Haverford School junior Jameel Brown (above) is already closing in on a college pick. (Photo courtesy Mike Nance/The Haverford School))
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
For the last decade, The Haverford School has been pumping out a steady flow of Division I hoopers. That includes Temple’s Shizz Alston to La Salle’s Christian Ray and George Washington’s Jameer Nelson, while other eventual D-I players like Cameron Reddish (Duke) and Lamar Stevens (Penn State) played multiple seasons for the Fords before finishing their high school careers elsewhere.
Next up in that group is junior guard Jameel Brown, who’s getting rather close to figuring out where he’ll be suiting up in a couple years.
The talented 6-foot-4 shooting guard released his top five schools this week: Big 5 competitors Penn and Temple, a Big Ten school (Purdue), and two Big East institutions, Xavier and Marquette.
While it’s certainly not unheard of for high school basketball prospects to make a decision in their junior year in normal times, Brown is one of many high school juniors and seniors around the country feeling more pressure than normal.
The NCAA’s decision to not count this season against its student-athletes’ eligibility limits, as well as the initiation of a blanket one-time transfer waiver, helped its current players but created a scholarship crunch for the high schoolers in the near future.
Offers are suddenly much harder to come by, with many programs banking on having their rosters back for another year or being able to replace departed talent with immediately-eligible transfers.
“COVID definitely sped up my process,” Brown said. “I was actually thinking about doing my top five after the basketball season, but since COVID hit, I just had to speed up the process.”
It’s been nearly a year since Brown has had any live action, as he broke his wrist four games into his sophomore year at The Haverford School. He was finally cleared for action in June, right in the middle of the pandemic; situps and pushups around his family house in Glenolden helped him stay in shape.
Despite his inaction, Brown still found his phone buzzing plenty on June 15, the first day that college coaches can directly contact rising juniors. It certainly helped that he’d impressed with Team Final’s 15Us at the Peach Jam the summer before, and was already on the radar of USA Basketball, having been invited to no fewer than five different minicamps and training camps for the country’s youth national teams.
But he wasn’t quite ready to hear from the “20 or 25” schools that reached out as soon as they could.
“I was kind of surprised that there were that many coaches that contacted me, I hadn’t played the whole year so I was kind of shocked that college coaches were still calling me,” he said. “My first call was Northwestern, they called me at like 8 AM, I was halfway asleep, and I was just getting calls throughout the whole day.”
By the time he was ready to cut down his options, Brown’s offer list stood at 15, including schools that didn’t make that cut such as Auburn, Nebraska, Richmond, UMass and La Salle.
Each of the five finalists brings something a little different to the table.
Penn was Brown’s first offer, with head coach Steve Donahue extending the roster spot opportunity—Ivy League schools don’t offer athletic scholarships—in June 2019.
“Obviously it’s in the Ivy League, I go to Haverford, so my parents preach education first,” Brown said. “The Ivy League is definitely somewhere I’d like to proceed with my future.”
Then there’s Temple, located just a couple blocks from the corner of Woodstock and Diamond, where Brown lived up until this summer, when his family moved to Delco. Head coach Aaron McKie made Brown an early priority in his 2022 class, offering in September ‘19.
“Temple is literally home for me, it’s literally where I’m from, so that’s definitely playing a big part,” Brown said.
Purdue head coach Matt Painter, who’s taken the Boilermakers to 11 NCAA Tournaments in his first 15 seasons there, offered Brown in June.
“They actually came to see me work out one day last year before this COVID stuff happened, and before I got injured,” Brown said. “They’ve been loyal to me since then, even throughout my injury process, they’ve still been contacting me and showing major interest.”
Xavier and Marquette came along latest in his recruitment, with both offering scholarships this September. The two Big East programs saw Brown play during a live-streamed Team Final showcase, where he was able to prove he was healthy and back making shots.
“The Big East is definitely one of the best conferences, and to play in that would definitely be a blessing,” he said.
Up next for Brown is making a decision. In the meanwhile he’ll be watching some games, not only the teams who are recruiting him but those featuring his former Haverford School teammates, knowing he’ll be joining them in the D-I ranks before long.
“I don’t know when I’m going to commit, but it’s not going to be long. It’s going to be soon,” he said. “COVID is speeding up the process because I don’t know when’s the next time I’m going to be able to play in front of coaches again.”