Posted by Matt Norlander
STORRS, Conn. — It’s quite possible, even now, you don’t know who Marshon Brooks is.
If that’s not true, then a few months, maybe even weeks ago, his name and face weren’t on your radar. Let’s have some honesty: If you were shown that photo on the right this morning with the jersey cropped out, could you have named the player as Brooks?
No shame if not, as Providence basketball players don’t often receive national acclaim or attention. It’s hard to stand out within the bloated, 16-team Big East, let alone amongst a nation that’s been Jimmerized and Kemba-coated since November. Former Friar Ryan Gomes’ national profile didn’t come to be until Jim Calhoun went on one of his most epic post-game rants of all-time.
From there, Gomes went on to be a First Team All-America selection. Providence became a national story because of what a man who didn’t coach Gomes said.
Brooks, a senior Friar, is just now, sort of, beginning to receive some attention. Soon enough, Providence's season will be over and forgotten by many, and Brooks' collegiate career will barely qualify as a blip, big picture. No. 2 will not sniff any first or second national teams, and it’s pretty certain he won’t be included on third teams, either.
The 6-5, 200-pound, true 2-guard is in the midst of what some could consider a lost season. Brooks, the most well-polished Providence player since Gomes, is averaging a Big East-best 24.2 points per game and is considered a sure-fire NBA draft pick (the first round is his current projection). He also leads the team in rebounding (7.5 per game) and 3-point shooting, hitting one of every three 3s he takes, which is even more in valued due to Providence being one of the worst 3-point-shooting teams in the country.
But on a 14-11 (3-9 in the Big East) team, few are noticing or caring about Brooks’ play, save for NBA scouts who, according to those within the Providence program, continually value the senior’s ability and potential as the weeks go by. The latest indictment of Brooks’ somewhat-invisible year came last week, when he wasn’t selected as one of the 30 finalists for the Naismith Award, one of six national player-of-the-year awards handed out at season’s end.
“He’s one of the finalists for the MVP in our conference, so how can’t he be one of the top 30 in the country when he’s third in the country in scoring?” Providence coach Keno Davis asked Sunday night after his team’s 75-57 loss at Connecticut. “What I think happens sometimes is, guys aren’t ranked before they go into the season. But you would think after his 43-point performance at Georgetown he’d be on everybody’s radar. Tough that you might have a non-top-30 guy be an NBA pick.”
Brooks’ blowup on the road at Georgetown Feb. 5 was one of the most impressive performances — forget just within the Big East — this season. Providence lost the game, 83-81, but was only in it until the end because Brooks took it up on himself to toss his toned-yet-gangly frame into the paint time and time again. He played all 40 minutes, which is what Davis needs him to do in order to keep the Friars within killing distance of many superior Big East teams.
“It’s getting tougher,” Brooks said in regard to being asked to score 25-plus against the Big East. “Coming into the season with such a young team, I expected some bruises.”
Against UConn Sunday night, Brooks had a pedestrian-for-him 25 points on 7-of-22 shooting. He accounted for production of 24 of the Friars’ 66 possessions, which is significant, but clearly wasn’t nearly enough, and that’s why UConn pulled away in the second half.
“I’m trying to pull out a win on the road more so than anything,” Brooks said. “We’ve got nine freshmen. When we’re playing at home, I don’t have to do heavy lifting like that. But on the road, me being the only senior [starter], I try to take over the game.”
Brooks is now always getting the toughest matchup on the floor (including constant amorphous, floating double-teams), so he’s forced to not merely rely on his jumper from the wing or casual 3-point shot. It’s become a pattern for him to attack the rim like a lion on a zebra in second halves of games, when Providence so frequently trails and needs points in bunches. Against other teams, Brooks is getting the star treatment on the regular, the kind of defensive scheming that proves opposing coaches realize he’ll be making NBA dollars soon enough. UConn did its best to deny Brooks the ball from anywhere within 25 feet Sunday night.
“There’s just certain coaches that are so insistent on denying me the ball,” Brooks said. “So in those cases, when I catch the ball, I’m catching it at the half-court line. When I turn around, all eyes on me, so it’s tough to get the ball in the hole.”
Getting your shots and your points when that’s happening is what makes a pro a pro. And Brooks has a number of NBA-ready moves in his repertoire already. For instance, in the second half against UConn, with 12 minutes remaining in an eight-point game, Brooks baited Jeremy Lamb, a freshman Husky, and drew a patented and-one foul on a pump-fake shot near the top of the key. Lamb, a 6-5 guard with a tremendous wingspan, was catapulted from the floor by Brooks’ tempting jump-shot form. Up Lamb went. Brooks waited for the newbie to clumsily come crashing back down, then calmly released the 19-foot jumper that cuddled through the rim and net.
Official Tim Higgins ferociously signaled the basket as good. It was a savvy, tailor-made move that’s NBA-ready.
“I think the exciting thing about Marshon Brooks is that he’s so talented and has improved so much, but his basketball hasn’t been played,” Davis said. “He’s going to be such a better player in the next couple of years. The NBA team that gets him isn’t going to be a getting a finished product. … He’s just now learning how to play. … I think what you’re going to find is, he’ll be on an NBA team, and from year one to year two to year three he’ll just explode.”
Brooks is certainly on an ascending path. He went from 14 points per game last year to 24 this year. Across the board, really his numbers have spiked; he was the fourth-most-used player on Providence last season. A few years down the road, he could become the valued quick-volume shooter in the NBA. It’s too bad so many in and around the college game are missing the show now. One of the nation’s best offensive players seems stuck in Providence’s purgatory.
A shame Jim Calhoun couldn’t have helped him out, post-game.
Photo: US PRESSWIRE