Someone stole the ball and passed it upcourt. Jordan Skipper-Brown picked it up, dribbled and hopped into the air for a layup.
“I noticed my wrist was above (the rim), so I just threw it down,” he said. “I had a lot of adrenaline. I didn’t know what was going on.”
That was the first time Skipper-Brown, who is River Ridge High School’s dynamic forward, dunked a basketball, playing a pickup game at the Comanche Youth Center in Fort Hood, Texas.
He was in sixth grade.
“He’s just an exciting player,” River Ridge forward Kelle Sanders said. “He’s an exciting person to watch play basketball.”
Skipper-Brown started with rim grazers when he was in sixth grade. His elevation increased throughout middle school.
“What do you want me to do next?” he asked Sunday afternoon, cycling through the different ways he can finish above the rim.
Just straight at the basket? An alley-oop? Should he catch it off the backboard this time? How about a spin move, or between the legs? Michael Jordan from the free throw line?
“I think he’s the most athletic high school kid I’ve ever seen,” River Ridge coach John Barbee said. “People are playing year-round basketball and aren’t able to do what he does.”
Skipper-Brown is River Ridge’s most explosive playmaker. His aerial abilities enamor crowds and rally the Hawks’ offense.
“The things that come naturally for him are things you can’t teach or coach,” Barbee said.
Skipper-Brown played pickup basketball with his friends daily at an outdoor court in Killeen, Texas.
His father, Keith, was in the Army at the time and the family was stationed at Fort Hood the summer before he started the sixth grade. They made stops in Georgia, Virginia and Germany prior to that.
“It’s always a struggle for kids to (make) friends, and then have to leave them and start over again, but he adjusted really well,” said Janine Brown, Skipper-Brown’s mother.
He was the new neighborhood kid. His classmates asked him to come play with them at a nearby neighborhood court they called Liberty Court.
“I used to play there every day with my friends, just to pass the time,” Skipper-Brown said.
Before that, he primarily played football. Playing basketball consistently was something new, he said. Something he could get better at.
“I’d still rather play street ball than organized,” Skipper-Brown said.
No time on the clock. Playing outdoors. No penalties for mistakes.
“It’s just natural,” he said.
But his natural ability attracted AAU coaches when he was in middle school.
He didn’t hit a growth spurt until high school — he’s 6-foot-5 now — but his mother said he could always jump high.
Skipper-Brown’s mother, father and grandfather all played basketball. His grandfather, J.C. Skipper Jr., played in college at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
During the summer, Skipper-Brown would work with his grandfather on trips to Arkansas to improve his game.
“He used to have me do a lot,” Skipper-Brown said. “He used to have me go in the pool and do a whole bunch of exercises. It was serious.”
Skipper-Brown played for two different AAU teams when he lived in Texas. That’s when playing organized basketball clicked.
“I actually knew what I was supposed to do, and why I was supposed to do it,” he said.
‘NOBODY CAN DO IT BUT YOU’
Shorecrest upset River Ridge in the Class 2A state quarterfinals last March in Yakima.
Philip Pepple — a towering, 6-7 forward — scored 23 points, and the Hawks dropped to the consolation bracket, eventually leaving the tournament with a fourth-place trophy.
Skipper-Brown, the most dominating inside presence the Hawks have, was academically ineligible and couldn’t make the trip.
“That fueled me, honestly,” he said. “I was mad.”
Trouble with grades sidelined him his sophomore year in Texas, and again last season, his first year at River Ridge.
The difficulty at school eventually cut short his basketball season as a junior.
“I told him, you have to do what you have to do to get back to where you need to be,” Brown said. “There’s nobody that can do it but you. He’s worked himself to the point where (he’s eligible to) play.”
Skipper-Brown turned out for track in the spring — he took sixth in 2A in the high jump, clearing 6-2 — and played on River Ridge’s 2A state quarterfinal football team last fall.
Grades have remained on track throughout the past year.
“It made me want to work hard in the classroom,” Skipper-Brown said. “It made me actually appreciate being out there with my team.”
He’ll go to junior college next year, play basketball, and said he’ll look at his options again in two years.
“I think he wants it,” Barbee said. “It’s a matter of, next year, finding a program that’s going to be able to give him what he wants, and understand where he’s at. …
“He’s one of those kids that his best basketball is in front of him.”
River Ridge is one loss away from playoff elimination, but two wins from a state regional berth.
If Highline, a team that has already topped the ninth-ranked Hawks twice this season, leaves Curtis High School with a win Tuesday night, River Ridge’s season is over.
Skipper-Brown’s season — the only season in high school he’s played varsity start to finish — would be over.
“I’m not coming up short,” he said. “I can’t.”
Losing now would snap a longstanding streak — the Hawks haven’t missed the state playoffs in 10 years.
“It’s very important to me because I’ve never been to state,” Skipper-Brown said. “The one year my grades are up, we’re not going to make it? That’s not going to happen.”
Last weekend, when River Ridge lost a winner-to-state game against Kingston, the road back to Yakima got longer.
Skipper-Brown got home Friday night, frustrated, and set up in his living room after the rest of his family had gone to sleep. He watched the game film three times on Hudl, and took notes.
“I have three pieces of paper,” Skipper-Brown said. “I have what we need to do better. I have information about the next team that we’re playing. And I write down all of my turnovers, mistakes, everything.”
More than ever, perhaps, with River Ridge’s back against the wall, Skipper-Brown is determined to make it to the tournament stage.
“Last year, we were missing that highlight, momentum player,” Sanders said. “This year, he’s kind of stepped into that position.
“Whenever we’re down in a way, he’s a guy to go make a play.”
LIKE A BLAKE GRIFFIN
The slam dunk isn’t actually Skipper-Brown’s favorite part of the game.
“I feel like I’m a Blake Griffin,” he laughed. “People only know me because of dunking.”
Sometimes underplayed is his humility. Skipper-Brown likes rebounding, passing and setting screens.
“There’s a lot of stuff you can do to help. … I like getting everybody else involved,” he said.
He said his mother helped influence his game. She said she impressed upon him that it’s a team sport — no one player can do it alone.
“He doesn’t have that kind of heart to be truly selfish,” Brown said.
Barbee likens Skipper-Brown to a Batman and a Robin. He can take over a game like a Batman, but he also has the selflessness to play a supporting role like a Robin.
But, with River Ridge still fighting to make the state playoffs, perhaps expect a bit more Batman.
“The more he touches the ball, the more jumpy he is,” Sanders said. “The more excitement there is in the game.”
“The momentum changes,” Skipper-Brown said. “When we need something, and I dunk, everything just starts flowing. It opens everything up.”
Even in the moments Skipper-Brown is the superstar — when he makes an impressive block or dunks over defenders — his mind is sometimes on others.
He said his favorite highlight this season was a pair of dunks he had playing against Clover Park.
When he went up for one of them, after chasing the ball down and jumping over another player, he remembered his grandfather who died last year, and the workouts they used to do in the pool in Arkansas.
“He used to have me try to jump out of the water — explosiveness,” Skipper-Brown said. “And it worked.”