By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
From as far back as he can remember, Alvin Brooks III and his dad have always hidden their emotions. Handshakes, maybe the occasional side hug.
Monday night, that changed.
An assistant coach on the Houston Cougars' basketball team that punched its Final Four ticket with a 67-61 win over Oregon State, Alvin Brooks was back in the hotel waiting for his son and Baylor assistant coach, Alvin Brooks III, to return after the Bears' 81-72 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks in the South Region final.
"Last night, we embraced each other, and I think we squeezed each other tighter than we ever have in my whole life," said Alvin III, in his fifth year as an assistant on Scott Drew's staff at Baylor. "That moment will be a lifetime memory. It was definitely a special moment for both of us and something we will cherish forever."
Father and son, both making their first Final Four. Alvin Brooks has spent 23 of his 36 years in coaching at the University of Houston, including five years as the Cougars' head coach (1993-98) and the last 11 as an assistant under James Dickey and Kelvin Sampson.
Baylor (26-2), making its first Final Four in 71 years, will face former Southwest Conference-rival Houston (28-3) at 4:14 p.m. CDT Saturday in the first national semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Cougars made three-straight Final Fours in 1982-84 during the Phi Slama Jama era, losing to North Carolina State and Georgetown in back-to-back championship games.
"It's hard to get here," said the dad. "But then, to get to the Final Four in the same year, and then you guys are going to play each other in the very first semifinal game, just unbelievable, utterly amazing. Guys coach their whole career and never get here. So now, to finally get here and then to have this special moment and get to share it with your son and he's here with his team, I could not imagine it."
The thing is, Alvin III never wanted to coach and his dad tried to talk him out of it once he did. Playing high school basketball while his dad was the head coach at Houston, Alvin III remembers waiting on him for hours after a loss, "watching game film, trying to figure out how to fix it."
"We'd get home at like 3 in the morning, and I had school the next day," he said. "Just little things like that, I was like, 'Man, I don't want to be a coach,' because I don't want to have to be in the office every night after a loss. It was something that I didn't think I wanted to do, but you can't stop what you love."
Earning a bachelor's degree in finance and master's in athletics administration from Idaho State, where he played two seasons, Alvin III admits that he was "chasing money" and planned on being a millionaire as a sports agent.
"But, I found out that that was not my calling," he said.
Spending two months with longtime friend Rashard Lewis, a 16-year NBA veteran, Alvin III was watching assistant coaches Nate McMillan and Dwane Casey at a Seattle Supersonics practice and thought, "Man, I could do that. That's not a job."
"I called my dad and told him I wanted to be a coach, and that's when he said, 'Nah, call me back in two weeks,'' Alvin III said.
Alvin said he knew his son loved basketball, but he wasn't convinced that he loved coaching, "which is managing people and putting out fires and figuring out solutions for things that nobody else can see."
Even though a friend of his had an opening at a Division I school, Alvin wanted his son to start at the junior college level and "come up through the ranks."
"I thought if he went to junior college, he was going to have to be the academic advisor, custodian, he opened up the Rec Center at 4 in the morning," Alvin said. "He had to do all that, and then you have to put a roster together. It's more than recruiting, because recruiting and putting a roster together is two different things. You have to do all that in junior college."
Finding success early, Alvin III was part of back-to-back NJCAA Division I national championship teams as an assistant at Arkansas-Fort Smith and Midland College.
But, thinking he could "save them all," Alvin III developed a hole in the middle of his head from all the stress of dealing with players "that had some bad habits."
"I remember my Pops saying, 'Hey, you can't save them all. Do everything you can to save them, but you can't stress yourself when they don't all get it,'' he said.
Making the jump from junior college to Division I basketball, Alvin III had stints at Bradley, Sam Houston State and Kansas State before joining Drew's staff in 2016. The Bears made it to the Sweet 16 in his first season, lost to top-seeded Gonzaga in 2019 and were ranked No. 1 for more than a month last year before the COVID shutdown.
This season has been special, though. The Bears won their first conference title in 71 years, earned a No. 1 seed for the first time in program history and made it back to the Final Four for the first time since 1950.
"If this Final Four appearance doesn't stamp Coach Drew to being in the Hall of Fame, then I don't know what else we need to do," Alvin III said. "This is the best rebuilding job in college basketball history considering where it was when he was named the head coach until now. Obviously, we all know what happened, unfortunately. For us to be in the Final Four 18 years later, that's kind of a Hollywood story, to be honest. It's just an unbelievable story that I'm blessed to be a part of it."
Now, son meets dad with a lot on the line, a trip to Monday's national championship game. When they were assistants at Sam Houston and Houston, respectively, Alvin III went 0-2 against his dad, and then the Cougars defeated Baylor, 81-78, in an Oct. 21, 2017 scrimmage at the Ferrell Center that raised money for Hurricane Harvey relief.
"I know we're all competitive, and I know our Coach Brooks says he's 0-2 and he's got to get off the schneid at some point," Drew said. "But, it's great having family a part of this."
As strange as it might seem, their competitiveness never carried over to one-on-one basketball games in the back yard or the rec center.
"We played more video games than anything, but never basketball one-on-one," Alvin III said. "We would play video games, but he would basically outsmart me. We played a football game, and I would want to throw long passes, and he would just run the clock and kick a field goal at the end or something I'm like, 'Come on, man.''
Alvin Brooks, who will remain on Houston's bench through the tournament despite takig the head coaching job at Lamar University on Thursday, says he won't play his son in video games anymore. "But back then, he had to learn the value of planning how to win. So, no opportunities to win, none."
Saturday, it won't be a video game, it will come in a battle in the national semifinals and played out in front of a national TV audience on CBS.
As for the divided Brooks family, particularly for Richelle Brooks, the mother of Alvin III and wife of Alvin, there will be shirts with green on one side and red on the other.
"What happens is because Al is the son and the beloved son, he always gets preferential treatment," Alvin said. "Whenever they have the ball, they're going to be cheering wildly for Baylor, but hopefully they'll give me some love when we have the ball."