By: Eric Van Dril | Feb. 20, 2017
It’s clear how badly Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin wants to win when one watches him coach, especially when his team is playing Simeon and especially when the stakes are as sky high as they were in the city championship game on Sunday night.
But even Irvin couldn’t help but root for Simeon’s Kezo Brown.
“I’m so proud of him,” Irvin, Brown’s coach with the Mac Irvin Fire, said. “Right now, he’s playing like Kezo Brown, the top-20 player in the country. Every time he made a shot, I was mad, but also smiling because he’s been through a lot. You root for a kid that’s been through so much.”
Brown missed practically all of his sophomore season due to a serious illness, but the junior has recovered from it and played well all season long. On Sunday night, he led his team to the city title.
Brown scored a game-high 26 points in the Wolverines’ 68-64 victory over Morgan Park.
He also played strong defense on Morgan Park star Ayo Dosunmu for much of the game. Brown, who Simeon coach Robert Smith called the Wolverines’ best defender right now, played tough defense on Dosunmu (team-high 16 points) when he missed a game-tying 3-pointer on the Mustangs’ second-to-last possession.
The experience of leading Simeon to a city title was especially sweet for Brown, given what he endured last season.
“Last year, I wasn’t feeling it,” Brown said. “I was all upset about myself and the things that happened to me. But that’s over with, and now I’m just back.”
Brown admitted that there were times when he doubted he’d be all the way back to the type of player he was before the illness — one who was very highly-regarded nationally, and seemed destined to be a high-major recruit.
That doubt is no longer there, however.
“God brought me back from that situation,” Brown said.
Smith, like Irvin, expressed how proud he is of Brown and what he’s overcome over the last two years.
“You’ve never seen me hug any of my players after a game,” Smith said. “But that was all for him — just all of the stuff he’s been through, to see him smiling out there and being able to compete at a high level. … He carried us in the first half. It’s just a blessing he’s out there.”
Brown scored 15 points in the first half against Morgan Park (19-6).
Brown shot the ball extremely well all game long. He needed just 14 field-goal attempts to reach his 26 points. The lefty was 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, and showed off an offensive repertoire that included floaters, pull-ups and drives to the basket.
“For him to come out and play that well, it was amazing,” said Simeon senior guard Evan Gilyard, who scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter.
Brown is also a difference maker on defense. That’s been clear all season long.
He slowed point guard Chris Lykes, a Miami signee, in the second half of Simeon’s win over nationally-ranked Gonzaga (MD) in early December.
The way he played against Whitney Young junior Javon Freeman is another example.
Freeman scored 19 points against Simeon in the first half of the teams’ city semifinal on Friday , Feb. 17. Brown was moved onto the dynamic guard in the second half, and Freeman was held to eight points.
“He has size and he can body guys,” Smith said, of Brown. “And he’s not scared.”
Brown’s fearlessness was evident when he defended Dosunmu, arguably the city’s best offensive player, in the biggest game Simeon has played so far this season.
Brown guarded Dosunmu for the majority of the city championship game on Sunday night. The highly-recruited point guard got going at times, but Brown never got discouraged and never backed down. He wanted to guard Dosunmu, especially in the thrilling city championship game’s crucial moments.
“This is what we were looking for last year that we didn’t have,” Smith said, of Brown’s two-way play. “If we have this last year, we win the state championship hands down. But we didn’t have that body to make those plays and do the things we needed to do. Having him back now is huge for us. He complements Evan. Evan complements him, and then Talen and the (other) guys just complement each other.”
The shooting of Gilyard and Brown opened up the floor for Horton-Tucker and others in the fourth quarter, Smith added. Horton-Tucker (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Gilyard were able to drive to the basket and create opportunities for themselves and others.
Brown starred against Morgan Park, but the city championship was very much a team win. Gilyard, sophomore guard Kejuan Clements, Horton-Tucker, junior forward Messiah Jones and senior forward Madison Lowery all stepped up at different moments in the second half and made critical plays to help Simeon win its eighth city championship.
The talented, battle-tested Wolverines will enter the state playoffs as the favorite in Class 4A.
“The feeling is great,” Horton-Tucker said, of winning the city title. “We’ve still got work to do. Our main goal is state. We’ve got one of our (big) accomplishments, and we’re going to keep pushing.”
That Brown is back and confident bodes extremely well for the Wolverines as they prepare for their state-playoff run. His return is also a feel-good story that shows the power of self-belief, hard work and perseverance.
“I’ve believed in him since Day 1,” Gilyard said. “I knew he was going to come back and I knew he was going to be greater than he was because that’s the type of person he is. He’s tough. To see him come back from that (illness), it’s just amazing. He’s so strong.”