Thunder Strikes Irvine

In a small, tastefully decorated room inside the Pelican Hill’s Golf Course grill, three young reporters and a few photographers gather halfway around a semicircle table with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s head coach, Scott Brooks, somewhere near the middle. The atmosphere seems too casual for such an intimate session with a huge figure in the world of professional basketball, but that is the type of media session Coach Brooks encourages. This opportunity for casual coversation with Coach Brooks was presented thanks to the 3rd Annual Scott Brooks Golf Invitational benefiting UC Irvine Athletics. NBA Coach Scott Brooks stands at a height slightly above average and walks with ease. His presence is relaxed, his handshake firm and his eyes shine an intense blue that flicker as the cameras flash and he tells of the opportunities that changed his life.ScottBrooks_MarlinAgoubStaff

Having graduated high school from a city at the top of the San Juaquin Valley, and being only offered a walk-on spot at close-by University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, Scott Brooks spent one year playing at Texas Christian University. He then returned home to play one year at San Juaquin Delta community college. In 1985 young Scotty was recruited by then headcoach of UC Irvine Men’s Basketball, Bill Mulligan. The recuitment trip is Brooks favorite memory from UCI; being picked up by Coach Mulligan, the man he describes as energetic, fun to be around, yet tough. Coach Mulligan showed Brooks around campus, and he was sold.

When asked by a reporter “Why come back to UCI after all these years? Why stay so involved?”  Coach Scott Brooks responded without hesitation. “It gave me a great opportunity. I cannot turn my back on that opportunity  [UCI] gave me in the 80’s. If it wasn’t for UC Irvine giving me an atheletic scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college,” and to Scott Brooks, this is reason enough to continue to support UC Irvine Atheletics. His only regret? “I wasn’t able to be here since my freshmen year, but I take a lot of pride in being an Anteater (proverbial zot zot).”

UC Irvine jumpstarted Brooks’ basketball career because he was drafted to his favorite underdog team growing up, the Philidelphia 76ers. After two years with the 76ers, Brooks jumped basketball teams quite a bit: there was the year with the Timberwolves, the Rockets, the Mavs, the Knicks and finally the Cavaliers a few years before he turned to coaching in 2000. Brooks notes his former position as a point guard as the most formal training for becoming a coach, “It gave me the mindset to be a coach when I was still a player because I had to know every position, every play, every situation, how many timeouts. I had to understand what the coaches wanted on the floor.” But off the floor and into the locker rooms, what impact does Scott Brooks want to leave as a coach?

“The biggest impact I could have with our team is just continue to respect the game and respect each other,” he explains.

“Coaching,” he said, “Is something that I always wanted to do. The life of a coach is a grind every day. But if you love what you do, you really don’t know the difference between working and playing.”

Scott Brooks has been coaching professional basketball for 13 years and between trade deadlines, preseason and regular season, Coach Brooks hasn’t caught an Anteater game in the Bren Events Center in over a decade, “I’m looking forward to it one day, doing that, but it’s kind of weird saying that because if I do come back, it probably means I don’t have a job,” he laughs. Unless, of course, Scott Brooks comes back to UCI as a coach. Although he hasn’t been present for a homegame in over ten years, Brooks consistently follows Anteater basketball, “UC Irvine is my only team,” he adds, “I love watching basketball. It is a great sport.”

Scott Brooks has an undeniable love of the game, one that reminds me of my own father who was coaching UCI women’s basketball at the time Brooks was a student-athlete. After 30 plus years of coaching my father has finally retired to high school freshmen boys basketball, so what does Coach Brooks think of his own retirement? Possibly returning to his alum and never missing another game at the Bren Events Center?

“I’m not sure. I love the NBA. I love coaching players at the highest level, but I love the spirit of college athletics.” We may not have all the glitz and glam of professional basketball and not nearly as many TV timeouts but Coach Brooks makes a great point, “It is such an authentic form of sport.” He allows for the idea to roominate. “If the offer presents itself, then maybe I could be Coach Russel’s assistant coach.”

You hear that, Coach Russel? I believe a presentation is in order.