Brooks returns to make first NCAA start

Brice Brooks challenges UW’s Hans Gasser in the Huskies 114-53 win over Sacred Heart on Wednesday.  - Kent Soule/Hoot Creek Photography
Brice Brooks challenges UW’s Hans Gasser in the Huskies 114-53 win over Sacred Heart on Wednesday.
— image credit: Kent Soule/Hoot Creek Photography

SEATTLE – When Brice Brooks stepped back onto the court at “Hec” Edmundson Pavilion at the University of Washington for an early morning shootaround, he was living a “dream come true.”

Brooks, a 2003 Central Kitsap grad and former Cougar basketball powerhouse, made his Northwest return as a member of the Sacred Heart Pioneers in fashion on Wednesday, making his first NCAA start in front of a packed house.

And while the results weren’t as he would have liked (Sacred Heart fell hard to the No. 12 Huskies, 114-53), he was still thrilled to be playing for friends and family.

“I’m still happy to be at home,” Brooks said. “It was a tough game, but it’s a learning experience.”

Brooks is one of three Washington natives on the Pioneers’ roster. Joey Henley is a co-captain on the team, and played at Kentridge High School. Tavio Hobson, from Seattle Prep, is on the team but can’t play until next season due to transferring from Boston College.

In addition, Sacred Heart coach Dave Bike is a former Seattle University assistant, and his sons were born in the Northwest.

“It’s a different trip for us,” Bike said. “It’s definitely one that’s more personal.”

That fact was proven during the game introductions, with each Washington player drawing a warm ovation, Brooks’ being one of the loudest.

It was those Northwest connections that led Sarced Heart to Brooks. Bike’s son, also an assistant coach, Keith Bike, saw Brooks play while he was scouting Henley. Later, assistant coach Johnny Kidd watched Brooks. Dave Bike said after seeing Brooks play, they knew he had the kind of game they wanted.

“He’s got the makings to be a versatile player for us,” Bike said. “He has to smooth out some moves from high school, but the work ethic he has is strong. He has a good sized body. He’s got all the ingredients to be a good player for us.”

According to Brooks, it was clear where he would end up.

“Other schools called once or twice a month, and sent some letters,” Brooks said. “But Sacred Heart, they called me a lot, they sent me so many letters. It was just crazy. I really couldn’t get the name out of my head. I just wanted to go somewhere I feel I’m wanted.”

He said he would have liked to play for the Huskies, but only if the feeling was mutual.

“I wanted to go to UW, but I didn’t want to walk on,” Brooks said. “Sacred Heart showed the most interest in me. They cared the most about me. You don’t want to go somewhere where they don’t really want you.”

Brooks has done everything from running the point to banging away in the low post. Against UW, he scored just 2 points, but had 5 rebounds and a steal, playing in 33 minutes for the Pioneers. For the season, Brooks is averaging 4.8 points and 3.1 rebounds in 17.9 minutes a game. But he has come on lately, scoring a career-high 14 against Columbia on Dec. 9.

Brooks said he was glad he selected Sacred Heart, and thinks he has the chance to be part of something special. He said the fact the school is a Division I infant (SH has only been in D-I for six seasons), combined with the youth on the team, resurrects memories of his old CK days.

“It’s definitely fun,” Brooks said. “When I was at CK my sophomore year, we were predicted to go to state by our senior year. Now, it’s kind of the same thing. It’s pretty exciting knowing we have a pretty bright future together.”

Brooks thinks that future may include a invite to the Big Dance.

“My main goal is to get to the (NCAA Tournament), once the team gets quicker and stronger,” he said. “Once we get there, we’ll see.”

The transition has been fine for Brooks, who carries his 6-foot, 7-inch frame with an air of confidence. But he admits he misses being away from home the most. He said he keeps in touch with his mom, Sarah, and the rest of his family every night with phone calls or using his instant messenger. The team arrived for the UW game on Dec. 19, and Brooks said he took the ferry to Silverdale each day to visit.

“That’s really rough,” Brooks said. “I talk to people at home every night. I just try to keep in touch with everybody I can.”

He’s also been keeping up with CK, attending the Cougars’ last-second win over Auburn on Tuesday. He said he talks to the team on a semi-regular basis.

“I keep up on them whenever I can,” Brooks said. “Just to see how they’re all doing. I think it inspires them to know they can get out of here by playing ball and work hard to achieve their goals.”

His former CK coach, Tim Fryer, made it to the game.

“It was really exciting,” Fryer said. “I was very proud of the way he played. He’s really elevated his game to keep up with the pace.”

As for school, he said aside from learning the value of sleep, he’s also learning time management, considering his scholarship like a work paycheck.

“I’m busy a lot,” Brooks said. “It’s a full-time job. I’m getting paid to do this, so I consider it a job. Whenever I have free time, it just goes to sleep anyway.”

Brooks was dissappointed at the team’s perfromace against UW, but remained optimistic.

“I think what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Brooks said. “I think I’ll be stronger after this. You don’t see talent like this everyday.”

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