Fort Wayne native Keion Brooks Jr. has always been the type of person that wasn’t afraid to carve out his own path. In fact, some would say Brooks has taken the path that is less traveled.
Heading into his senior season, Brooks was tabbed as a front runner for the prestigious Indiana Mr. Basketball award. After three standout seasons at Fort Wayne North Side, Brooks decided to leave his roots and move two hours up the road to Laporte, Indiana in order to attend La Lumiere. The prep powerhouse has produced a number of very good players, but is also known for being in an area that is off the beaten path.
For Brooks, the decision wasn’t an easy one as it would cause him to leave his family and friends, but the decision would prove to be a good one as it truly pushed him to better himself as both a player and a person.
“I feel like one of the main reasons for the move to La Lumiere was to help me become more comfortable with being away from home. I love hanging with my brothers and my family, but I couldn’t do that all the time with being two hours away,” said Brooks Jr. “Another big thing was the every day grind of waking up and being pushed to be better by everybody that’s around you. Stuff like that is what really helped me out with being away from home.”
As the months passed and La Lumiere was in the midst of a season in which it went 30-1 and finished as the national runner up, Brooks also had to make an even more difficult decision on what his next move would be. Brooks was pursued heavily by the likes of North Carolina and Michigan State, and of course those in the Hoosier State were clamoring for the Fort Wayne native to stay home and play for Indiana.
Brooks eventually arrived at a decision and decided to take his talents to Kentucky. It may have not been the most popular decision at the time, but the Fort Wayne native felt he had to get out of his comfort zone and decided that John Calipari was the coach that could help him do that.
“He (Calipari) pushes me a lot. Coach Cal always says it’s his job to make us uncomfortable. If we’re comfortable, then he’s not pushing us to our full extent,” said Brooks Jr. “I don’t think he’s a hard coach to play for. If he sees that you’re working hard, then he’s going to give you the opportunity to go out and show what you’ve been working on.”
Brooks spent his summer in Lexington, and that gave him a bit of a taste for what it is going to be like once things get rolling. Brooks will be the first to admit that his summer wasn’t always easy, but the versatile forward felt like he came out better because of it.
“It’s not always easy and can be a struggle at times, especially when you’ve been doing something one way your whole life and you go to college and your being told you can’t do that anymore,” said Brooks Jr. “I just try to go in every day, listen to the coaching staff and be receptive to everything they’re telling me because they have a good track record and know what they’re doing.”
The Fort Wayne forward’s versatility and good size for his position should give him more ways to make an impact as a freshman. Brooks made a lot of improvement with his outside shot during his time at La Lumiere, and is very good when working out of the mid to high post. The Fort Wayne native gets off the floor rather well, and had his fair share of big plays above the rim during his prep career.
“He’s (John Calipari) talked about moving me around and using me in different places whether that’s being a ball handler, being able to guard numerous positions, or playing different positions on the wing,” said Brooks Jr. “He really wants me to be able to run like a deer, get out in transition and score, and he really likes the way I can shoot the ball as well.”
Brooks is solid at putting the ball on the deck, but he admits that he is improving when it comes to making decisions when the ball isn’t in his hands. That is simply something that comes with age, and is usually a bit of an adjustment for most freshman when they reach the collegiate level.
“I’m used to being able to catch the ball and take my time before making a move to score, and now I have to think on the fly and read the defense before the ball touches my hand,” said Brooks Jr. “It’s a big difference. Once you let the defense set up and allow the help side to come, then it’s a lot more difficult to score and get into the lane. Where as if you attack once you get the ball, then you make life a lot easier for yourself and your teammates.”
For Brooks, it gives him some comfort knowing that he’s not the only one that is facing the adjustment to the collegiate level. With the way John Calipari builds his roster, there are going to be a number of players that are all going through this thing for the first time, and that togetherness has been a big thing that has kept the Fort Wayne native pushing each day.
“It’s great to have a good group of freshman coming in and newcomers like Nate (Sestina) as well. You can look to your left or your right and you see your teammates having a hard time because it’s their first time going through it too. It’s always a good thing to have that,” said Brooks Jr.
In fact, Brooks has already hit it off with several of his new teammates as Johnny Juzang and Kahlil Whitney are two players that he spent a lot of time with over the summer. However, no new teammate goes farther back with Brooks than freshman point guard Tyrese Maxey. Brooks and Maxey may have lived in opposite parts of the country, but the bond and respect between the two was something that was always particularly evident when the two matched up on the AAU circuit.
“I’ve always been real close to Tyrese (Maxey) since around the 4th or 5th grade. We have a great deal of respect for each other,” said Brooks Jr. “I feel like we both have high basketball I.Q.’s and we try to play the game the right way. That’s a big reason I feel like we have always clicked.”
Outside of his teammates, Brooks credits his terrific support system that has helped him reach this point whether it be his brothers, his mother Sarita, or his father Keion Sr.
“It’s great to always have my dad to lean on, and my mom as well. She always brings the tough love. It’s been great to have both of my parents there, and I’m fortunate to have a great support system to turn to,” said Brooks Jr. “Getting beat up by older brother toughened me up a lot. Then, being able to beat up on my younger brothers has been a lot of fun. We are just a very competitive family, but at the same time we are still very close and love each other a lot.”
Brooks’ father knows a thing or two about what it will take for him to be successful at the next level as he had a very nice career playing for Wright State in the 90’s. He took the knowledge he gained from his experiences in the game, and that is something that the elder Brooks has passed down to his son.
“It’s great because my dad has been training me my whole life to be a Division 1 college basketball player. It’s crazy that the things he’s been telling me my whole life are the same exact things Coach Cal was saying once I got to campus,” said Brooks Jr. “That made me think that I guess he knows what he’s been talking about this whole time.”
Being a student of the game as well as a big NBA fan, Brooks said he prefers to take bits and pieces from a number of different players rather than modeling his game after one individual.
“I try to steal things from everybody regardless of their size or position. For example, with Damian Lillard I love how he always keeps the ball in his shot pocket and is always ready to shoot no matter what movement he’s making,” said Brooks Jr. “Obviously, Kevin Durant with his size, versatility, and his ability to score from all over the floor. I also love the way Jayson Tatum and Paul George have that ability to put the ball on the floor and create for themselves.”
As it is with every talented high major player, Brooks’ ultimate goal is to have a good and long NBA career. However, Brooks is more focused on handling the task at hand, and believes that the rest will take care of itself as long as he pours everything he has into his collegiate career.
“If I just focused on the NBA or where I want to go then I feel like I’d be missing the beauty of being in the moment. People say that college is some of the best times of your life, and I don’t want to ignore that just because I’m so focused on trying to get to that next level,” said Brooks Jr. “The team we have now is not going to be the same team ever again so I’m really living in the moment and enjoying the journey with my teammates.”
Brooks will have to wait a few more months before he gets his first taste of what it will be like to put on the Kentucky blue, but for now all the Fort Wayne native can do is imagine what that moment will be like.
“I think about it all the time, and I don’t really know what to expect,” said Brooks Jr. “I know the games are always sold out, but I haven’t really been able to imagine myself out there yet. When I go out there for the first time, it’s just going to hit me that I’m really playing for Kentucky.”