ELGIN, Ill. -- Elgin senior swingman Kory Brown has pinpointed a problem in his game. Well, it's sort of a problem.
When there’s pressure on him, he rises to the challenge. That’s the good part. But when the situation is more relaxed, his game tends to dip.
“I don’t know why that is,” said the 6-foot-4 Brown, who is the ESPNChicago.com Prep Athlete of the Week. “I have to fix that.”
Spectators at the recent Elgin holiday tournament wouldn’t have noticed Brown’s deficiency. The Maroons found themselves in tight games from the quarterfinal to the championship, and Brown emerged each time and ended up leading Elgin to its first tournament title since 1999.
“He’s a leader on the team and just got better as the week went along,” Elgin coach Mike Sitter said. “Everyone fed off him. He saved his best for last and came through in the holiday tournament.”
Brown’s heroics began against Glenbard North in the quarterfinals.
Elgin appeared as if it was going to cruise to the win and led by as many as 15 points in the third quarter. But with the game comfortably in hand, Brown and his teammates got too comfortable, and Glenbard North stormed back and even took a lead in the fourth quarter.
With the game on the line, Brown finally awoke and got to work. He scored 11 of his 19 points in the second half and secured a 57-51 win with a layup and two free throws in the final 39 seconds.
The next night, Elgin’s looseness cost it early, and Neuqua Valley jumped out to an 11-point lead after the first quarter. And again, Brown emerged late in the game and saved the day. He scored four points during a decisive 8-0 run, and Elgin held on for a 52-48 win.
Brown finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. It was his first win over Neuqua Valley in his three-year varsity career.
Then came the championship where Elgin met Indiana-based La Lumiere, whose only loss on the season had been to Oak Hill Academy. Few gave Elgin a chance.
“It’s kind of funny,” Sitter said. “After the first game, I was talking to another coach, and we wondered the real question was who was going to finish second. When we got to the championship game, we had nothing to lose. We weren’t favored. ‘We had a nice ride. Let’s go out and have fun.’ ”
Brown approached the game differently. If he had felt there was nothing to lose, he likely would have been too relaxed. Instead, he believed there was everything to lose.
And like always, Brown succeeded while feeling pressure. He drained his first four shots, including two 3-pointers, and Elgin quickly built a 17-5 lead on La Lumiere. The Maroons never relinquished their advantage and won 40-34.
Brown had 18 points, six rebounds, two blocks and two steals in the win.
“The bigger the game, the more pressure,” Brown said. “In pressure games, I feel calm. I feel more calm, and I feel in control. All that pressure is put on me, but it’s a relief.”
Brown proved more than anything he could come through in clutch throughout the tournament, but he also showed where his game had grown. His athleticism, defense and work ethic have been staples in his game for years. He’s gotten better at diversifying his offense. He can now step out and consistently his jumpers and score from the post.
“He can’t be stopped going to the rim,” Sitter said. “Now, his jumper is better than last year, and his jumper last year was better than his sophomore year. He works tirelessly. We’re home right now, and I guarantee he’s in the gym shooting. He’s the first one to the court and last one to leave it.”
The hope now is Division I coaches notice his overall game as well. Sitter believes it will happen for him.
“It’s a matter of a school needing a 6-4 guard,” Sitter said. “I think he’ll have what they’re looking for. We’ve had D-I players, and his game is more well-rounded than theirs. He’s probably the best defender I’ve seen play high school basketball.
“I think it’s a matter of a school needing what he has to offer. If he was 6-7, I think he would be playing in the Big Ten next year.”