By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
The knock on Brandon Jolley two years ago as a freshman forward on the Pasadena High School boys basketball team was he rarely played at full speed and wasn’t receptive to constructive criticism.
With high expectations as a 14-year-old, Jolley made every attempt he could to show why he was surrounded by such hype. He demanded the ball and grew frustrated when it didn’t come his way. When double teams collapsed inside, his tendency was to force a shot. When a coach wanted to give advice, Jolley turned away with a scowl.
“I used to have an on-and-off game,” Jolley admitted. “At times I was on and other times it was switched off. I feel like I still have a lot to give, and now I want to leave it all on the court.”
Jolley was a 6-foot-3, 235-pound freshman. He’s since grown to 6-5 and slimmed to 220. The junior forward said he still has to improve some aspects of his game, but it’s that admission that speaks volumes. He’s taken giant strides by simply seeking out help. He’s a more complete player who has developed a deft turnaround jumper to his post presence and game-changing shot-blocking ability. He’s also dramatically improved his free-throw shooting.
That he’s a more complete player stems from a renewed attitude and mental approach, which in turn has added value to his upside.
Jolley will lead the No. 2 seed Pasadena against Arroyo Grande in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AAA championship game Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Jolley doesn’t dispute the reputation that followed him his sophomore year, which was plagued by injuries. He’s a kid at heart, he admitted, and at times he’s not handled certain situations the way he would now.
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“Brandon used to contest everything,” said Jolley’s father, Norah. “Even the knowledge of his coaches and his father.”
It’s different now.
“When coaches say something I really listen to that and take it to the heart,” Jolley said.
They say champions are made in the offseason, and if that’s the case Jolley, at the very least, has earned the right to help lead the Bulldogs to a second title-game appearance in three years. He worked on his conditioning with Pasadena football and former UCLA strength and conditioning coach Randy Horton.
His strong work ethic has translated well on the court. Jolley scored a team-high 22 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and added four assists and two blocks in an 81-67 semifinals win over Beverly Hills. Perhaps the stat that jumps out most are his assists. Jolley is averaging six assists per game in the playoffs, and the reason is simple: maturity.
“I gotta do whatever I can for us to win,” Jolley said. “When the double and triple team comes I know somebody will make the cut and be wide open.”
Pasadena coach Tim Tucker knows the value of Jolley building early rhythm.
“When he does well inside, that opens it up for Blake Hamilton and Ajon Efferson and other outside players then get going,” Tucker said.
Jolley grew frustrated because of lingering injuries his sophomore year when Pasadena lost to Upland in the second round. In a preseason scrimmage this season, Jolley suffered an ankle sprain and missed the entire Rose City Classic.
“It was rough because that was the tournament I really wanted to play,” he said.
But Jolley’s resilience showed when he stormed back from his injury to earn all-tournament honors in Sacramento and San Diego.
While he’s become an intimidating presence inside, Jolley wants to do more and is already set on what he’ll work on during the offseason.
“I want to work on my dribbling, shooting, getting up the court faster, rebounding,” he said. “Just everything. Strength, jumping ability. That’s all on my mind for the offseason.”
Jolley, who finished his sophomore year with a 3.3 GPA, hopes to improve his mental toughness, and that he carries his heart on his sleeve at times has made it tough.
He’s slowly pulling away from flexing his muscles and blowing kisses to the crowd. But that can prove hard at times, especially when opposing teams chant his name to get in his head, as was the case with Beverly Hills’ student section which serenaded him with “Jolley Rancher” chants on his first trip to the free-throw line. After he converted both free throws, Jolley blew a kiss to the student section. They stopped chanting.
“When I heard that I wanted to tell them, man, they have no idea what they’re feeding into,” Norah recalled.
But there have been much tougher challenges.
When Pasadena lost to Muir in the first meeting, Jolley had to physically be held back near the locker room to avoid confrontation with Muir players. Against Crescenta Valley for a shot to stay alive for the Pacific League title, Jolley pulled his jersey over his head as he walked off the court. After witnessing that emotion, Jolley’s father walked down from the stands to have a word with his son.
“When you see a rant like that from your son you see the good and the bad,” Norah said. “After that CV loss I went down and talked to him, told him he has to find a better way to deal with defeats. He told me I was right, and those words would never have come out of his mouth as a freshman.”
The next game, Jolley was virtually unstoppable with a game-high 28 points along with eight rebounds and two blocks to give Pasadena the kind of momentum it needed to keep a strong hold on the No. 2 seed. He’s dominated throughout the playoffs, too.
“I told coach (Tucker) that this dude is starting to really learn,” Norah said. “He learned so much from a close loss than he would have from a close win.”
Tucker is looking forward to the finished product.
“If his name blows up even more, how far can he go?” Tucker said. “That’ll be interesting for me, to see him reach that huge potential.”
The switch is on, and it looks like for good.