A five-star recruit ranked in the top-30 nationally in the class of 2024, James Brown of St. Rita High School (IL) and MeanStreets (IL) is a unique player who is next in a talented line of elite big men to come out of the state of Illinois, highlighted by Anthony Davis in 2011. In his sophomore season at St. Rita, Brown averaged a double-double and helped his team earn a spot in the Class 4A IHSA State Championships. Standing at a towering 6’10.5”, the center’s calling card is versatility as he can finish with either hand, initiate offense in the open court, and rebound the basketball. After participating in the 2021 USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team May minicamp and U16 National Team training camp, the rising junior looks to build upon his previous experiences and showcase his improved skill set at the 2022 USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team April minicamp during the Final Four in New Orleans.
As part of the Pro Insight Q&A series, Brown discussed his relationship with his cousin and former NBA player Corey Brewer, teaming up with 2024 forward Morez Johnson in high school and in AAU, his favorite pairs of Jordans to wear, and much more.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present 2024 prospect James Brown, from Aurora, Illinois:
Pro Insight: How did you get to where you are today? Talk a bit about your background and your family.
James Brown: So I'm from Aurora, Illinois. Just me, my mom, and my dad. I’m an only child. And how I got to where I am today…just working hard. My mom and my dad had me in a lot of different sports growing up: soccer, baseball, basketball, football — and basketball is just the one that stuck. Height obviously, but basketball is just the one that stuck and ever since my dad told me that if I wanted to play basketball at a serious level, it’s gonna take a lot of hard work and a lot of time and energy. So that's just what I've been doing. Whether it's waking up in the morning to get to St. Rita to workout after school or my dad driving me an hour or so to this one gym to work out, it's just been a lot of hard work and energy that I've been doing to get here.
PI: Did your parents play any sports?
JB: My dad played football at Howard University and then my mom played volleyball in high school and then she went to the University of Cincinnati and graduated from there.
PI: Where do you get your height from?
JB: I think I got my height from my mom’s side of the family because my mom is six-foot, so she's pretty tall for a woman. And then on her side, I have a lot of cousins that are 6’8”, 6’7”, 6’6” and going back to my family being athletes, my cousin is actually Corey Brewer who went to Florida and then won a championship with the Mavericks, so yeah.
PI: What’s it like having a cousin who has experienced both a college and NBA career? Has he shared some advice or insight from his experiences that has helped you?
JB: Yeah, it's really cool. Corey's been a great resource to have. Sometimes I'll send him texts just asking him, “hey, what do you think about this? Hey, I did this move. You think this was right?” And since I've been young, he's been getting me and my parents tickets to his games whenever he comes to play the Bulls. Being able to see him play up close, it's pretty cool, and then I know that he's coaching with the Pelicans right now, so when I go to New Orleans for USA Basketball, I know I'll probably get to talk with him and chop things up about how things are going down there. But I mean, it's just a great resource to have, just with all the experience and knowledge that he's had, and all the championships he's been able to win, it's just great to have somebody like that in your corner.
PI: When did you primarily start to focus on basketball?
JB: It was about sixth grade when I started solely focusing on basketball. I stopped playing my last season of football and that's kind of when me and my dad had a conversation like if you want to strictly do basketball and if you want to do it at a high level, it's gonna take a lot of dedication, a lot of work, a lot of time, and it's not going to be easy. So kind of sixth grade is when I started solely focusing on basketball and I’d say ever since then my progression and my skill and stuff, it's been slowly getting better from there.
PI: For those who aren’t familiar with your game, what are your greatest strengths?
JB: I would say my greatest strength is my versatility. Being able to get up the floor as somebody my size, my ability to finish with both hands. I'm naturally left-handed, but on the basketball court I shoot with my right hand. So being naturally left-handed, it gives me an ability to finish through contact with my left hand and finish around people with my left hand while also being able to finish fairly well with my right hand. I think that being able to step out and shoot is one thing that I'm working on and something that I'm getting better at. So I feel like once I add that to my game, then things will get really interesting. But just my versatility, being able to put the ball on the floor, initiate the fast break, things like that are really the things that are really cool about my game.
PI: Who do you model your game after or study on film?
JB: Joel Embiid. That's one thing that me and my trainer Zac Boster look at in workouts and the moves that Joel Embiid is doing. Moves that Kevin Durant is doing. Things Giannis does. Even stuff on the fast break that we see from James Harden — eurostep-stuff like that is all things that I try to take bits and pieces from everybody's game and put it into mine, so I would say that. But if I would say I had to try and model my game after one person, I would definitely say Joel Embiid.
PI: What are your current measurements?
JB: So my height, I'm currently about 6’10.5”. My weight is about 210, 215 [pounds], somewhere in that area and then my wingspan is about 6’11”.
PI: Do you have a pretty specific training regimen?
JB: Okay, so every workout we always start off with post footwork. We're working on different post moves, different footwork, where to catch the ball, different things to see on the court, so I know what moves to do in different positions. Then from there we usually work on stuff out of the pick-and-roll, pick-and-pops, different drives, different finishing combos, coming off of two feet, one foot. Then from there we kind of just put up shots whether it's one-dribble pull-ups or catch-and-shoot stuff, or whether it's coming off, setting a down screen, flash and flashing middle, things like that. Then after that we usually work on finishing and add a little bit of ball handling into it.
PI: What are your short term goals you have for yourself as a player?
JB: I know next year one big goal that I have for me and my whole high school team is winning the state championship. That's something that I think we really want to do. Coming up a little bit short this year, making it all the way to the sectional championship, it's something that we definitely feel like we can do. One other goal I have is winning Peach Jam this year with my AAU team. That's something else I feel like we could do. I think we got the talent. My teammate, my high school teammate, Morez Johnson, Nojus [Indrusaitis] from Lemont [HS]. I think we got the talent where we can win Peach Jam as well. Some personal goals…going back down to New Orleans, I want to put myself in a position where this time I can make the USA team and possibly win a gold medal. A little further down the line, becoming a McDonald's All-American is something that I want to do. Playing in the Final Four, March Madness going on right now, but putting myself in a position to compete in the NCAA tournament, and possibly winning a national championship at the collegiate level.
PI: It’s definitely special that you’re able to play with Morez both in high school and in AAU — how would you describe your connection with him?
JB: Yeah, I think our chemistry is very good. I know whenever I catch the ball at the high post, I know Morez is going to be flashing, stepping in and diving down under the basket so I know that's the one place where I can always hit him. I know he's always running with me on the break, going and getting it off the rim. Our chemistry really stems from our relationship just off the court. One thing that Coach Roshawn [Russell] told us was in order for us to establish a great chemistry on the court, we have to become really close off the court — so just having different conversations about what inspires us to play basketball or what we're feeling about different things just in life. That's something that's really helped both of us find each other and make each other better on the court. And then also in practice, one thing that I love about Morez is that he's always pushing me and he's always giving me 100% in practice, which is something that really makes me better and it also makes him better, as well, and it kind of brings us closer together so that our connection is just that much better.
PI: How would you describe yourself as a leader?
JB: I feel like I'm more of a leader by example, not necessarily a leader by words. What I do in practice, how I carry myself, how I talk to different people, different positions that I put myself in — and I feel like that's how I'd be a leader. Not necessarily a “you do this, you do that, blah blah blah blah blah” type of leader.
PI: Describe your experience with MeanStreets. Besides Morez, is there anyone in particular you’re looking forward to playing with?
JB: Well, before I get to who I'm excited to play with, I'm really excited to be coached by Coach Tyrone Slaughter. He's a legend in Illinois and Chicago high school basketball, so it's a great honor for me to be able to learn from one of the best basketball minds that there is in Illinois. But I'm really excited to play with everybody on the team. I know I’ve started to create a relationship with Nojus who just went down to the Super-Sectional in 3A with Lemont, so he's a great player I'm excited to get to play with. Carlos Harris [III], Luke Williams, just some guys that I'm excited to get to know…KJ Windham. They got a great roster. They had a great team and I'm just excited to be able to become a part of it and help them win Peach Jam.
PI: Who has been the toughest individual matchup you’ve ever faced?
JB: Oh, that's tough. The toughest individual match up that I've ever played against will probably be either Jalen Lewis or Ron Holland. Those two are…they're two great great players in the 2023 class. Both arguably top-10 in their class, top five in their position, so those two are really challenging me playing them.
PI: Was this with USA Basketball last year?
JB: Yep, this was at USA Basketball, last year.
PI: By the way, congrats on the selection to the USA Basketball Junior Men’s National Team April minicamp. Describe your experience with USAB — what are you hoping to build upon from last time?
JB: Just showing them that I've gotten better from last time. Coming back, being able to do a couple things that I couldn't do as well last year: shooting, handling the ball, just showing them that I'm a hard worker. I'm dedicated to the team. Whatever they need me to do, I'm willing to do it. Just showing that I'm constantly getting better and I'm constantly ready to work and do what they need me to do.
PI: How do you see your role at the next level?
JB: I see myself as being somebody who does the little things, whether it's setting screens, rebounding, scoring — whatever you need me to do is just something that I'm willing to do. I don't need to be a 30-point guy every single night and all. Just happy if I could get 25 rebounds. If that's something that a coach needs me to do, then that's what I'm willing to do.
PI: What’s your recruitment update?
JB: Recently, Oklahoma and Notre Dame have been in touch. I know Coach Roshawn has been getting some calls from Duke, Memphis, Michigan, and Georgetown. Georgetown reached out a couple weeks ago, but I've just been watching everybody playing in March Madness really closely. I was down in Illinois a couple weeks ago when they won the Big Ten Championship. So just learning about different coaches, getting a feel for them. That's something that me and my family have been taking very seriously, just considering every option. We’re getting to know them and ultimately finding what we feel fits best for me.
PI: Did you have a dream school growing up?
JB: Not really. I never really had a particular dream school. I've just been a fan of college basketball and just enjoy watching it in itself.
PI: There are a lot more post-grad options available these days with G League Ignite, OTE, and NBL, among others. Have you and your family done much research into those opportunities?
JB: We've talked about it before and we haven't heard from any of them, but I know we've definitely talked about it. Just considering every option, but I think one thing that my family really values above basketball is education. So I think college would probably be something that I would do.
PI: What are your biggest interests outside of basketball?
JB: Outside of basketball, it would definitely be fashion, video games, stuff like that — but definitely fashion. I'm not necessarily a sneakerhead, but I feel like I have a good sense of fashion, whether it's shopping online or looking at just different websites, looking at different clothes.
PI: What is your favorite brand?
JB: Probably Jordan. Yeah, probably Jordan. Just because Jordan, it's Jordan. The amount of different color schemes or just different types of shoes. It’s just impeccable.
PI: Being in Illinois, it’s definitely a cool feeling to be close to where the Jordan Brand started.
JB: Yeah it is. My high school is a Jordan team, so I've gotten to know Jordans really well — and they're very comfortable. So I think that's also helped with why I feel they're my favorite brand.
PI: Do you have a favorite pair of Jordans?
JB: So on the court, I would say the Zion 1s. Those are the shoes that I've been rocking pretty recently. Those are really comfortable. Those are probably like my favorite shoes to wear right now. And then off the court, I'm a big fan of 1s. Yeah, I would say 1s, 3s, and 4s. Those are probably my three favorites to wear.
PI: Do you prefer lows, mids, or high-tops?
JB: I like the mids a little bit better ‘cause I wear a lot of different sweatpants and jeans and I feel like lows kind of throw it off a little bit.
PI: Who are your favorite music artists?
JB: Probably before a game, definitely Lil Durk. I listen to Lil Durk, probably 25 times a day. I love Lil Durk (laughs). But just when I'm not [playing] basketball or anything like that, I listen to Kendrick Lamar. I listen to SZA a little bit, J. Cole, somebody that I definitely listen to, people like that. I listen to G Herbo a little bit, so a little bit of everything.
PI: If you were stuck forever on a deserted island and had all the food, water, and shelter you needed — what three personal items would you bring?
JB: My phone, and probably my mom and my dad. I'll keep it simple. Those would probably be my three things that I would bring. I would bring my phone just so I would have something to do so I'm not bored. And then my mom and my dad because those have been two people that have stuck by me no matter what.
PI: You have one hashtag to describe yourself. What is it?
JB: I would say #different. I know that's kind of generic, but I feel like I'm kind of different whether it's my game, trying to become different there, or just my personality. I'm a very kind of goofy, fun person, but I'm also kind of chill. I’m low key at the same time. So I would definitely say #different.
PI: If you woke up tomorrow to see a fortune in your bank account, what would be your first purchase?
JB: My first purchase…I would probably buy my parents a bigger house. The house we live in is really nice, but I'd probably buy them a bigger house, just a mansion just to say thank you for all the sacrifices and all the things that they've done for me.
PI: Would you say your parents are your role models?
JB: Yeah, for sure. My mom and my dad are definitely two extreme role models in my life. Whether it's my dad being able to come from, coming in the city, making a name for himself with football, going to Howard and standing out, and then my mom being a role model, moving around a lot. She moved a lot as a kid and was able to go to the University of Cincinnati, get her bachelor’s and her graduate degree in accounting. I try to model myself after them in different ways — my dad on the athletic side and my mom on the educational side.
PI: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
JB: “Not everybody is your friend.” That's something that my dad tries to instill in me a lot. He talks to me a lot. He gives me a lot of advice. He's always looking out for me. But “not everybody is your friend” is probably something that has really resonated with me over the past couple of years.
PI: If you weren’t pursuing a career as a professional hooper, what do you think you would choose to do?
JB: I would probably say I'd try and find something in law. Criminal law is definitely something that interests me, so probably somewhere in law, or I would be trying to become some type of doctor. Human anatomy is something that's also really interesting to me, or psychology. How the human brain works, it's a mystery, so that's something that I'm really interested in that I would like to learn about.
PI: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
JB: People hating. I don't like it when I see people hating on other people or people hating on a different team or somebody wants to do something that somebody is always shooting down their ideas. Just stuff like that kind of gets on my nerves 'cause it's like everybody should be able to do what they want or everybody should be able to want to pursue what they want to pursue. So definitely hating is one of my biggest pet peeves.
PI: Would you say you’re an introvert or extrovert?
JB: I think I’m an extrovert, but not necessarily an extrovert. That's kind of hard because I like to hang out with people, but I don’t like to hang out with too too many people so I would say I'm an extrovert in that sense of hanging out with a lot of people, but I guess the people that I'm hanging out with 'cause I like to keep my circle pretty small, but I don't like to be by myself a lot, either. So I'll stay an extrovert.
PI: Talk about a time or story in your life that you feel has really shaped who you are today.
JB: Okay, I have a story from this season. So me and my team, we went to Quincy, Illinois, and we played against Huntington Prep, who was a top-25 prep school in the country — and going into the fourth quarter, I think we were down by 14-15 points, somewhere in that area. The whole first half, us and Huntington Prep were battling back and forth. And then in the third quarter, they just came out and just punched us in the mouth and left us with the deficit going into the fourth quarter. So we came back and we won that game, but it wasn't easy. We had to claw, we had to scratch, and we had to take every single possession seriously. We had to get stops on defense and we had to really come together, so I feel like that's a story that kind of defines myself as somebody who is not gonna give up…because we could have easily folded, and just let them beat us by 30. So I’m somebody who is just not gonna give up, somebody who's always gonna try his best, put his best foot forward. Somebody who's gonna grow off the people around him 'cause you can't do anything in the world by yourself. I mean, you're always going to need other people, so just know I’m somebody who's able to rally behind other people who are in my path. I’m never going to give up and I’m always going to keep fighting.
PI: How would you define the word ‘success?’
JB: I would say success specifically means getting better every single day. Just improving yourself, making yourself better. It doesn't always have to be winning something or being better than a specific person. Just always improving and always getting better.
PI: Besides the NBA, where do you see yourself in five years?
JB: In five years, I definitely see myself as being a successful person, whether it's being some type of influencer or being in college, studying for a degree in law or a degree in psychology. Just being somewhere trying to accomplish my goals or accomplish my dreams.
PI: Name four words that best describe you.
JB: I would say humble. I'll go back to different. I'll say loyal and then I'll say hardworking. Those would be my four. Loyal, humble, different, and hardworking.
PI: At the end of the day, what do you hope to be remembered for?
JB: Obviously, I wanna be remembered as being a great basketball player or one of the greatest people to play basketball ever. But more than that, I wanna be remembered as just a great human being. Overall, being somebody who impacted people's lives on and off the court whether that's going and talking to people or kind of showing my actions on the court and providing inspiration to somebody off the court. But being a great basketball player, but also being a better human.