SPRING VALLEY — Rachel Fanning had a pretty good idea her youngest son Brett was going to be a basketball player when he was still in diapers.
“Basketball was the first thing he crawled for when he was six months old. He always had a basketball,” she said. “We got him a Little Tykes hoops for his first birthday and hung it on the front door and that’s all he ever did, crawl along the floor and put the ball in the hoop.
“He had a nook in his mouth and a ball in his hand.”
The Fannings always had a basket of some sort at every level of their house and several hoops in the driveway that Fanning and his older brother, Gregg, wore out over the years, along with pitch-backs for baseball.
“We had at least four or five baskets before we finally invested in a permanent one. A couple of them are still laying in the backyard,” said Todd Fanning, Brett’s father.
That driveway hoop, complete with an overhanging spotlight to allow for nighttime shooting, is where Fanning honed his game for the Hall Red Devils, routinely shooting 500 free throws a day before the season.
He recently wrapped up his Hall career with a stellar senior season, leading the Red Devils in scoring (21.3 ppg), rebounding (5.4 rpg), steals (1.7 spg), three-point shots (51) and free throw percentage (.817).
The 5-10 guard received Tri-County All-Conference and Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Special Mention honors. He now caps his career as the 2012-13 BCR Player of the Year, the fifth Red Devil to earn that honor since 1987.
The Iowa Street neighborhood of Spring Valley near the banks of the Illinois River has produced a lot of top talent for Hall High School with the Fanning boys and next-door neighbors Jason Burkiewicz, the girls’ basketball coach at Annawan, football standout Barry Rush and basketball great Shawn Jeppson.
While he was just three years old when Jeppson was finishing his legendary career at Hall, the younger Fanning once was able to take on the Red Devil great in a game of basketball years later.
“I challenged him once walking home. He took it easy on me and still killed me,” Fanning said.
Jeppson, the 1998 BCR and AP Class A Player of the Year, stands as the all-time leading scorer at Hall with 1,829 career points; the little neighbor kid stands No. 2 with 1,238, passing Rollie Himes, who played from 1972-95, in his final games at regionals.
Hall coach Mike Filippini knew he had special talent when he first brought Fanning up to the varsity during his sophomore season. The Red Devil coach soon learned he would have a horse to ride the next two seasons and so did everyone who played the Red Devils.
“Brett was the leading scorer in 27 of our 28 games when everybody in the gym was trying to stop him. Hard to put up the numbers he did when he saw the best defensive player on every team and every night,” Filippini said.
Things didn’t necessarily come easy for Fanning in practice either as Filippini always put Landon Piccatto, the quickest kid on the team to guard him.
“Made me practice getting open and working without the ball. That helped me a lot,” Fanning said.
The slick, 5-10 guard could knock down the three ball (51 for the year) with 38-percent accuracy. But he was probably best at slicing and dicing his way to the hoop with his dribble drive, able to shoot over the tall timber inside. He says he was taught by his father, his fifth and sixth-grade coach, not to settle for long shots.
“I always learned to go hard with my left or right hand whichever way they’re forcing me,” he said. “You want to make a move first, get separation, then make your cut to the basket. If they’re not playing up on you, you should have enough separation to get a shot off.”
He also had a special knack for drawing fouls and was money in the bank from the free-throw line, averaging 7.1 points a game from the charity stripe alone with a 82 percent clip (197-241). He has once made 74 free throws in a row at practice and got kicked out of the March Madness Experience in Peoria at State after making 34 free throws in a row so they could give the next guy in line a chance to shoot.
Filippini said scoring is not all that Fanning brought to the floor with him.
“Brett also made himself into a very good defender his senior year, which is what I was most proud of him,” the Red Devil coach said. “He was a great role model for our team not only because of his basketball skill but the way he carried himself in the school as well.”
Proud as a Peacock
Fanning will suit up in Hall colors one more time to play in Saturday’s Illinois Valley All-Star Game at Putnam County High School. Then he will concentrate on his first love, baseball. First up will be the spring season for the Red Devils and then next year, he will head to Upper Iowa University in Fayette, Iowa, to pitch for the Division II Peacocks.
He doesn’t see time to play both sports and doesn’t know if he belongs in college basketball.
“I’m a little too short, don’t jump high enough and not quick enough. A lot of those kids play basketball year-round. They play 24-7,” he said.
But he will always have time to play some basketball on his driveway hoop and maybe next time, he can beat Shawn Jeppson ... maybe.