Birth of first daughter inspires Ducks' Brooks
ST. LOUIS — Oregon guard Aaron Brooks can remember sitting on the bench in street clothes during the Pac-10 Tournament semifinals last season and considering leaving the Oregon basketball team.
The Ducks' star guard was suspended for the game after throwing a forearm to the face of Washington's Ryan Appleby the round before. Oregon lost and put a cap on a miserable 15-18 campaign and its third consecutive season without an NCAA appearance.
For Brooks, the weight of the season was nothing compared to the weight of his personal life. His girlfriend of four years, Shavonne Bland, was expecting the couple's first child and contemplating raising their daughter in the couple's hometown of Seattle.
Brooks wanted to do the responsible thing. He toyed with thoughts of leaving school, getting a job and doing whatever he could to support his family. After all, his mind hadn't been in basketball for the entire season. He had watched his scoring average slip from 14.7 his sophomore season, the best on the team, to 10.8 his junior year. The former McDonald's All-American's hype that made him a Pac-10 All-Freshman Team honoree his first season and All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention the next had dissipated by his junior year as Brooks tried to gain continuity between his basketball life and his personal life.
"It was all so frustrating," Brooks says.
While he was trying to reconcile his two loves, he found answers in a most unexpected place — his newborn daughter's eyes. He convinced Shavonne to stay in Eugene, and decided to make his senior season at Oregon a way to make basketball a means to an end for his family.
"She's been an angel to me," Brooks says of his now 10-month-old daughter, MiKah. "She put my life in perspective as far as stuff I should be doing and shouldn't be doing. I just think that I didn't want to waste time playing basketball if I wasn't going to do it right because I could be spending that time with her.
"I spend a lot of time away from my daughter and I feel like if I'm going to be spending that much time away from her then I need to be doing something productive."
This season, Brooks has led his team to a 28-7 record, the most wins by an Oregon team in 62 years, and into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003. He is averaging 17.8 points a game, was first-team all-Pac-10, a probable All-American, and a finalist for the Wooden Award given to the nation's best player.
He's also gotten his teammates to believe. The Ducks have beaten three teams ranked in the top 10 and are the only team remaining in the NCAA Tournament to have all five starters scoring in double figures.
"We had the pieces to be a Sweet 16 team a long time ago," Brooks says. "I just don't think we could put it together and it frustrated me a lot to know that we had the makings and couldn't get it together"¦ But I think now, with our winning, everyone's made a collective effort to do their part."
Though Brooks said he doesn't want to talk about his basketball ambitions beyond college, he is being projected by many NBA mock draft Web sites as a second-round pick. Friday's Sweet 16 game against UNLV in the Midwest Regional could up that status.
"I think with Aaron, given the first opportunity to go to the (NCAA) tournament, he's just been on a mission," Oregon coach Ernie Kent says. "He's really been driven to pull this team through it. If you look at how many games he's pulled out, how many big shots he's hit at crunch time or to win the game, you can understand his mind-set and how driven he is and how much he's matured and how much he's helped this team."
Graham Watson covers collegiate athletics for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.