Riverside-Brookfield High School guard Jalen Clanton remembers two games in particular this season.
His first recollection, the Bulldogs’ 66-64 win over Lyons Township, makes sense. Although he’s producing a solid season overall (averaging 12 points, 3 assists and 2 steals), Clanton’s signature moment occurred against the Lions.
Tied at 62-62 with 33 seconds left in the game, the 6-foot sophomore calmly canned a three-pointer in the left corner off an assist from Daniko Jackson. Clanton’s timely jumper lifted the Bulldogs to arguably their most impressive victory this season.
“I don’t know what happened on that play,” said Clanton, who finished with 14 points against LTHS. “Daniko penetrated into the lane and made a great pass. I just took the shot and it went in. It was just reaction. That shot really helped my confidence.
“I love big games. I play better in front of big crowds under the bright lights. I’m definitely a scoring guard.”
The other game Clanton vividly recalls was a 69-42 loss to Lake Forest in the championship game of the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic.
“I learned the most by far in the Lake Forest game,” Clanton said. “Lake Forest is a very big, physical team so I learned more about what I can and can’t do on the court. Going up against a great team like Lake Forest helped me realize there are certain moves I can make to get by defenders, and that I need to push the ball rather than walk it up the court.
“The varsity level is different because guys are stronger and quicker. I’ve adjusted as best I can.”
As a first-year varsity player, Clanton’s talent, poise and determination have been impressive.
While Sam Johnson has emerged as a scoring/rebounding “double-double” machine, Mark Smith patrols the paint and Jackson directs the offense with panache, Clanton is building a reputation as a fearless shooter with seemingly unlimited range.
“I feel like I have the green light to shoot,” said Clanton, who lives in North Riverside. “Our coaches let me just go out and play. I feel more comfortable knowing that if I do something wrong on the court, I won’t come out of the game right away.”
Although Clanton can score in multiple ways, he’s really a combo guard. He has led the team in assists in six of 16 games, including eight assists apiece in wins over York and Immaculate Conception. He’s also a capable and willing defender.
Last year, Clanton led the RBHS sophomore team to a 21-3 record while putting up 16.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.8 steals per game.
“Jalen is a great shooter without a doubt, but he makes good drives to the basket as well,” Smith said. He’s also a great defender who gets his hands on a lot of deflections. Jalen is just clutch.”
Above all, he’s a team player. Clanton scored 22 points and dished out four assists in a 65-53 win over Glenbard South last Friday.
“I had a decent game, but I’m just happy we got the win,” he said. “Our team chemistry is a big reason why we play the way we do. Nobody cares who scores as long as we win.”
At 15-1 with a 6-0 record in the Metro Suburban Conference, RBHS is on course to win its 14th straight conference championship. While that accomplishment exemplifies the programs’ remarkable consistency under coach Tom McCloskey, Clanton and his teammates are looking well beyond league dominance.
“We always want to win conference but we’re looking to do big things in the playoffs,” Clanton said. “We don’t expect any more losses [in the regular season]. When the playoffs come, we’ll be ready.”
Along fellow sophomore, Henry Trelenberg, Clanton brings versatility and depth to an excellent backcourt led by veterans Jackson and senior guard Kevin Fitzgerald.
“We’re all really close,” Clanton said. “Henry and I are scorers, Fitz is a three-point shooter and good defensive player, and Niko runs the show. We play off each other as best we can.”
Clanton’s rapid development has been fostered by the RBHS coaching staff, notably McCloskey and varsity assistant coach Mike Reingruber, who coached Clanton on the sophomore team.
“I love all the varsity coaches,” he said. “Coach McCloskey is a great guy and I think he’s the funniest person on the face of the earth. Coach Reingruber is the greatest. We’re close and he was good friends with my grandfather. All the coaches really believe in me and my teammates.
“Even our 6th man [student section] gives all of us more energy when we play. I love it when they chant, ‘He’s our sophomore!’ That’s a great feeling for me.”