By John Crumpacker, WCC Columnist | @CrumpackerOnWCC
SANTA CLARA, Ca. -- When a certain Santa Clara basketball player talks about "Long Walks With Jared," he's not referring to some online dating profile. Nope. It's literal in every sense and not a bit romantic.
Sophomore guard Jared Brownridge is a personable sort with the gift of gab, so Michelle Young, the school's assistant athletic director for public relations, thought he would be a perfect EYEBRONCO reporter working out of the sports information department.
"He wanted to do something that would showcase his personality,'' Young said. "It's so much fun to work with him because he has such an engaging personality. I think it's been really good for him. His parents love it. It's a different outlet for his personality.''
"Long Walks With Jared" is exactly that, Brownridge conducting a walk-and-talk interview around campus while being shot by two other students armed with HD cameras. Brownridge has done two strolling interviews so far. WCC Commissioner Lynn Holzman is on his list of upcoming interviews.
"She said, `I'd love to do it,' `' Young said after tweeting back and forth with the Commish.
Brownridge wants to pursue some form of communications career when he's done playing basketball, so "Long Walks With Jared'' is something practical he can put on his nascent resume when the time comes.
"It's a beautiful campus,'' he said. "We go around campus to different places and walk and talk. Michelle and the people who work for her do the recording and make us look good. I really love speaking with people. I really enjoy doing it.
"I want to play basketball as long as I can but after that, anything with talking I like to do.''
While friends and family back in suburban Chicago are bracing for another frigid winter, Brownridge is enjoying the mild climate while excelling in basketball. He's coming off what was probably the finest freshman season ever by a Santa Clara player in 2013-14, when he averaged a team-leading 17.2 points per game.
Among freshman players at the six Bay Area Div. I schools (Santa Clara, San Francisco, Saint Mary's, San Jose State, California and Stanford), only Cal's Shareef Abdur-Rahim in 1995-96 scored more points, 590, than Brownridge's 567.
Moreover, Brownridge and backcourt mate Brandon Clark (16.9) were the highest-scoring duo in the WCC a season ago.
"Of course it's special,'' Brownridge said. "With him (Clark) being a senior, it will be even more special if we can win a lot of games. Our job every night is to bring what we can and make our team better.''
Keating said he'll be looking for Brownridge to continue to develop his game while taking on a greater leadership role this season.
"It's going to be a growth period for him,'' coach Kerry Keating said of Brownridge. "He did such a good job of establishing his identity last year. Now there's no hiding it. Teams have a chance to game-plan against him.''
Brownridge found himself in foul trouble in Santa Clara's opener on Friday against Cal State Fullerton. He was limited to 18 minutes and scored just nine points. That was no problem with Keating.
"This is a good game for him,'' Keating said. "We were able to win and he had some adversity. He's going to see it all year long. There's a process he's going through that he's going to have to learn to handle properly. We want to let it evolve naturally.''
Brownridge said one of his goals for this season is "to get my assists up. Defenses are going to be drawing in on me, so I have to get my assists up because other teams are going to be keying on me.''
The story of how Brownridge, from Aurora, Ill., outside Chicago, ended up in Santa Clara is a pretty simple one, based on his desire to see another part of the country and being seen by the right coach during the recruiting process.
Former Keating assistant Dustin Kerns, now associate head coach at Wofford in South Carolina, was beating the bushes on the Broncos' behalf when he spotted Brownridge the summer after his sophomore year in high school.
"Dustin liked him,'' Keating said. "He followed up and went out to Chicago and started recruiting him.''
For his part, Brownridge said, "This was the only West Coast school that offered me (a scholarship). All the other schools were in the Midwest. I thought it would be good to get another view of the country, and also, Santa Clara is known for academics and I liked that.''
Brownridge said a number of schools in the Missouri Valley Conference were interested in him but the Broncos won out.
"I'm glad to be out here,'' he said. "I hear it's snowing (in Chicago) already. I kind of miss it.''
But not that much. A mild climate makes "Long Walks With Jared'' much more pleasant, after all. Keating at first worried that the video project would be a distraction for Brownridge but soon relented, figuring that, too, is part of the talented sophomore's learning process.
"Jared is such a humble kid,'' the coach said. "He cares so much about his teammates. It's how he was raised. He's as good as you want someone to be. He's been raised right by his mom and dad. The messages his mom sends to me are fantastic. She checks on him. She engages me. She does a good job of checking on him.''
With only three Californians on his roster and none from the Bay Area, Keating has been thrust into the role of a surrogate parent for the other 11 players on his team. The last one Keating worries about is Brownridge.
"People respect him because he respects them,'' Keating said. "He has an unbelievable level of humility. All leaders have it.''
For now, Keating is waiting for Brownridge to have that "ah-ha!'' moment when he realizes how good he truly can be.
"It's going to be a matter of when that light comes on,'' the coach said. "It's not on yet. When it comes on, it's going to be special.''
Perhaps it will happen during a Long Walk With Jared.
John Crumpacker spent more than three decades working at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. During his career he has covered the full gamut of sports from prep to professionals. Most recently, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for Cal through the end of the 2013-14 season. In addition to covering 10 Olympic Games, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a two-time winner of the Track & Field Writers of America annual writing award and has several APSE Top 10 writing awards.