Fenwick’s A.J. Braun shoulders the load for Falcons: ‘He’s meant everything to the team’

Fenwick’s A.J. Braun (20) makes a move toward the basket during a game against Clinton-Massie last season. ROB MCCULLEY/RAM PHOTOGRAPHY
Fenwick’s A.J. Braun (20) makes a move toward the basket during a game against Clinton-Massie last season. ROB MCCULLEY/RAM PHOTOGRAPHY

Fenwick High School first-year boys basketball coach Kelven Moss knew junior center A.J. Braun would thrive in his system this season.

Moss saw what the 6-foot-9 player could bring to the floor, and he hasn’t been surprised by anything Braun has done so far.

Braun heads into Friday’s game against Purcell Marian ranked second in the Greater Catholic League Co-Ed in scoring with 19.0 points per game and leads the league in rebounds (9.8 per game) and blocks (2.8). The Falcons (5-8, 2-6 GCLC) have won four out of their last six as Braun leads the way.

»RELATED: Thursday’s high school roundup

“It didn’t surprise me he would have those numbers because of the system I put in and how I wanted to market and expose his skill set to prepare him for the next level,” Moss said. “I’ve mostly just been impressed with his mental state carrying the load, playing the minutes he has. He’s worked hard to prepare and he hardly sits. He does a lot for a guy of his size and he never drops off. He’s meant everything to the team.”

Just halfway through his junior season, Braun has already set the GCLC all-time career block record. The previous record was 91, and with his fifth block Tuesday in a win over Lebanon, he moved into first on the list at 92 blocks.

Braun has always helped the Falcons in that regard, but now he’s leading the team in just about every statistical category. Last year, he averaged 12.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore while now-graduated forward C.J. Napier led the team in scoring and rebounding with similar numbers to what Braun is putting up now.

“I just try to lead the way for everyone else and set a good example for others to follow,” Braun said. “I’m just there to do whatever I can to help my team.”

With a young team this year (there are just three seniors), someone was going to have to step up and be “that guy,” Braun said, and he embraced the challenge.

Moss said while Braun carries the load, he also shows great belief in the team and recognizes he needs his teammates just as much as they need him. But, when the Falcons need a basket, defensive stop or rebound, Braun isn’t afraid to step up and take control.

“He’s very skilled for a big, and the pressure doesn’t bother him,” Moss said. “He’s going to do whatever he can for the team. He’s a team-first guy. Whatever is going to lessen the load for others and help us win he’s going to do it.”

The Falcons especially looked to Braun through a tough start to the season, as they dropped their first five games while transitioning to Moss’ style and coaching philosophies.

Braun continued putting up double digit points, and as opponents saw the need to start double- and triple-teaming him, he also had to adjust his own game. Now, he’s expanded his shooting range and even getting the freedom to dribble a little more after he grabs a defensive rebound. As someone who aspires to play in college, Braun was going to need to improve in those areas anyway.

“It’s a big transition from the different coaching styles, but I feel like we’re starting to understand what he wants from us, getting more comfortable with what he wants us to do,” Braun said. “They are preparing me and anyone else looking to play at the college level, giving us situations we can learn from, giving us the inside tip for what we need to know for next level.”

Ohio University gave Braun his first offer, but there is interest from other Division I schools as well.

Braun said he tries not to worry about that too much and just wants to keep focusing on helping his team and improving individually. He has his sights set on becoming a GCLC Player of the Year before he graduates and wants to carry Fenwick as far as possible come tournament time.

“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better from last year to this year, and I feel like I can make another jump and do even bigger things next year,” he said.

Fenwick will be counting on Braun to keep doing big things this season, though, especially with important conference games against Purcell Marian, Badin and Alter filling out the next games on the schedule. Purcell Marian beat Fenwick 63-56 in the opener Dec. 3, and Badin won 66-55 as part of the Falcons’ five-game losing streak to start the season. They bounced back with a big win over Monroe before falling by eight points to Alter, but now Moss believes they are starting to turn a corner.

“They are buying in, growing,” Moss said. “Our first four or five games, we had opportunities, but we are young and didn’t know how to close games. They are managing games and competing at a high level. We are coaching them up and hoping we continue to turn the corner.”

In Other News