By Logan Murdock / @logan_murdock
As he sits in the bowels of the geriatric Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Jabari Brown is doing the one thing he hasn’t been able to over the last 6 months. Reflect.
The rookie guard is fresh off of signing his first multi-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. At face value the news seems amazing. A 22-year-old playing for one of premier franchises in sports has short-term security while living out a lifelong dream playing the game he loves.
“It’s been a long journey, man,” Brown says.
That journey, which started an hour south in Oakland, has been filled with both successes and setbacks.
Brown started out as a hot-shot prodigy, playing for Salesian High School in nearby Richmond, where he led the Pride to a Division IV state title in his sophomore year while averaging a team-high 19.6 points a game.
Sensing he needed better competition, Brown transferred to national powerhouse Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada, the first of many stops for the now well-traveled Brown.
Though Brown averaged 16 points a game at Findlay, he wound up transferring back to the Bay Area mid-season to Oakland High School.
“It just wasn’t working out,” Brown told the Oakland Tribune.
Back home, Brown flourished for the Wildcats, averaging 23.8 points to close out his junior season and 23.5 points during his senior season. He capped off his high school career with appearance in the 2011 Jordan Brand Classic, scoring 14 points.
After bouncing around for the better part of his high school career, it was time to move on.
Brown enrolled at the University of Oregon ready to make his mark. What followed was a situation that could’ve ended his college career before it even got started.
Two games into his freshman season at Oregon, Brown abruptly left the team. Many speculated on the reason for the departure, and rumblings of Jabari “quitting” ran rampant around the Oregon community.
“You go a lot of places, people gonna have a lot of things to say about you, but I just use that stuff to motivate me,” Brown says looking back on the situation.
A month later, Brown transferred some 2,000 miles away to the University of Missouri, uniting with his current Lakers teammate Jordan Clarkson.
Because he transferred midway through his freshman year at Oregon, Brown was able to join the Missouri basketball team on the court at the midway point of the 2012-13 season. Like his mid-season debut for Oakland High two years earlier, Brown flourished in his new role for the Tigers. Over the final 23 games, Brown averaged 13.7 points.
After putting up averages of 19.9 points per game to go along with 4.4 rebounds, Brown decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NBA draft.
A bad showing at the draft combine resulted in Brown going undrafted. To make matters worse, Jabari had a bad showing in summer league, in which he averaged 9 points on just 35% shooting.
Brown says that people he thought were his friends quickly started disappearing as his young career was beginning to fall into limbo. “A lot of people that were around kinda started disappearing.”
Things were beginning to unravel.
Brown was invited to Lakers’ training camp with a lot to prove. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t prove enough, according to head coach Byron Scott.
“You know, the whole training camp he really didn’t show us anything. He was one of those guys that, I wouldn’t say go through the motions, but, he wasn’t being aggressive, he didn’t take the initiative,” Scott says.
After a subpar training camp, Brown was cut yet again.
Then, something clicked.
As part of his release from the team, Brown was sent to the Lakers’ D-League affiliate, the LA Defenders.
Brown, determined to make an NBA roster, averaged 24.4 points a game, highlighted by 50-point performance against the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
Brown’s determination was rewarded as the injury-ravaged Lakers offered him a 10-day contract.
This time around, Brown took the initiative, averaging 7.0 points on 57% shooting, earning yet another 10-day contract and later a multi-year deal.
“His game has definitely improved, and we’ve taken notice,” Scott says. “He’s gotten much better as a basketball player.”
Even with the recent success, Brown will still have to prove himself to the Lakers next year, as his contract is not fully guaranteed. However, the Lakers are in need of as many quality players they can get, as the franchise’s fluid state means that anything could happen.
Just like Brown’s career.
A Bay Area resident rooting for all things Los Angeles.