Third in a series.
Cal freshman Jaylen Brown is a 6'7" wing whose top-shelf athleticism has led many - including the Sports Out West blog - to pose the following question:
Is Jaylen Brown the next Stanley Johnson?
The two share plenty of similarities: the long wingspan, the explosiveness with which they attack the rim, the signature high-top fade, the potential to be an elite defender at the next level. Johnson and Brown were arguably the top-ranked small forwards in their respective recruiting classes, and both were physically ready for the NBA from the moment they stepped foot onto a college campus. Their scouting reports are nearly indistinguishable, and to be honest, it's even hard telling Johnson and Brown apart when watching their highlight packages on YouTube.
Much like Johnson, Brown only figures to spend one year in the Pac-12 before taking his talents to the NBA. But in an era where many of the elite prospects east of the Mississippi (and quite a few west of it) sign with either Duke, Kansas or Kentucky, Brown's decision to leave Marietta, GA for Berkeley, CA begs yet another question:
Why in the world is Jaylen Brown going to Cal?
To hear head coach Cuonzo Martin tell it, Cal - a school that has two Sweet Sixteen appearances in the past 55 years - should be a destination for recruits given its status as the No. 1 public institution in America per U.S. News and World Report. But the smart money says that Brown's decision goes far beyond Cal's reputation in a magazine.
This season, Brown will pair with fellow top-10 recruit Ivan Rabb - who texted Brown incessantly after the latter committed to Cal in April - to form the Golden Bears' best recruiting class since the days of Shareef Abdur-Rahim. And speaking of the former Grizzlies and Hawks star, it's not a coincidence that Abdur-Rahim and Brown are both graduates of Marietta's Wheeler High School.
Connection helped Cal get it done for Jaylen Brown? Shareef Abdur-Rahim -- who also played at Wheeler High in Georgia and starred at Cal.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) May 2, 2015
Wheeler High isn't a basketball factory by any means, but the school has sent a handful of players to the NBA in recent years (Abdur-Rahim and J.J. Hickson, among others). So it's safe to say that Wheeler head coach Doug Lipscomb - who has led his nationally-ranked team to six state titles over the past 23 years - has an eye for talent. Lipscomb, in an interview with Rivals, also had no shortage of positive things to say about one Jaylen Brown, who led Wheeler with 28 points and 12 rebounds per game this past season:
"He doesn't have a problem with work ethic, so that's not an issue," Lipscomb said. "He's a good teammate. He wants everyone to get better and he gets everyone involved. He's a very humble kid. I've seen his development since eighth grade and he's grown bigger, strong and faster and he's coachable. You always enjoy and relish the opportunity to coach a kid who listens, learns and gets better."
There's little to worry about when it comes to Jaylen Brown away from the basketball court: He was a B student at Wheeler, he's a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and his Twitter feed contains motivational quotes straight out of the Tony Robbins' playbook. Of course, all of that takes a back seat to the main question on the lips of many talent evaluators:
Does Jaylen Brown have a jump shot?
The answer to that question - as least as of now - is... sort of. As with many top recruits in the Class of 2015, Brown's mid-range game (and ball-handling ability) remains a work in progress. He was able to dominate up until now largely thanks to his superior physical gifts, but Georgia high school basketball is a far cry from high-major action in the Pac-12.
Even without a consistent jumper, Brown is the third-ranked player on the latest iteration of Chad Ford's 2016 Big Board, and ESPN's NBA Draft Insider noted that the Cal freshman is in the mix for the No. 1 pick in next June's draft:
Physically, Brown is an elite NBA prospect. He has an NBA body, NBA strength and is one of the most -- if not the most -- explosive athletes in the draft. He's a power wing who finishes way above the rim. His jump shot is still a work in progress, though, and he can lack assertiveness at times.
Brown, who led the Golden Bears with 17 points in a 100-63 exhibition win over Australia's Victoria Select earlier today, figures to play a lot at the 4 this year thanks to a loaded Cal backcourt. Duke's Justise Winslow was able to thrive last season as an undersized power forward, so there's little reason to think that Brown, who played a fair amount of center during his senior season at Wheeler, can't be effective in the post.
Wherever he winds up logging minutes this season, Brown appears to be ready for his moment in the spotlight. Whether he's challenging rappers to a game of 1-on-1 or telling the media that the Cal Bears have what it takes to win it all, the one thing that isn't in question is Brown's confidence in his ability to make things happen on the court.
"I'm a basketball player," said Brown during an interview with Rivals. "I don't really consider myself a certain position. I can play wherever I'm needed."