In the second half of my discussion with Kenny Brooks, he talks about the success of Taylor Emery and others, the Hokies’ need for a vocal leader, and the unique experience of having his two daughters on the team.
Question: Taylor Emery had a really successful year last year and has earned preseason All-ACC honors. Has she kind of stepped up as a leader of this team, or are you looking for her to do that this season?
Kenny Brooks: She leads by example. She’s always in the gym working, and she is always going to be one of the hardest workers. What we have been asking of her is to be more a vocal leader. That was difficult for her to do last year because she came in as the new person on the roster, and you’ve got to get acclimated to your surroundings before you can actually go out and lead.
I think that this year, she is definitely capable of doing that, whether or not she feels comfortable enough in doing so. When she speaks, she always says very knowledgeable things, things that are very reputable. But sometimes, it’s just in her nature to be quiet, to go out there and lead by example. We’ve been asking her to be more of a vocal leader, and I think she’s capable of doing that. It is just a matter of her getting comfortable with it. We’ll kind of nudge her, but we won’t push her into the pool. She’s done a really good job for us by representing Virginia Tech on and off the court.
Q: Another senior that has been successful in breaking some records and just being a pivotal part of this team is Regan Magarity. How important do you think her success is for this team?
KB: It’s very vital. You know, she’s probably not our main threat down there, just because she’s like a Swiss Army knife. She does a little bit of everything. When you have someone like that, you don’t want to pigeon-hole them and just say, “Hey, you’re going to play this spot.” So by putting her on the perimeter as much as we do, it probably takes away from some of her ability to go down there and score. Trinity probably will cover a lot of that, but Regan is going to have to give us a little more scoring down low than she did last year or the previous year. We’re going to continue to move her all around, but her success, period, is very vital to our team.
She does so many different things…I can honestly say that she is probably the smartest player that I have ever coached. The things that she knows and just the feel she has for the game is unprecedented to me and to my experience with anybody, male or female. We want her to be a little more aggressive; we’ve asked her to be more of a vocal leader. I think she’s morphed into that. She was not confident in it in her first year, second year was like, “eh, ok..” and I think this year she has really stepped up and gotten more comfortable in that role.
Q: Kind of a theme I hear you talking about is the ability of this team to play multiple positions for a lot of players. Is that something we can expect to see throughout the season – some shifting of the lineup?
KB: Yeah, we talk about our philosophy, and there are certain players you just can’t do that with. We have a couple coming next year that are probably generated to play one position, maybe two. But we’re trending towards, and the game of basketball is trending towards, positionless basketball. You don’t have to say, “You’re the one, you’re the two.” You can say, “You’re a guard, you’re a forward,” and they can play multiple positions.
Out of necessity, because we have had some kids who have been injured, we’ve had to move some kids around. That’s challenging for me, because I might have one kid in particular who might have to line up in three different spots, so they have to know the play from three or four different spots. Therefore, I can’t put in as much of a game plan or an offensive system as I would like, because we have to make sure that they get what we do have before we can move on.
We’ve had to take it a little bit slower this year, just because kids are playing multiple positions. But if we can get that down pat, I think it gives us versatility. It gives us an opportunity to put kids in different spots.We’re trending towards that, we like that, and hopefully we can build upon that.
Q: What is it like having, now, two of your own daughters on the team? Does that present any unique challenges when it comes to coaching or just in general?
KB: I think they are challenges. Me and my staff have talked about it, and I talk about it with people in my inner circle. Are they challenges? Yeah, but there are also challenges to someone else’s daughter that I recruit. There are challenges all around, it’s just how are you going to look at it? Throughout the two years they have been here, it’s been used against me in negative recruiting. One program really wanted to get Taylor Emery, and they were telling Taylor, “You don’t want to go there because his daughters are there. He’s going to play his daughters over you.” That’s a stigma, but if it’s not that they’re talking about, it’s something else they’re going to try to fabricate.
The one thing is, my kids, my daughters in general, they know that the way that I brought them up, I’m anything but a helicopter parent. I’m the opposite. I want them to take on adversity head on and learn from it. I’ve watched those two as they have grown up differently than I grew up. When I grew up, I had to prove myself as Kenny Brooks the basketball player. They’ve had to prove themselves Kendyl Brooks and Chloe Brooks, Kenny Brooks’ daughters.
I’ve sat in the stands and I’ve heard hecklers go after them and talk about their game and say, “They’re not this, they’re not that.” There are people just in general that whisper that they’re not good enough to do this or that. I sit back and watch them handle that, and I’m amazed. They’ve handled it much better than I could have ever imagined doing anything.
So, to have them here is probably very vital to me getting the philosophy of the program down pat. A lot of times the kids will say, “What is it you want here?” Kendyl and Chloe have watched my program blossom and grow at JMU. They’ve watched the players come in and out, and they’ve heard me talk about my system and what I expect. It’s very similar to the way I parent them. Kendyl can attest to this: I’m harder on her than I am on anyone else. It’s not because I don’t love her or anything else, it’s because my expectations of her are a little bit different. I grew up with her. Heck, I changed her diaper. I influenced her and the woman she’s become, and you want your kid to do well.
They’ve done a really good job of separating the two. It’s to the point where even in practice, they don’t call me coach, they call me dad, because I am their dad, and that’s the most important title that I’ll ever have. I’m not ever going to try and change that for two hours of the day just to try and please some outside influence. They are who they are, I am who I am, and having them here is a blessing to me.
I don’t spend as much time with them as people think, but I do get to lay my eyes on them for two hours a day. I get to see them then, but other than that, it’s really not much different. The way Hokie Nation has embraced them has really helped my transition. Those two kids grew up and never moved. That’s unprecedented. As a coach’s kid, they never moved before now. When I brought them here, I had no idea what to expect.
As a matter of fact, they grew up hating Virginia Tech. Not because of anything they did, but they were just kind of like a rival with JMU. It’s nothing like Virginia vs. Virginia Tech, but as JMU people, we didn’t like Virginia or Virginia Tech. When I brought them here, I had no idea what to expect, but both of them are very excited to be Hokies and they love it here.
Q: I know there’s no set thing to really say, “This is our goal.” As you said, it’s not NCAA or bust. With that said, what are some kind of postmarks that might show what you’re trying to do this year?
KB: I don’t know if there are postmarks, I think it’s more of just an attitude and a mentality. We have to dig a little bit deeper here to understand it or recognize it. My first two years here, I feel like a lot of times, we were hoping to win games. Where we got pretty good last year at the end was we were expecting to win games. As a coach, you can kind of feel it, you can kind of see it with your group. I think if we have that mentality that we walk on the court and we expect to win games, I think we’ll win a couple more of those games. I think last year, we had a couple where I was just begging and pleading them to be more confident, because that’s what will get you over the hump.
When you’re not confident, obviously bad things happen, and maybe you lose a game by a possession or two. If we have that attitude of, “We know we’re going to win,” I think we will win a couple more of those games, and in turn that’s what gets us over the hump. We’re talented, we have a unique style, and we have a unique gift where we can shoot the basketball, but we’ve got to have that undertone of a confident basketball group, even when things aren’t going well.
Q: Do you think that, with the ACC having so many big names, it makes it any more difficult to expect to win games? Does it make it more likely for the team to see themselves as kind of an underdog, or are they able to still have that confidence and expect to win games?
KB: I think they have the confidence. I think it’s something that needs to grow even more, but, excuse my language, they were pissed when they were picked 10th and 11th, especially coming off last year. I think that was my mindset: I wasn’t disrespected by it, I just felt like that’s how good our league is. Maybe, I should have held off a few years, but I think we came in at a very strong time for the league.
We can’t cry over spilled milk, we can’t make excuses. We just have to go out there and do what we are capable of doing, because I don’t think there’s much difference between teams 4 and 12. I think the difference could be an attitude. Our mindset is if we take care day by day and we do the little things, we can start inching up and be one of those teams, and that’s what the kids are starting to believe.