Born: August 31, 1996
Towns: New Brunswick & Cherry Hill
Jalen Marquis Brunson was born August 31, 1996 in New Brunswick to Sandra and Rick Brunson. Jalen’s mother was a volleyball player in the early 1990s at Temple University when she met his father, who starred at guard for the Owls and went on to play for eight NBA teams—including the 1999 NBA finalist Knicks—in nine seasons.
Rick served as an assistant for several pro teams after that, most recently the Timberwolves in 2018. The Brunsons lived in and around Cherry Hill during Rick’s pro career and then moved to Linconshire in the northeast corner of Illinois when he landed an assistant coaching job with the Chicago Bulls.
Jalen was entering junior high at this point but was already on the radar of college recruiters. He was a tall and talented guard with a left-handed shot and astonishing basketball IQ. He was a four-year starter at Stevenson High and was rated the #1 prep point guard in the country in 2014, following his junior season, when he was honored as Illinois Player of the Year. Jalen was invited to a slew of all-star tournaments and repeated as Player of the Year in 2014–15, leading the Patriots to a state title. During the IHSA finals he set a new single-game scoring record with 56 points against a team featuring Jahlil Okafor. At the FIBA Americas U-19 Championship, Jalen set a new record for assists and was named tournament MVP. In December 2015 he was named USA Basketball’s Male Athlete of the Year.
By then, Jalen was beginning his college career as the freshman point guard for the Villanova Wildcats. He got off to a fantastic start, leading them to the 2016 national championship over UNC. Jalen’s clutch free throws in the Elite 8 provided the winning margin against #1 seeded Kansas. The Wildcats failed to repeat as champions in 2016-17, but Jalen—who was a unanimous All-Big East pick, decided to forego the NBA draft and return for his junior year.
That decision proved to be a good one. Jalen was named First-Team All-American, Big East Player of the Year and National Player of the Year as Villanova ascended to the national championship for the second time in three years. The Wildcats scored double-digit victories in every game on their way to the Final Four, where they beat Kansas 95–79 and Michigan 79–62. Jalen was named to the all-tournament team along with fellow Wildcats Eric Pachal and Donte DiVincenzo.
A couple of months later, Jalen was one of four Villanova players taken in the draft along with DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman and Mikal Bridges. The Dallas Mavericks made Jalen the 33rd pick. He mostly came off the bench as a rookie, but saw 38 starts when Dennis Smith Jr., JJ Barea, Seth Curry, Devin Harris or Luka Doncic were injured. In a February loss to the Nuggets he scored 22 points with Doncic out of the lineup. When Doncic returned against the Pacers six days later, Jalen upped his career-best to 24. His best game as a rookie came against the San Antonio Spurs, when he scored 34 points. He finished the year averaging 9.3 points and 3.2 assists per game—good numbers for a second-round pick who played just 21 minutes a night.
The guard picture in Dallas was still crowded when camp opened in 2019–20, but Jalen’s roster spot was secure. He grew his game over the summer as part of the USA Basketball select team and was projected to be the first point man off the bench, behind newcomer Delon Wright. With Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis healthy and productive—and Dirk Nowitzki retired—the Mavs had an opportunity to make some noise in the playoffs. Jalen averaged 8.2 points and 3.3 assists playing less than a half a game as the backup point guard. His best game was a 27-point, 8-assist performance in a win over the Hawks. When the season ended abruptly in March, the Mavs were 40–27 and primed to make some noise in the playoffs.