Check this Anteater Nation, one of UC Irvine’s very own is making a name for himself in the National Basketball Association.
I know what you are thinking. UCI’s basketball team has never made the NCAA Tournament; it hasn’t even won its own conference tournament. How does it have a player making a name for himself in the NBA?
The truth is, we don’t. We have a coach.
Former Anteater Scott Brooks (’87) is currently the interim coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Brooks won the job after P.J. Carlesimo was fired after the team went 1-12 to begin the season in their new hometown. Brooks hasn’t completely changed the team since he took over, but he has done enough to possibly remove the “interim” from his coaching label.
The Thunder has won 10 games under Brooks, but has lost 24 as well. However, half of the losses have been by six points or fewer including two buzzer beaters.
Considering the history of the Thunder franchise over the past couple of years, Brooks has made significant strides. The Thunder was formerly known as the Seattle Super Sonics. Poor fan support, a struggling team and organization forced the owners to relocate the team to Oklahoma City, where the New Orleans Hornets received tremendous support in their temporary move there during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
The city adopted the struggling team, and Brooks and company are giving them hope.
Players have raved about his locker room presence and leadership, and the organization has taken notice.
“The Oklahoman” reported that they would evaluate Brooks and his staff over the remainder of the season and then decide on whether or not to hire him as the full-time coach.
“We are pleased with the job that Scott has done,” said Sam Presti, the general manager of the Thunder. “He has shown a great commitment to the Thunder and has brought energy to the task at hand. Scott and I are constantly communicating, and we’re both really focused on our players and the continued growth of the team. As we have discussed, we will evaluate the next steps for the Thunder at the end of the season.”
Jeff Green, the Sonics 2007 fifth overall pick, reiterated the front offices views.
“The way we’re playing now is the best we’ve played throughout the whole season,” Green said. “He’s gotten us to the point where we can play against any team. But he’s just been positive … I think he’s worked hard for the spot if he gets it, so my vote is behind him.”
Aside from changing the mood of the young team, Brooks made one crucial change in the line-up that has paid immense dividends. He switched 2007 second overall pick Kevin Durant from shooting guard to small forward. Durant has scored at least 21 points in all but five games since switching to the position on the first day of Brooks promotion.
In January, Durant has averaged at least 27 points and eight rebounds. Yes, eight rebounds! At small forward, Durant can use his 6 feet 10 frame to leap over opponents and get better looks. He is shooting an impressive 47.3 percent from the field, and an even more impressive 41.6 percent from three-point range. He was snubbed a selection to the All Star game, but ESPN’s Bill Simmons dubbed Durant the most underrated player in the game.
Along with Durant, Russell Westbrook and Green have developed into the players that the Thunder front office had hoped for. Originally, both were suspect picks and Green was almost deemed a bust last season, but hard work and guidance from Brooks has the team believing.
Forget the Thunder for now, they are a year or two away from being contenders. How did Brooks get here?
After spending his first two collegiate basketball seasons at Texas Christian University and San Joaquin Delta College, Brooks transferred to UCI where he averaged 23.8 points his senior year. He was inducted to the UCI Hall of Fame in 2001.
Brooks was not known for a lightning quick defensive style, but for his lights-out shooting. He was able to create good looks even with his small 5 feet 10 inch frame. He went undrafted, but then signed with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1988. He enjoyed a 10-year NBA career and played for teams like the 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Dallas Mavericks, Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and the Houston Rockets.
He was also the backup to Kenny Smith and Sam Cassell of the 1994 NBA Champion Houston Rockets.
Brooks began his coaching career as a head coach in the ABA, but then got hired as an assistant for the Denver Nuggets in 2003. He then joined the Sacramento Kings as an assistant in 2006, and the Sonics in 2007.
I was unable to get a hold of Coach Brooks for this piece. I am sure he is busy with his hectic NBA schedule, and garnering more media attention with his continued success.
The Swagger hopes to conduct a question and answer with Coach Brooks next week so look forward to the possibility of that.
In the meantime, show your support for the man who shot lights out for UCI, and who is bringing the Thunder to every NBA city.
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