time. Shannon was Illinois' Mr. Basketball in 2003 and a McDonald's All-America, starred at Michigan State and has played in the NBA for the last seven years.
"What was my biggest recollection of the state final? Simeon 50, Proviso East 48. We lost. That's what sticks in my head, not how many points I scored or how well I played," Sterling said.
"We could have won the game. The difference was those two big three-point shots that Jelani Neely made. We left him wide open. We didn't respect him as a three-point shooter and he burned us. I should have taken charge more and been more aggressive in the fourth quarter. I should have shot more and made more plays for my teammates.
"Yes, I played well. I outplayed everybody. But I could have done better. I averaged nine or 10 rebounds per game but I only got five against Simeon. I could have crashed the boards more. And Jabari stole the ball from me at the top of the key in the second half. After that play, they scored and built up their lead. If it hadn't happened, it would have changed the game."
Next season? "We won't have the great guards (Keith Carter, Paris Burns) that we had this year. But we'll have more experience. We'll know what it takes to win. We won't make the same mistakes. We will know what to do in clutch time. We won't give up the lead. We will know how to finish and take care of the ball. I'll be really motivated to win the state title for my brother because he didn't win one. I'll be able to say I am one up on him."
But will Sterling be able to say he is better than Shannon?
"We go one-on-one in the gym whenever we see each other, even at 2 or 3 in the morning," Sterling said. "Yes, I think I can be a better player. At the end of the day, I'll keep working. He still beats me but not as badly as he did a few years ago. So I can see improvement in my game. He tries to bully me a little bit. He's stronger and knows more moves from his NBA experience. But I'm learning. It won't be too long before I beat him, maybe one or two more years."
Boyce, a former NBA player, said what he loves about Sterling is his hunger to be great is so high, "He will be a better player than Shannon when all is said and done. Shannon was more athletic. But Sterling can do more things, even though he isn't as athletic or as good a shooter or as good a ball-handler as Shannon. But Sterling will be better because of his vast variety of skill set and his versatility. Some kids level off when they reach a certain level of success but Sterling is greedy and wants more," he said.
Boyce, Proviso East's first-year coach, thinks one of the most satisfying things about coaching is "to see when the light bulb comes on when a kid realizes he has a chance to be great." For Sterling, that moment came during a Thanksgiving tournament in Peoria last November when, by his own admission, he held his own against Belleville East's Illinois-bound Malcolm Hill.
"It told me that my team needed me to step up if we were going to win and it told me that I was as good a player as other kids who were getting more publicity or were rated higher than me," Sterling said. "I had to step up to the plate and I did.
"Playing with Jabari (on the Chicago Fire) and against him gave me more confidence to play my game. I got a lot of exposure and a lot of college coaches and scouts were looking at me while I was playing with Jabari. He is bigger than me but I wanted it more Downstate. I was more aggressive than Jabari. He is a great player. But I'm a team player. I try to get my team involved. Whatever they need to win, I will do it. And I can do it better than others."
No sooner had Sterling returned from the state tournament, he received a scholarship offer from Northwestern. He also has offers from Illinois, DePaul, Florida State and Oregon State. He has taken an unofficial visit to Michigan State. He plans to visit Nebraska, Missouri, Marquette and Colorado.
Michigan State is his dream school. He hopes coach Tom Izzo will offer him. But he isn't disappointed that he hasn't up to now. He sees that as a sign that he still needs to work harder to improve his skills.
"Izzo is a great coach. He focuses on defense. He gets the best out of you. I want to be remembered as a winner and you have to play defense to win," Sterling said. "They aren't looking at me now. They aren't on me like other schools or like my brother. That is more motivation for me. I have to get better."
What about the elite schools? Sterling admits it would be "great" if Kentucky offered. He said he once wanted to attend North Carolina. And he likes the way Duke plays.
"But I want to establish my own identity," he said. "I want to go to a school that is aggressive and gets up and down. I want to get out of my brother's shadow. I've always been known as Shannon Brown's brother. I want people to refer to him as Sterling Brown's brother."