Hometown Report

‘It spooks you. What do we do?’ Why Woodcreek’s top hoops recruit left comfort of home

Jordan Brown listens to Woodcreek High School Timberwolves basketball coach Paul Hayes before a game last season. He is transferring out of Woodcreek so he can play for Prolific Prep in Napa.
Jordan Brown listens to Woodcreek High School Timberwolves basketball coach Paul Hayes before a game last season. He is transferring out of Woodcreek so he can play for Prolific Prep in Napa. Sacramento Bee file

Jordan Brown left because it was time.

This isn’t the popular consensus in Placer County, or for much of the prep basketball world, especially on Twitter where everyone is an expert.

Brown left the comfort zone of Woodcreek High School in Roseville for the unknown of Prolific Prep in Napa, where he will play out his senior season with a national traveling schedule, and with scores of college recruiters in tow. And when you’re an elite athlete, opportunities abound. These things happen. It’s not a shocker of a move, but it is a shocker of a move because this region doesn’t see many elites like this.

And by every measure, Brown is elite. At 6-foot-11 with soft hands, a smooth skill set and an emphatic finishing touch at the rim, he was the region’s most heavily recruited prospect since 1975, when Bill Cartwright attracted the attention of NBA scouts at Elk Grove in an era when that just did not happen.

Brown’s departure does not mean this was a failure of a public school and its inability to hold him. You cannot find a better coach and mentor than Paul Hayes at Woodcreek, or a better student rooting section than The Black Mob, all of which Brown enjoyed.

Brown towered over the talent pool in his three varsity seasons with the Timberwolves, earning Bee Player of the Year honors last season in perhaps the easiest selection since Cartwright 42 years ago, before the 7-footer went on to star at USF and win three NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls.

Brown had no competition in practice, and often very little in games. This concerned his father, Dion Brown. His son powered Woodcreek into Golden 1 Center for the CIF Open Division championship, a close loss but a win for the region that got to see him compete courageously despite a broken right hand that bothered him throughout the summer.

At Prolific Prep, Brown will bang against fellow four- or five-star recruits in practices and games. This will be an accelerated hoops learning path to college, where he could very well be a one-and-done to the NBA.

But the move was not easy.

“We wanted to stay in the Sacramento area,” said Dion Brown, who often does the talking for his son as a buffer of sorts but never with a tone of suffocating. “I wanted him to play his senior season here. I wanted people to see him, to enjoy him. And the whole decision – where to go? – it spooks you. What do we do? What’s best for our son? Are we making the right decision?

“He had a great time at Woodcreek, but we had to take him out of that comfort zone of Woodcreek and let him grow up as a player.”

Prolific Prep is a different animal, a glimpse of how far high school sports have come. Whether that is good or bad depends on whom you talk to.

Players attend Napa Christian High. They live with host families. It is a feeder to the premier college programs in the country, a basketball academy with strength and conditioning and elite coaching to go with the elite talent. Prolific Prep recruits players, and since it is not affiliated with the CIF, this is allowed.

“Players come to us to play a national schedule against the best in the country, and they come because every day in practice, you are going up against a potential high-level (Division I) guy,” said Philippe Doherty, a member of the Prolific Prep staff. “Our goal is to better prepare them for college and life – competition.”

But does a place like this strip away the genuine high school life? There are no campus rallies at Prolific Prep, no Friday night football games, no proms, no Black Mob rooting sections.

“Jordan can still experience some of that at Woodcreek because we’re not moving out of Roseville, and he’ll be coming home on weekends,” Dion Brown said. “A prep school is a prep school. Woodcreek will forever be Jordan’s high school, where he started.”

Hayes, the Woodcreek coach, handled the Brown news with typical class. But it stings, like someone shattering the backboard on your head and then handing you the rim. Hayes ramped up his schedule to include 12 state-caliber teams. He will trot out a team a bit smaller on the front line, but eager nonetheless. And one thing Hayes won’t have to listen to any more is this, “Where’s Brown going?”

“Ever since his freshman year, we heard that,” Hayes said. “Every year, he was supposed to be transferring. I got it from people that it was done, fact. Finally, toward the late summer, it got a little stronger that he was actually leaving.

“I know Dion has Jordan’s best interest at heart. He and (wife) Yolanda are great parents who want to do what’s best for their son. It’s hard to fault that. Jordan was tremendous here, tremendous to coach, a great young man. We wish him the best. No ill will. We’ll move on, and we’ll follow him. He’s easy to rally around. He’s one of the special ones.”

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD