Havin' fun and winning basketball games
By DAN MORRIS
The Jackson Sun 
Mar 1 2001

Anthony Brooks was perfectly content. He would be a sports broadcaster on weekdays and a guitar-playing, stand-up comic in his spare time.

That would be an ideal life after graduating from Union University this spring.

Then came the "meeting of the minds" with Union basketball coach Ralph Turner last spring. It was not a pleasant occasion. The 6-foot-10 post player was told to get his act together. If he wanted to be the starting center for Union this season, he better mean business during summer workouts.

Brooks listened and, for the first time in his life, dedicated himself to a sport he had never taken too seriously. Instead of working basketball camps, Brooks lived in the weight room and gym all summer. He gained weight to 220 pounds and added much-needed strength. The results are staggering.

Brooks, 22, was named the TranSouth Conference Player of the Year on Wednesday. He leads the TranSouth and ranks third in the NAIA in scoring, averaging 24.7 points.

He set seven school records. They are for scoring average, points (790) and blocks (75) in a season, points in a game (49), blocks in a career (245) and field goal attempts in a game (26) and in a season (511). He also averages eight rebounds and two assists, and shoots 80 percent from the free-throw line, 42 percent from 3-point range and 60.7 percent from the field.

All this from a kid who didn't make the cut as a high school junior and never played much organized basketball until his senior year at Adamsville High School.

Suddenly, he actually likes the game. That broadcasting job will have to wait.

Professional scouts are watching, and Brooks is ready to earn significant money playing in Europe, if not the NBA.

"My dream in life never was to play professional basketball," Brooks said. "I never even considered it. I wanted to do other things. But I finally developed a love for the game. This is fun. I can do this. And there's a really good possibility I can play pro ball."

There was little chance of that happening nine years ago when the Bethel Springs native went to Adamsville High.

He played guard as a 6-foot freshman but didn't start. He knew he didn't have a prayer to make the roster on a talented team as a 6-3 sophomore; so he didn't try out. As a 6-7 junior, he was cut during tryouts. But coach Greg Martin let him practice with the team after Christmas break.

By the time he was a 6-8 senior, he had developed enough coordination to earn all-district and honorable mention all-state honors, while making a 27 on the ACT.

But all he really cared about was having fun on the court and living up to his nickname of "Funny."

"I'll never forget when I cut Anthony from the team as a junior," Martin said. "He came up to me and said, 'Coach, if I had to do your job, I'd probably cut me, too.' But he kept working at it and improved. He could always shoot, but he was not very coordinated and wasn't very strong."

Still, there were some special moments, like the game against South Side when he had a triple double with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 13 blocks.

"You could tell, if somebody would take a chance on him and let him fill out, he could be a sleeper in college," Martin said. "It's almost beyond words to describe where he was and how far he has come."

Turner never considered Brooks to be a sleeper.

"I thought we had the steal of the century when we signed him," Turner said. "He had the potential to be a three-time All-American. But he didn't have the work ethic. He was 6-foot-10 but had never once been the leading scorer on his team.

"Anthony has many talents and interests," Turner said. "That's a great strength in life but a weakness in basketball. He had never been driven or focused on basketball until this season. He finally made the commitment, and for the first time he looked at himself and thought, 'Maybe I can be pretty good at this.'

"He has thrived this year. The more he plays, the more confident he becomes. But Anthony's best basketball is still ahead of him."

Brooks' improved game has drawn attention from the media. Requests for interviews are commonplace, unlike past years when he was mainly ignored. That means a little razzing is in order from his teammates.

"We joke around and tell him all this attention is ridiculous," said roommate Jake Eaton. "It's a little shocking, actually, what all he's done this year, but we always knew he was capable. We're getting him the ball a lot more, and he's making it happen. He's changed a little bit, too. He's more vocal and feels it's his place to talk and give instruction to younger players. But he's still always trying to make people laugh, even during games."

Eaton finds no humor in Brooks' abilities as a guitar player.

"He'll drive you nuts sometimes," Eaton said. "I just throw a shoe at the door and try to get him to stop. Let's just say he is not an accomplished musician."

Well, there's still time for Brooks to work on his pickin'. Right now, he's concentrating on helping Union win the TranSouth Conference Tournament, which begins tonight. Union, the No. 2 seed, plays host to Berry College at 7 p.m. in the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs (22-10) are ranked No. 24 in the final NAIA poll and appear certain to receive an at-large bid to the national tournament in Tulsa, Okla., if they do not win the league tournament. That will make four consecutive trips to the national for Brooks and Union.

"I knew we were going to be good," Brooks said. "I think we're better than we were last year. We move the ball around better than any time since I've been at Union."

That teamwork and balanced offense has given Union more ways to attack an opponent's defense. And Brooks has kept the team loose with his zany comments, sometimes in the heat of battle with the game on the line.

"It could be tied with two seconds left, and I'll make a joke to lighten things up," Brooks said. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I just like to have a good time. That's what it's all about to me - having fun and winning basketball games."

TRANSOUTH ALL-CONFERENCE

Union University's Anthony Brooks was named the TranSouth Conference Player of the Year for men's basketball on Wednesday, and all five Union starters were named to the All-TranSouth Conference men's basketball teams.

Union's first-team picks were Enelio Moreno and Brooks, who were joined by Freed-Hardeman University's Jamie Norsworthy and Tony Lambert. Union's Zach Wiggs was a second-team pick, and Union's Chima Abakwue and William Harris made the All-Freshman team.

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