Brunson averaged 27.5 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists and 5 steals in the championship season. He obliterated Connie St. Pierre’s single-season Salem High scoring record by 287 points, piling up 734 points for the year. With one season left at Salem, he already had 1,326 career points.
There was plenty of solid, well-coached talent surrounding Brunson. Jimenez, who could be an explosive scorer if Brunson had an off night, gave the Witches 17 points and 6 rebounds per game, and the unheralded Giardi averaged 10 points, 11 rebounds (he had 19 boards in the title game against Gardner) and 3 steals. Point guard Erik Leibowitz, who had big shoes to fill when Hammonds graduated and moved on to Division 2 Merrimack College, finished with 12.9 points, 9.5 assists, 6 steals and 2 rebounds per game. George McDonald, who started at center, had a nifty touch around the basket and fit in with everything the Witches did. Current Salem coach Tommy Doyle provided deadly outside shooting, and Fritz was another spark who was part of the rotation.
O’Brien was the young, energetic and dynamic coach who put all the pieces together. After compiling a remarkable 131-30 record in seven Salem seasons, he would move on to Charlestown and win four consecutive state titles. But at Salem, it helped that Brunson was a well-adjusted star who remained humble to the end. O’Brien never had to worry about him.
“We had something special going those years,” said Doyle. “Coach O’Brien had his own focus every day and wouldn’t allow us to look at the big picture, even though we dreamed about it the way kids do. And Brunson just relished his increased role and all the challenges. I remember my father would open up the Bates School gym so he could go in there and practice. We took our (cue) from him.”
“I was the second option on offense — and that was fine with me,” said Jimenez, 41, who now lives in Beverly. “We were very fortunate to have the great Rick Brunson; he was willing and able to carry the load. He created opportunities for the rest of us and we took advantage of it.”