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Brown lifts Westtown back into PAISAA championship game

03/05/2022, 12:00am EST
By Rich Flanagan

Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)

WEST CHESTER — Jameel Brown not only played in the 2019 Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) Tournament Championship Game as a freshman, but he was also one of the key reasons the Haverford School downed Westtown at Jefferson University. Brown led the Fords in scoring with 24 in that overtime victory, outplaying the likes of Jalen Warley (Florida State), Franck Kepnang (Oregon), John Bol Ajak (Syracuse), Jalen Gaffney (UConn), Noah Collier (Pittsburgh) and T.J. Berger (San Diego).

Playing alongside Jameer Nelson Jr., now at Delaware, and Christian Ray, playing at La Salle, the game showcased many of the facets of Brown’s game that would eventually lead him to 1,000-point scoring career but it gave him his first exposure to what Westtown was like as a program and that core group of Moose would return to win the title the next season.

Jameel Brown (above) is going for his second PAISAA championship after winning as a freshman at the Haverford School. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Brown, now a starter at Westtown alongside Duke commit Dereck Lively II, who was a member of the 2020 PAISAA title team, has brought his style to a state championship to a team that has had its own share of success in the PAISAA Tournament.

“I won one my freshman year against Westtown and these guys won my sophomore year,” Brown said. “We’ve all been here before but it’s just another game. We have to go out and do what we do.”

Brown scored 12 of his game-high 31 points in the second quarter while junior Matt Mayock drilled four 3-pointers on his way to 14 points as Westtown took care of Academy of the New Church for the third time this season with a 68-53 victory in the PAISAA semifinals on Friday night. 

The Moose beat the Lions in the regular season followed by a win in the Friends School League title game with Brown scoring 22 in that matchup to surpass 1,000 career points. Westtown advances to play Perkiomen School in the PAISAA Tournament final on Saturday at La Salle University; it will make its seventh appearance in program history and look to win its fourth crown.

Brown, a 6-foot-4 senior and Penn State commit, hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put Westtown (28-7) up 11-5 at the 3:46 mark of the first quarter. Then Lively — who poured in nine points, 11 rebounds and three blocks — turned a one-dribble drop step into an emphatic, two-handed slam on the opposite side of the ride to give the Moose an eight-point advantage. 

Lively and Brown won the illustrious Peach Jam title on the Nike EYBL circuit with Team Final’s 17U team over the summer, the first-ever in program history, and that friendship allowed Brown to pursue a change of scenery to the boarding school in West Chester, Pa.

The transition stemmed from comfortability with Lively but also for his own development.

“Being at Westtown has definitely been a big improvement in my career,” Brown said. ““When I came here, I was primarily a shooter and scorer but coming here I became in tune with my basketball IQ more. I feel like when I’m more patient, I can see the floor better and use my IQ.”

That patience was on full display during a blazing second quarter. He was a perfect 6-for-6 at the free line. He calmly waited for a Lively high screen but when the Academy of the New Church (18-7) zone came over the top, Brown drove around and sank a mid-range jumper with his patented shooting stroke that was the first, sought-after area of his game by several college coaches. 

On the ensuing possession, he jumped in the passing lane and converted at the other end to give the Moose a 26-16 lead with 4:27 left before halftime.  

Head coach Seth Berger has allowed Brown to blossom into a complete guard by instilling confidence in him to find his own shot instead of being a spot-up shooter and showing him to use his high basketball IQ to slow the game down.

“He came here already as a special player but the key for Jameel is that we see teams here that play at such a high level that he sees situations he’s never seen before,” Berger said. “Since he’s so intelligent, he doesn’t make a lot of the same mistakes twice. His greatest asset is his brain. He’s learned to use his brain, play off two feet, play off his tempo and not get sped up.”

After trailing by nine points at the break, the Lions made their best push of the night to start the third quarter. Elmarko Jackson (17 points) hit a three-pointer to open things up then Isaiah Millen hit another to cut the deficit to six points. Anthony McCall, who had the defensive assignment on Lively and also contributed 16 points and eight rebounds, finished in transition but Mayock answered with a trey from the right corner. Lively sank two free throws then found Brown, who found Mayock for another three-pointer and Westtown had increased its lead to 45-34.

Academy of the New Church did a good job containing Lively on the baseline and forced the Moose to operate their offense behind the arc, but Berger described the maturation in the 7-foot-1 big man’s game and how he affects the game in so many areas.

“He dominates the game in so many ways: being a great finisher, rebounder, passer and screener,” Berger said. “He runs hard to the rim in transition, and he never stops talking on defense. There are so many things that Dereck does well other than scoring and we knew ANC would not let him get 25 tonight. They put multiple guys on him and pushed him out as much as they could.”

Mayock hit his last trey of the game then Brown scored four straight points, including a floater from the right side of the lane and Westtown took a 15-point advantage into the fourth. Jackson scored seven of the Lions first nine points of the final quarter, but Brown finished a strong drive then he and Mayock sank four straight free throws after double technicals were assessed and the lead had grown to 62-51. Quin Berger (10 points) put the finishing touches on the win with a high-arching floater to push the lead to 13 points with under a minute to play.

Brown started his prep career with a PAISAA title and now he will get the opportunity to potentially finish it with one.

“Honestly, playing my last high school I want to win that,” Brown said. “I want to win it for the guys who came before and for those who come after me. Westtown has been really good, not only on the east coast but also nationally.”

This sets up a rematch with Perkiomen School in the title game in a game that was played in two 20-minute halves in the Commonwealth Cup, which the Moose won by defeating the Panthers, Hill School and The Phelps School. Lively may have had his best game of the season in that 70-61 win on Feb. 2 with 30 points, 14 rebounds, six steals and four blocks while Quin Berger added 16 points in that game. Princeton commit Xaivian Lee led the Panthers with 23 points, including going 4-for-10 from deep, and eight boards.

After Lively and Brown, Westtown may not have quite the depth of high-major talent that it had when it last won the PAISAA title in 2020, but it will be even more prepared for this game than in years past due to the strength of the schedule, most notably the Friends Schools League and PAISAA Tournament field. Berger stressed that in all his years at Westtown, this is the best the opposition has looked and played.

“These kids have had a great year and if we’re fortunate enough to beat Perkiomen, this would be a title that would be amazing, especially when the Friends Schools League and the state tournament field is the toughest it’s been since I’ve been head coach,” Berger said. “The FSL, especially George School and ANC, were talented enough to win it then in the state tournament there were about six teams that could’ve won it. This is the toughest state tournament we’ve had in years.”

By Quarter
Academy New Church 13 I 10 I 16 I 14 II 53
Westtown School:        18 I 14 I 21 I 14 II 68

Academy of the New Church: Elmarko Jackson 17, Anthony McCall 16, Dylan Coq 9, Jarell Keel 5, Isaiah Millen 3, Christion Keel 3

Westtown: Jameel Brown 31, Matt Mayock 14, Quin Berger 10, Dereck Lively II 9, Se’yphon Triplett 4

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