In early January, an unhappy Jabari Brown left the Findlay Prep basketball team and returned to Oakland, Calif., to finish high school.
“I felt like I needed to go home,” he said. “I just didn’t feel like it was the best situation for me individually as a player.”
But Brown had some unfinished business in Las Vegas, and he attended to it Sunday night by picking up the Most Valuable Player award in the Fab 48 tournament at Bishop Gorman High School.
Brown had a game-high 19 points to lead the Drew Gooden Soldiers to the championship with an 86-66 victory over the Iowa Barnstormers.
Rivals.rom ranks Brown, a 6-foot-4-inch guard, among the top 15 players in the class of 2011. He scored 15 points to carry the Soldiers to a 43-31 halftime lead.
“It was nice coming back. It was definitely nice to go out with a championship. We wanted to go out with a bang,” Brown said. “It’s an honor to be MVP on a team with all these great players.”
The best player in the gym was watching from the stands. NBA star LeBron James of the Miami Heat showed up just before tipoff.
Soldiers guard Nick Johnson, who will be a Findlay Prep senior, said he and his teammates were more inspired to win with James in the crowd.
“There was probably a few people nervous. I wasn’t really nervous. I’ve played in front of (James) a few times,” Johnson said. “(Coach) said, ‘We’ve got to get this one done. We’ve got to show off for him.’
“I think I played pretty well. All I care about was winning this tournament.”
Johnson dunked four times and finished with 16 points and eight assists. After Johnson’s dunk put the Soldiers up 70-50 with about eight minutes to go, James and his eight-person entourage exited.
Seth Tuttle, a 6-9 forward committed to Northern Iowa, had 16 points to lead the Barnstormers.
Brown shot 6-for-9 from the field, including 3-for-5 on 3-pointers, for the Soldiers. He also hit all four free throws.
Kyle Wiltjer scored 16 points and Brandon Ashley had 15 for the Soldiers, who rolled through the tournament with Brown and Johnson leading the way.
“I’ve played with Jabari for about 2 1/2 years now, and I think we keep on getting better playing together,” Johnson said. “He played great. He’s one of the best shooters in the country, in my opinion.”
Contact sports reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 702-387-2907