BY KELLIS ROBINETT FEBRUARY 25, 2020 05:00 AM
Alvin Brooks needs a moment to think.
The Baylor assistant coach was just asked to name the most exciting basketball game he has been a part of this season, and that’s a tough question for him to answer.
Brooks, in his fourth year with the Bears, isn’t sure he can choose just one.
“I really don’t know,” Brooks said in a phone interview. “They have all been exciting for us. I guess winning at Kansas for the first time in school history, you can say that was our most exciting win, but to be honest, our goal is that the most exciting game of the season hasn’t happened yet. That is one thing we have done well. It didn’t even feel like we were the No. 1 team in the nation until we were caught up in the moment. Then we focused on going 1-0 each game to stay there.”
This has been a magical season for Baylor, perhaps the best in program history. The Bears enter Tuesday’s 7 p.m. home game against Kansas State ranked No. 2 with a record of 24-2. They are also tied with No. 1 Kansas atop the Big 12 standings at 13-1. Along the way, they broke the league record for consecutive victories by winning 23 straight games.
Baylor is coming off its second loss of the season after falling 64-61 to Kansas on Saturday, but that defeat has done little to dampen basketball enthusiasm in Waco, Texas.
Brooks is thankful to be a part of it.
“It’s been great, not just because of the records but the kids that we have. They are a joy to be around,” Brooks said. “They constantly give praise to God for the opportunity they have. Them understanding the magnitude of everything and not just making this season about them has taught me more a lesson than anything.”
One thing that has made Baylor’s success so enjoyable: few saw it coming. The Bears were ranked No. 16 in the preseason polls, and most wrote them off when they lost their second game of the season against middling Washington. But then they won 23 straight games, including a head-turning 67-55 victory at Allen Fieldhouse.
Baylor climbed to No. 1 shortly after and stayed there for five weeks.
That’s quite an accomplishment for any team, let alone one that lacks star power. Scott Drew constructed a fascinating roster filled with talented players like Jared Butler and MaCio Teague. But they owe much of their success to role players like Mark Vital and Freddie Gillespie, who starts at forward for the Bears after beginning his college career at the Division III level. They are the definition of a team.
“We have guys who love each other,” Brooks said. “Because of that, they were able to put their egos aside and kind of bond as one. I think going to Italy this summer really helped that. They were able to spend 10 days around each other when they couldn’t really use their phones.”
It reminds him a little bit of the K-State team he helped coach in 2013 that won 27 games and shared a Big 12 championship in 2013 under Bruce Weber.
Brooks was a young coach back then and Weber had just given him his first big break in the business. Before he was hired as a member of Weber’s original K-State coaching staff in 2012, he bounced around smaller schools such as Midland, Bradley and Sam Houston State. But his career started to take off in Manhattan, where he brought in impact recruits like Wesley Iwundu and Marcus Foster, while also helping with day-to-day coaching. It wasn’t easy for Brooks to leave K-State in 2016 when Drew came calling. His first child was born in Manhattan and he is close friends with both Weber and associate head coach Chris Lowery. He chose Baylor because he has family roots in Houston, but he doesn’t enjoy playing his old team.
“It’s still hard really, really hard,” Brooks said. “Obviously, when you are with someone for four years you go from friends to family. It’s hard because I still have a relationship with those guys. Coach Weber gave me my first opportunity to be an assistant at a high-major level, and I will never forget that.”
After four years with the Bears, Brooks has learned to turn his emotions off during games against K-State. He also thinks he has grown as a coach. Drew likes to involve all of his assistants with film review and strategy. He has learned to pay attention to small details he once overlooked. He hopes that will eventually help him become a head coach.
But he still keeps tabs on the Wildcats. Drew has put Brooks in charge of scouting K-State every year he has been in Waco.
He has already told Baylor players not to overlook the Wildcats (9-18, 2-12 Big 12) as they struggle through one of the worst seasons in school history.
“When you are playing against a Bruce Weber team toughness is going to be at the forefront,” Brooks said. “Defensively and toughness-wise they are always going to be good. They are very hard to score against and they are always going to have a chance. This team reminds me of the years we had Marcus and Wes as young guys. It’s the same situation. They have a lot of young talent that can step up at any moment and beat you.” Link: https://www.kansas.com/sports/college/big-12/kansas-state/article240588201.html