Scott Brooks Invitational

Scott Brooks remembers where he came from. He remembers a 1994 NBA Championship with the Houston Rockets alongside Hakeem Olajuwan. He remembers winning just 32 percent of his games as a rookie coach in 2008-09 with the Oklahoma City Thunder; the 2010 NBA Coach of the Year Award that he garnered one season later after turning a Kevin Durant-led team into a 50-win playoff contender; the 2012 NBA Championship loss to LeBron James and the Miami Heat; and he certainly remembers his two seasons as an Anteater.

For the second straight year, the Oklahoma City Thunder coach lent his name and support to the UCI/Scott Brooks Golf Invitational on Sept. 18. Having shifted from Oak Creek Golf Club to The Resort at Pelican Hill, widespread excitement strikes the UC Irvine Athletic Department when Brooks is back in town.

“He’s the best person to represent the university and athletic program of anybody I know … anybody,” Otto Reyer, the tournament’s co-chair, said of Brooks.

Reyer is a former UCI administrator who convinced Athletic Director Mike Izzi to name the invitational that annually raises funds to support student-athlete scholarships after a man who scored 43 points in the first game ever played at the Bren Events Center.

“Last year was at Oak Creek, this year at Pelican, next year will be both courses at Pelican,” Reyer said, prideful that the 2012 event sold out. “The following year we will do both courses [at Pelican] morning and afternoon, with an evening the night before in the Bren [Events] Center with the golfers on the floor for dinner and the rest of the stadium opens up after dinner for entertainment that is spectacular and people will pay $150 a ticket, because it’s deductable. That’s what we’re going to do, because of him [Brooks].”

Donning a UCI emblem on his blue cap and over his heart on a collared golf shirt, Brooks said that he keeps in contact with UCI men’s basketball Coach Russell Turner, a former assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors.

“I text Russ,” Brooks said. “I know in basketball we’ve had some down years (at UCI), but I think Russell is doing a great job … I see the program heading in the right direction.”

With 36 foursomes on the course last Tuesday, Brooks rode a cart from hole to hole to greet each participant. Every player had a chance to speak with a man who still ranks No. 4 in UCI history in career steals (123), despite playing just two seasons in Irvine. Brooks still holds the school record for career free-throw percentage at .859 (220 of 256).

“It’s impressive coming back,” Brooks said. “Just to see the student-athletes and to know you’re doing something good for them makes it worthwhile. But just seeing them, they’re so energetic, they have so much enthusiasm and you can just see that they appreciate what we do for them.”

Having signed a four-year contract extension with Oklahoma City recently, Brooks is committed to the long-term future of the Thunder while holding the Anteaters near and dear to his heart. When the Anteaters eventually make an NCAA Tournament appearance, Brooks made it clear that everyone in the NBA will know about it from him.

In June, Brooks and the Thunder lost a five game series to the Miami Heat in his first championship appearance as a coach. Up the 5 freeway, a new big three has been concocted with additions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Brooks knows that his team will continue to have to play the game, not the opponent, and take things one game at a time. He refers to the Thunder as being one of the teams in the mix to compete for the Western Conference Finals, but knows that the depth in the West will make it tough for his team to repeat.

“Out of the 36 foursomes out there, there were probably 144 Lakers fans,” Brooks said of the fans on the course, admitting that his kids don’t like the team in purple and gold.

“I like long summers,” Brooks said, hinting at his desire to return to the NBA Finals in 2013.

In the past three seasons, Brooks has taken the team formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics to the postseason thrice. The Thunder have improved each season, having been eliminated in the first round in 2010, then the Western Conference Finals in 2011 and in the NBA Championship in 2012.

“It was pretty impressive to be involved in the NBA Finals. It was overwhelming at times, but it was pretty cool,” Brooks said.

And as for the big three in Miami: “Unfortunately, if you turn on NBA TV, it’s on replay all the time. I’m tired of seeing it, okay they won. We really played well to get there, but Miami played well to beat us. LeBron (James) was on another level.  He’s one of the best players we’ll ever see.”

25 years ago, Brooks last played for the Anteaters. He now has two children. Chance is 16 and Lexi is 12. He and the family come back to California each summer and pass through the UCI campus from time to time. At age 47, Brooks admits that he’s putting off his next game of one-on-one with Chance, a 6-foot-3-inch high school basketball player and golfer, because of a sore calf.

“I always tell him, ‘Chance, you have no chance to beat me in one-on-one,’” Brooks said, laughing.

“My kids know that I’m very proud of UCI. I tell everybody that I wish Coach (Bill) Mulligan would have recruited me out of high school. I would have loved to have spent four years here. It’s a great place to go to school, it’s a great place to live, and athletics is only going to get better.”