A photo of the starters from the 2015 Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball team is deservedly featured on the program’s website (riversidebrookfieldbasketball.com)
That quintet of Mark Smith, Sam Johnson, Daniko Jackson, Jalen Clanton and Henry Trelenberg, pictured arm in arm on the bench against Morton, led the Bulldogs to a scintillating 28-4 record and only sectional title in program history.
“That was my favorite year, my sophomore season,” Clanton said. “Everybody on that team supported each other and all we wanted to do was win every game. To be the first team to win a sectional for R-B was an amazing feeling.”
All the players from that photo are gone now except Clanton. Smith, Johnson and Jackson have graduated and Trelenberg (along with center Calvell Randall) left the team earlier this season.
The loss of so much talent for assorted reasons has been a factor in the Bulldogs’ uncharacteristic 8-9 record this winter. It also appears that the team’s coveted streak of consecutive conference championships will be snapped at 15 this season.
While the record is undeniably disappointing, particularly in head coach Tom McCloskey’s final season, Clanton and the Bulldogs have kept an upbeat attitude.
“We’re keeping a positive attitude and we don’t feel like we are out of it,” said Clanton, a three-year varsity starter. “We’re definitely not going to quit. In fact, we are just trying to get better every day because we have a lot of big games left this season.”
Clanton’s maturation process as the Bulldogs’ unquestioned leader has been fostered by McCloskey.
“Coach McCloskey and I have a special relationship,” Clanton said. “We have gotten a lot closer especially since this is his last year coaching. He’s put a lot of responsibility on me so I’m trying to make him as happy as possible.”
Considering their competitive natures, it goes without saying neither Clanton nor McCloskey is pleased with the Bulldogs’ results this season. Nevertheless, simply being a part of the RBHS basketball program is special.
“Coach McCloskey told me to enjoy every moment,” Clanton said. “Enjoy every moment with your teammates on the court in practice and during games because high school basketball doesn’t last forever.
“So many players come back here and talk about how playing at R-B was their best time playing basketball.”
The tradition of great guards coming out of RBHS is not lost on Clanton, either. Players like Sean McGonagill, Ryan Jackson, Damonta Henry, Will Kincanon and Daniko Jackson are the predecessors of Clanton, who currently deserves recognition as the Bulldogs’ elite perimeter player.
“The guys before me have accomplished so much,” Clanton said. “I’ve still got some games to play so that’s my focus, but I’m humbled and grateful to be included in any conversation with those guys.”
Clanton is averaging 20.2 points, 5.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 2.4 steals this season, while shooting 43 percent on 3-pointers and 77 percent from the free throw line.
He became just the 12th player in program history to score 1,000 points this season. He’s currently at 1,157 points and counting, trailing only Chris Parrish, Ryan Jackson, Randy Ramsey and Tim Brasic on the all-time scoring list.
Other honors include in 2016, an Honorable Mention IBCA (Illinois Basketball Coaches Association) and all-tournament recognition at the Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Classic.
“Jalen has had an amazing career at Riverside-Brookfield,” McCloskey said. “It’s hard to cover all the great things Jalen has done during his four years in our program.”
He also has a knack for coming up big against the toughest opponents. Clanton scored 32 points against then No. 1 Morgan Park at the City-Suburban Showdown last February. He burst onto the scene his sophomore year with a game-winning 3-pointer to defeat rival Lyons Township.
“Jalen has made game-winning free throws and 3-pointers among many other highlights,” McCloskey said. “Jalen loves to have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. He’s a great offensive player because he can pass, shoot, finish around the rim and has great vision on the court.”
Not surprisingly, Clanton is having a stellar senior season. His talent and experience have molded him into one of the premier guards in the Chicago area.
Clanton’s greatest asset is his versatility. Although he’s listed at just 6-foot-1, Clanton plays bigger than his size with the ability to score, pass, rebound and defend. The stat he’s most concerned with is wins.
“I try to be aggressive as I can in helping my teammates stay in the game,” Clanton said. “I try to do a little bit of everything depending on where the game is going. A lot of my teammates have made progress this season, which is great to see.”
Clanton cites Zach Vaia, AJ Meindl, Devin Moody and Andrew Pitlick as some players who have improved.
Senior guard Jalen Brooks and junior guard Ryan Cicenas are the only other players with significant varsity experience.
In the last couple of games, Clanton has been particularly explosive on offense. He had 29 points, seven assists and five rebounds in an 85-74 loss against Chicago Christian Jan. 20. Clanton also dropped a game-high 30 points in a 69-65 loss against Glenbard South Jan. 17.
Clanton, who plans to play basketball in college, is putting that aside for now.
“Honestly, I don’t know what I want to do yet,” Clanton said. “I’ll probably sit down with my parents and coaches towards the end of February and figure out what I want to do.”