After the bedlam that comes with winning an Atlantic Ten Conference Championship subsided, coach Fran Dunphy stepped up to the podium to address the media.
To his right, sat two of the men’s basketball team’s three senior co-captains – guard Dionte Christmas and center Sergio Olmos. To his left, sat a potential captain-in-waiting, junior guard Ryan Brooks.
Brooks was asked about a 3-pointer he hit with 4:12 left in the game that halted a furious six-point Dukes’ run and put the Owls’ lead at eight.
Before Brooks responded, Dunphy looked at Christmas and whispered, “That was huge.”
The shot was just three of Brooks’ 14 points, but it was a microcosm of the type of performance that is built into his DNA. The pressure of an important game – or, in this case, an elimination game – only brings out his best.
“I was just trying to get a clean look for myself and try and put it in the basket, and fortunately, it went in,” Brooks said of his timely shot. “When you have certain opportunities like this in your hands and you can reach for it and grab it, just take full advantage of it.”
The Narberth, Pa., native has a penchant for winning. He won a state title with Lower Merion in his senior season, becoming the school’s third-leading scorer in the process.
“I would have to say during high school the coaching staff that I was with always preached to have a refuse-to-lose attitude. You don’t want to look back and say I could have done this, [or] I should have done this better,” Brooks said.
Out of high school, Dunphy knew Brooks would play a key role in any Owls’ success.
“There was something special about him. The thing that turned me on to him was again the quality of the person, and all he did in high school was win,” the Owls’ third-year coach said. “We couldn’t go wrong with having this kid on our program.”
Brooks quickly turned into Dunphy’s main man off the bench in his freshman season. By his sophomore campaign, he was third on the team in scoring with 8.6 points per game. In last year’s A-10 Tournament, Brooks averaged 10.3 points, shooting 47.8 percent from the field. He didn’t flinch in last year’s NCAA Tournament either, netting 14 points in a 72-61 loss to Michigan State.
It was only appropriate that Brooks’ career high came on a day when the Owls celebrated 10 years at the Liacouras Center. On Dec. 9, 2007, against city-rival and No. 21 Villanova, Brooks drained 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting.
“Ryan Brooks is the best clutch shooter that I think I’ve coached in my 20 years of coaching,” Dunphy said.
The praise didn’t stop there.
“He’s a winner in every sense of the word,” Dunphy added. “That kid has been unbelievable. He is the lowest maintenance guy I might have ever coached as well. Never an issue – and he has been tremendous in every sense of the word.”
Brooks’ work ethic is one of the reasons he is where he is at today.
A tireless gym rat, Brooks continues to strengthen his overall game. For this year’s A-10 Tournament, Brooks built in another dimension. In three games, he turned into a forward and pulled in 5.3 rebounds per contest. This, combined with 14 points per game, helped him earn a spot on the All-Championship Team with Christmas and Olmos.
The 6-foot-4-inch guard needed to elevate his offensive game at the college level, but he’s been known to most as a defensive stopper. Generally, Dunphy puts Brooks on a team’s best shooter or scorer.
Against Duquesne in the A-10 Final, that happened to be senior guard Aaron Jackson. Jackson, who can be deadly from all over the court, shelled the Owls with 20 points. A chunk of that output came when Brooks was sitting on the bench.
“The fact is we can’t be out on the court too much without him,” Dunphy said. “When he was out of the game, I think Aaron Jackson got seven points. I don’t like to be out on the court too much without him to be honest with you.”
The 11th-seeded Owls will take on sixth-seeded Arizona State in the tension-filled atmosphere of NCAA Tournament play on Friday in Miami. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if Brooks saves his best performance of the season for the Sun Devils. The even-keeled guard always seems to quietly rise to the occasion. So, the NCAA Tournament will simply be another stage for Brooks to shine on.
Anthony Stipa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.