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December 03, 2015

Jalen Brunson played better when opposing fans taunted him about his father’s legal troubles

Of all the basketball feature writers working today, Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins is the best for my (very little) money. Anything he writes is pretty much a must-read. So when Jenkins takes a deep dive on a subject with a local angle like highly touted Villanova freshman point guard Jalen Brunson, it’s a real treat.

The story focuses on Jalen’s relationship with his father, ex-Temple and Sixers point guard Rick. In fact, it starts with the drive across the Walt Whitman Bridge (presumably, not at 108 mph) after Billy King cut Rick from the Sixers back in 2006. There is a whole bunch of Philly in the story.

But the most important part has to do with how Jalen and his family dealt with Rick’s sexual assault charges in the Chicago suburbs just last year. While the elder Brunson was eventually acquitted, the situation put Jalen, an All-American basketball player, through a whole heck of a lot. It seems like he responded pretty well:

The rest of the season Jalen was accompanied to road games by school-appointed security guards, but they could not muffle the crude chants and jeers. When Lake Forest High took the unusual measure of threatening to suspend any student who heckled Jalen, Rick was so moved that he personally thanked the athletic director. “I could have lost it every game, gotten a technical every game,” Jalen says, “but I got to the point where I was almost waiting to hear something, daring them to say it.” Stevenson coaches charted Jalen’s stats before and after the taunts. They noticed that his performance spiked.

Anyway, the whole thing is definitely worth a read. Meanwhile, Brunson is starting for a ‘Nova team that is cruising along at 7-0 and preparing for a big early-season test against No. 6 Oklahoma in Hawaii on Monday.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann