Each year there is one player at the John Wall Holiday Invitational who is “the guy.”
He’s the one guy local basketball fans come to see because they know that player is going to put on a show. In recent years the Holiday Invitational has had some quality headliners like Harry Giles, Dennis Smith, Jr., Bam Adebayo and last year’s headliner, UNC freshman guard Coby White.
This year, the guy is future N.C. State guard Jalen Lecque. His Brewster Academy team played Thursday in the nightcap on the second day of the event, defeating Word of God, 66-46, with former Holy Rams point guard and NBA veteran John Wall sitting courtside.
However, the buzz surrounding Lecque started hours before tip-off, and once the game started the 6-4 combo guard wasted little time giving fans at Holliday Gym exactly what they wanted.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Before Lecque and the Bobcats took the floor, the team came out to get taped. While another game was being played, Brewster players were packed in a corner outside their locker room, just past the bench on the home side of the court.
Lecque, arguably the most recognizable face in the tournament this year, didn’t stand a chance once he emerged from the locker room. Within minutes, young basketball fans lined the baseline trying to get an autograph or a photo with Lecque, who signed with N.C. State in November. By comparison, the line for pictures with Wall, who arrived just before Lecque came out, was a lot shorter.
“Yeah,” Lecque said with a laugh when it was brought to his attention. “I did notice that.”
HIGHLIGHT RIGHT AWAY
In the 20-point win over Word of God, Lecque finished with 12 points and two assists in 23 minutes. However, it was his first basket of the game that sent a shockwave through the gym, giving N.C. State fans a glimpse of the kind of player they are getting next season.
With 6:42 showing in the first quarter, Lecque got the ball on the right wing, matched up one-on-one with Holy Rams guard Chase Forte. After a couple of dribbles, Lecque put his head down and drove the lane, where Word of God forward Josiah Shackleford was waiting. Things didn’t end well for the 6-8 Shackleford as Lecque showed off his rare combination of power and athleticism, dunking on Shackleford while drawing the foul.
Because Lecque had a free throw to shoot, it gave the crowd a moment to fully appreciate what they had just seen. Fans jumped out of their seats, including Wall, with some people in attendance running up and down the sidelines, the gym deafening from the roar.
For many it was a highlight-reel play, SportsCenter Top 10 worthy. To Brewster Academy head coach Jason Smith, it was routine.
“Yeah, everyday,” Smith said about the dunk and how Lecque does things like that in practice all the time. “I’ve had some athletic freaks over the years, Donovan Mitchell, Will Barton. Both of them have been in the NBA dunk contest but Jalen is the most athletic guy, it’s not even close. He would be a freak in the NBA with his athleticism. Donovan is considered a high-level athlete in the NBA and Jalen is on a whole different level.”
Mitchell, in his second year with the Utah Jazz, played two years at Brewster and won the 2018 NBA Dunk Contest. Lecque has earned the nickname ‘Baby Westbrook’ for his play, which resembles that of NBA guard Russell Westbrook, and his ability to put bigger players on a poster with powerful dunks.
The in-game dunk doesn’t even compare to some of the things Lecque did doing pregame warmups, and by the time he was done, fans were standing two-deep on the baseline and surrounding the court just to watch him warm up.
“I just like to be an exciting player,” Lecque said. “I don’t like to watch boring basketball, so when you’re exciting and giving emotion and showing that you really care about the game people are going to care. That’s all I do is give emotion.”
THE FIFTH BEATLE?
Lecque tried to downplay it as much as he could. He played in the John Wall last year with Christ School, getting his first taste of the kind of atmosphere the Holiday Invitational provides.
Last year, future Duke forward Vernon Carey and White were the big names, with Lecque coming in a bit under the radar. By the time he left Raleigh, basketball fans in the Triangle couldn’t stop talking about “Baby Westbrook.”
After a successful summer playing with NIKE EYBL team Renaissance, averaging 14.2 points a game, Lecque announced that he was transferring to Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H. The Bobcats play a national schedule, and no matter where they play, fans line up to see Lecque.
“We opened up in the Bahamas this year and there was a lot of attention there for him,” Smith said. “We go on the road he’s like another Beatle, taking pictures and signing things for kids. He’s handled it like a true professional, very mature, doesn’t get an ego or anything like that.”
Lecque said the line for autographs was exciting. He’s still an 18 year-old and things like that make him realize just how far he has come, adding “a couple of years ago people didn’t know who I was.”
Just a few feet away from the autograph seekers was his future coach, the Pack’s Kevin Keatts. By the time the second half started, seven members of the N.C. State basketball team had made their way inside Holliday Gym to watch their future running mate.
“They told me they were going to come,” Lecque said. “I told them that they came late because we were already winning, so they missed it. They saw the highlights and they will come another day.”
RALEIGH HIS FUTURE HOME
By his own admission, Lecque is a boring person. Since he’s been in Raleigh he’s spent most of his time in the team hotel, focusing on the games. Other than coming to the gym, he hasn’t been out and about much, but he says he loves Raleigh.
When he came down for his official visit to N.C. State, Lecque said he fell in love with the school. It was his trip to play in the John Wall last year that he gave him his first taste of Wolfpack fans and how passionate they are about their hoops.
Smith said he wanted to play in this tournament, not only because Lecque will be attending N.C. State next season, but also because of all the former Brewster players from this area, including T.J. Warren, Thomas Allen and Michael Okauru. Lecque is the big name this season, but doesn’t feel the pressure to carry the show the next few days.
“It’s not really pressure, it’s excitement,” Lecque said. “It’s a wonderful crowd here and I just wanted to show them what I’m made of, and coming in here next year it’s a great opportunity to show them a little glimpse of what I can do.”
Before he signed with N.C. State, there was some talk that Lecque might test the NBA waters. He earned his high school diploma at Christ School, meeting all NCAA requirements, but went to Brewster as a post-graduate student. Over the summer, Lecque said the NBA was something you “keep in the back of your mind” and if he was considered a first-round pick, it’s something he would have to think about next spring.
So far this season, though, the NBA talk hasn’t come up, Smith said.
“He hasn’t mentioned it once to me. He hasn’t mentioned the NBA,” Smith said. “We’ve had 14 different (NBA) teams see us play this year, because they can see us because we have fifth-year guys. He’s never once mentioned it. He’s never been concerned or even acknowledged (them). You know who’s a scout when they come to the games, but in his eyes it’s probably the same type of deal as college coaches when he was going through the recruiting process; playing in front of college coaches, now he’s playing in front of NBA teams.”