Morgan Park head coach Nick Irvin lovingly calls junior wing Brandon Weston the "Brooklyn Brawler."
The New York borough -- where the 6-foot-4 Weston grew up and is originally from -- has a reputation for producing gritty ball players who aren't afraid of the big moment.
In his Chicago Public League debut on Monday night, during a massive showdown of city superpowers at Chicago State, the nationally-ranked Weston proved that he'll be a major force for the Mustangs this season as No. 1 Morgan Park held off No. 2 Whitney Young for a 61-59 season-opening win.
Weston finished with a team-high 18 points and 11 rebounds -- showcasing athleticism by attacking the rack at will and getting in passing lanes for the Mustangs. Perhaps most importantly, however, is Weston and his Morgan Park teammates stepping up during a sluggish shooting night from Mustangs star senior and Illinois commit Adam Miller.
Monday night's season-opening game was billed by many as a battle of Player of the Year candidates. The state's top two seniors, Miller and Whitney Young senior and Duke commit D.J. Steward, were the major pregame focus. The spotlight shined on Weston for much of the game though. The junior made an early impression by starting hot and maintaining a steady presence on both ends of the floor. Weston earned stripes from fickle Chicago basketball fans by regularly diving for loose balls and winning 50/50 plays.
Although Miller only shot 4-for-18 from the field with one three-pointer -- reduced to the role of playmaker and defender on an off-night where he changed his shoes at halftime because of discomfort -- it was Weston's intensity and natural scoring pop that picked up the Mustangs on Monday night during a hard-fought battle against a top-ranked team.
In falling short of a city and state title last season, Morgan Park's fatal flaw was finding consistent scoring pop if Miller wasn't rolling. But with Weston stepping up, and looking every bit like the four-star national prospect that many labeled him this summer, Morgan Park looks like the early favorite as the best team in Illinois following Monday's win.
"We tried to get him eligible real bad [last season]," Irvin said of Weston. "Because if we had him, I don't think anybody can beat us. Because he's a matchup nightmare."
Morgan Park junior Brandon Weston goes for 19 points and 11 rebounds in the Mustangs’ win over Whitney Young. Weston is a huge key for MP winning titles this season. He made a major impact in his Public League debut. pic.twitter.com/El6vEXLf0F— Preps Talk (@NBCSPreps) November 26, 2019
Before Weston became Morgan Park's matchup nightmare on Monday, the junior had to endure a real-life nightmare during his sophomore season. Weston was ruled ineligible by the IHSA and was unable to play despite a lofty reputation.
Transferring from Lake Forest Academy to Morgan Park after moving to the city in December, Irvin and the Mustangs hoped they had a case for Weston to be eligible right away last season. The Caxys, despite being a high school in the Chicagoland area, are not full members of the IHSA.
Morgan Park lobbied this point. Weston's eligibility case was still denied.
One of the area's most talented players was reduced to being the best scout-team player in the state. Even as Morgan Park coaches raved about Weston's natural talent and upside once he joined the program midway through last season, all Weston could do was sit on the sidelines and watch games in street clothes.
"I would have never thought I would be in position to sit out and watch a whole season. It was just angering me so much because I could see how I was helping this team in so many different ways. So I was really just excited to get out there and play my game," Weston told NBC Sports Chicago.
"From day one, since the first day I transferred in, I've been in the gym with them every single day. Practicing, bonding with my teammates. We've been growing since day one."
Morgan Park head coach Nick Irvin addresses the media following the Mustangs’ season-opening win over Whitney Young at Chicago State. pic.twitter.com/AuNvPfplKQ— Preps Talk (@NBCSPreps) November 26, 2019
When Morgan Park's 2019 season ended in the Class 3A state playoffs with a loss to eventual runner-up, and familiar Red-South rival Bogan, the core star trio of the Mustangs went to work playing together this spring and summer. Weston, Miller and senior point guard Marcus Watson played extended minutes with one another as teammates with both the Mustangs and the Mac Irvin Fire in the Nike EYBL.
The results of the trio playing together were eye-opening.
Watson led the EYBL in assists -- elevating into a high-major prospect and eventually signing with Wake Forest. Miller maintained his lofty national reputation with big scoring numbers as he picked Illinois over a host of high-major suitors. And Weston showed a good feel for his future high school teammates by complimenting them on both ends -- putting his name on national top-100 lists in the junior class with his strong play.
The Mac Irvin Fire finished 10-3 in the toughest shoe-company circuit in grassroots basketball -- making the acclaimed Nike Peach Jam in the process. The trio all earned national praise from scouts and college coaches. It also gave the group a chance to play with each other in high-leverage games against elite competition.
"It's so good because Marcus knows what spots to hit me in. I know what shots Adam likes. So it's so easy to just play because I know what each of them can do," Weston said.
"It was good watching them play during the summer. I knew we had the ingredients to win with the four guys coming back," Irvin said, "With Isaiah [Burrell], B West, Marcus and Adam -- they're all grimey. They get after it and play hard."
Morgan Park has to rely on young players stepping up this season if the Mustangs are to hit their immense ceiling. Freshmen like guard Darrin Ames -- who hit a critical fourth-quarter three-pointer in the game's final minutes -- and forward Javonte Taylor were playing minutes in a close game against arguably the state's second best team.
But Irvin is comfortable with the stability of his three main scorers and Burrell being a defensive ace and all-around x-factor. The group regularly hangs out together away from the court and has grown close over the past year.
"It's on and off the court. We're best friends on the court, best friends off the court. I go to Marcus' house all the time. I chill with Ace all the time. So we're just constantly around each other," Weston said.
"It's always great to see guys that are real talented and play hard that hang out off the court. They hang off the court all the time. They're at each other's houses. Seeing them and everybody together, makes my job easier because they can hold their brothers accountable and that's what they do," Irvin said.
"I call Marcus, he may not answer his phone. I call Adam, he might answer sometimes. But B West? If I call, he answers. And they're together a lot so I can usually reach all of them at once."
Irvin can breath a little bit easier this season knowing that Weston will answer if his number is called -- on and off the court. And with Weston's additional scoring pop added into the Morgan Park starting lineup this season, the Mustangs look every bit like the No. 1 team.