Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Revisiting Jaylen Brown’s ‘mature’ recruitment: Why the future NBA Finals MVP chose Cal over power programs

Now an NBA champion with the Boston Celtics and an unexpected yet deserving Finals MVP, Jaylen Brown has never been your typical NBA player. More than just an All-Star hooper, Brown is an All-Star intellectual and person who has never been afraid of doing things his way to reach his goals.

That willingness to reach his goals by doing what he felt best stretches all the way back to 2025 when he surprisingly committed to California in May of his senior year.

A top-five prospect because of his 6-foot-7 size, abundant athleticism, and ability to score, the Marietta, Georgia, product was courted by the best of the best. He visited Kansas and UCLA, among others, before settling on a top four of Cal, Kentucky, Michigan, and North Carolina.

Brown marched to the beat of his own drum. He was intelligent, analytical, and conscious of how he presented himself to the world. It wasn’t for branding. It was just very important to Brown that people understood that he was more than just a basketball player and that he wasn’t putting on a show. To recruit him, you didn’t have to go through handlers; it was pretty much him and his mother, Mechalle Brown, who were looking to figure out the best spot.

“He was one of the most mature and intelligent kids that I ever recruited,” one assistant coach involved in the process told CBS Sports. “You felt that you were speaking with real people, the questions were authentic, and it was like dealing with a mature adult.”

In most recruitments, there are rumors about leanings one way or another, and that certainly happened with Brown. Earlier in his senior year, there were times that both UCLA, coached by Steve Alford, and Kansas were thought to be in strong positions before fading. Even late in the process, Michigan, coached by John Beilein, was thought to be in strong contention to land Brown if he didn’t go to Kentucky.

Making things tough to read was the fact that Brown himself was pretty tight-lipped. He didn’t self-promote, he didn’t do a ton of media, and he never let much slip. Such a recruitment feels like a foreign concept a decade later. 

As Brown’s recruitment crept into the spring of his senior year, most thought that John Calipari and the Wildcats had taken control of the recruitment. Even when Brown took a much-publicized “surprise visit” to Cal in late March 2015, most dismissed their chances and refused to believe that Cuonzo Martin could beat Calipari head up.

Then in mid-April, Cal landed five-star Ivan Rabb, a power forward who had a good relationship with Brown, and things started to pick up. Between Rabb, Cal’s academics, and Martin’s ability to build relationships, they were generating real momentum, but there was also another factor. One of the program’s best players, former NBA All-Star Shareef Abdur-Rahim, played at the same high school as Brown, and while it was never discussed publicly, there are many who believe that he helped to guide his fellow Wheeler High School alumnus in the direction of Cal.

When Brown finally committed on Friday, May 1, he did so in the most Jaylen Brown way possible, simply telling former 247Sports director of basketball Evan Daniels that he had committed. The news was seemingly confirmed by a tweet from Cuonzo Martin.

During his time at Cal, Brown played and started in 34 games in the 2015-16 season. He averaged 27.6 minutes, 14.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.0 assists while shooting 43.1 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from three. Cal went 23-11 and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament — and Cal hasn’t made the Big Dance since. Martin resigned the next season and left for Missouri

Brown was selected No. 3 overall in the 2016 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, right after Ben Simmons, who went No. 1 to the Philadelphia 76ers, and Brandon Ingram, who went No. 2 to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Now, he’s an NBA champion who has reached the pinnacle of his sport by doing what he has always done and trusting that he knows what is best for his future.

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