By JORDAN KAYE email@example.com
Apr 10, 2021 - Idaho State Journal
On the morning of Monday’s NCAA National Championship Game, Baylor assistant coach Alvin Brooks III stood up during pregame chapel. Though the Bears were a No. 1 seed, few gave Baylor much chance against undefeated Gonzaga. Las Vegas sportsbooks went so far as to make the Bulldogs 2-to-1 favorites before tipoff.
Yet, hours before the clock ticked down in Indianapolis, Brooks — a former Idaho State guard — offered a prediction.
“I’ve been blessed to be a part of two junior college national championships back-to-back,” he said, referring to his titles with Arkansas-Fort Smith and Midland in 2006 and 2007, respectively. “I’ve always taken a picture with a trophy, and I don’t plan on that changing tonight.”
Sure enough, Brooks posed with hardware again on Monday. Soon after the green and gold confetti fluttered down from the Lucas Oil Stadium rafters, coronating Baylor’s 86-70 title-game victory, a few Bears players ran up to their assistant coach with Brooks’ pregame speech still on their mind.
“You don’t lose in these!” They shouted at Brooks. “You don’t lose in these!”
“No I don’t,” he responded. “You just have to get me here.”
It was another affirmation that Brooks’ tales resonate with his players.
The success of Brooks is predicated on his past. Mistakes in his young life aren’t treated as mere markers for self-improvement, but rather lessons he would be fine shouting from mountaintops so they can become a teaching tool.
Throughout his coaching journey, Brooks has used his life experience as the common ground he can stand on with his players. Instead of telling them what to or how to do it or why they should do it a certain way, the Baylor assistant draws upon his own experiences to tell a story.
While Monday’s anecdote revolved around the frantic jubilation of a post-game championship celebration, a large faction of Brooks’ treasure trove of stories stem from his time as an Idaho State guard in the early 2000s — a period that never included a trophy.
Following a two-year playing career at Midland College, Brooks was recruited to Pocatello after former Bengals assistant coach Louis Wilson noticed the 6-foot-2, 185-pounder at a winter tournament on the campus of Dixie State. It began a less-than-memorable Idaho State career.
Alvin Brooks IIIISU Media Relations
An injury forced him to redshirt his first year. During the 2001-02 campaign, with Jeremy Brown and D’Marr Suggs averaging almost 45% of ISU’s points, Brooks played 13 minutes and scored 6.4 points a game. In his final collegiate season, Brooks’ numbers dipped. He was Idaho State’s eighth-leading scorer, averaging 4.5 points in a dozen minutes of game time.
“He was sort of pigeonholed into the first guy off the bench on the perimeter,” said Doug Oliver, Brooks’ coach at ISU. “At some point along the line, he accepted his role and was going to contribute any way he could when he got on the floor.”
Or as Brooks put it: “I didn’t have a great Division I career … and that has really made me a better coach.”
After Baylor beat Gonzaga 86-70 in the national championship, Bears’ assistant coach Alvin Brooks III holds the trophy.Submitted photo/Alvin Brooks III
Looking back on Brooks’ Idaho State career, it’s interesting how the player and coach viewed Brooks’ demeanor, his response to all those games riding the pine. Oliver said he figured Brooks was disappointed, that he probably complained to his family and friends, but he didn’t get the impression Brooks checked out.
Heck, Brooks was still voted a team captain. He “saved a couple of his teammates’ butts,” Oliver said, when they ran afoul of team rules. Brooks would walk into Oliver’s office, look him in the eye and try to right the situation. He was the Bengals’ mediator, a mending force for the players and coaches.
Brooks thinks he could have done more, could have been a stronger glue to keep his team on the same page. Instead, Brooks said he “shut down.”
Now, whether it be at Bradley, Kansas State or Baylor, Brooks tells the tale of his time at Idaho State, his story of limited minutes and the poor reaction to something not going his way. His message? “Don’t do what I did,” Brooks said.
“I can’t count on my hands (how many times I’ve said that),” he added. “Everybody wants to have a huge role. The most successful teams are teams where everyone sacrifices. As a player at Idaho State, I didn’t sacrifice enough. I was more caught up in my feelings, and it’s easy for me to look back and say that. So, now, I’m able to articulate that to the student-athletes I’m able to coach.”
That mentality helped Baylor gel into a national championship squad.
For the Bears, metrics for being a good teammate are kept in the same way statisticians tally up scoring or rebounding numbers. There are Baylor coaches, Brooks said, who review video of the Bears on the court and bench during practices and games, marking every time a player has a positive reaction and when they dip into negative body language — little things like, if you drain a 3, pointing at the guy who passed you the ball or mobbing a teammate after a buzzer-beater. They then divide the positive by the negative and expect all their players to be over a certain number “in order to show you gave your brothers all you need to give them,” Brooks said.
“A lot of that is because I know how I was as a player. I wouldn’t say anything, but my body language wasn’t what it should have been. If you’re happy for your brothers, then you have to show it. I didn’t do that enough for my brothers at Idaho State.”
Brooks speaks of his profession with such reverence. Perhaps that’s expected just days removed from reaching the pinnacle of such a career. Yet his path is not of the typical basketball-crazed mind who knew they always wanted a whistle around their neck.
He remembers when his father Alvin Brooks Jr. was the head coach of Houston in the mid-’90s, when he was a high school junior and going to all his dad’s games. He remembers not leaving the gym until 3 a.m. on some school nights. He remembers the rollercoaster of newspaper clippings praising his dad one minute then attacking him the next. He remembers thinking he wanted to stay as far away from coaching as possible.
He earned his master’s degree in athletic administration at Idaho State and was the personal assistant of then-ISU Athletic Director Jim Senter. Brooks thought he wanted to be an A.D. Then he followed Senter around for six months and, suddenly, he no longer wanted to be an A.D.
No worries, Brooks thought. He had also earned a degree in finance from Idaho State and began a job where he could help athletes “not go broke after they’re done playing,” he said. Brooks thought it would make him rich in no time — and it may have — but he was miserable. At one point, he ventured up to Seattle to stay with one of his best friends, Rashard Lewis, a former NBA All-Star playing then with the Seattle SuperSonics.
For weeks he attended practices and watched games inside Key Arena, keeping a close eye on Sonics’ coach Nate McMillan and assistant Dwane Casey. Their job looked great. All those years, Brooks saw the toll coaching took on his father. In Seattle, he saw all the good coaching could bring him.
Brooks called his dad soon after.
“I want to coach,” he said.
“No,” Brooks’ dad replied. “Call me back in two weeks.”
He thought about it for those 14 days then shared with his father an outlook that hasn’t changed much in the last 17 years: he wanted to coach. Brooks still loves the profession, loves to share his stories so his players can have a more fruitful career than he did in Pocatello. So far, many have.
After the title game, Brooks opened his phone to over 600 texts. As of Friday afternoon, he had whittled that number down to 182, intent on responding to each and every message of congratulations. The most surprising texts were likely also the most rewarding, the notes from former players overjoyed for the coach who helped guide them.
“I think so far that has been the biggest surprise for them to reach out to me,” Brooks said.