Ryan Brooks owes his successes on and off the court to his mother, Dr. Darlene Brooks, a music therapy professor at the Boyer College of Music and Dance.
Dr. Darlene Brooks knew she wanted to be a parent.
Now, both Darlene Brooks and her son, Ryan, are at Temple.
Darlene Brooks, an associate professor of music therapy in the Boyer College of Music and Dance, coordinates Temple’s master’s program in music therapy and is the director of music therapy and undergraduate studies.
Ryan Brooks is a senior guard and co-captain for the No. 21-ranked Temple men’s basketball team. He leads the Owls’ scoring attack at 15 points per game and broke the 1,000-point barrier in the Jan. 16 game against Massachusetts, becoming the 45th player in Owls history to do so. At the same time, he scored a career-high 29 points.
“I used to tell Ryan when he was an infant that this wonderful lady knew how much I wanted a baby, and so she had him in her tummy,” Darlene Brooks said. “And I can remember there was a point when he wanted a sibling, and we had two dogs and two cats, and he said, ‘But Mom, you could go get that lady to have a baby in her tummy for you like she did me!’ I always tried to present adoption to him as you are wanted, you are loved. As kids get older, I think they get an ‘I wonder why I was given up’ [feeling]. But I focus in on the positive that [Ryan’s biological mother] knew how much I wanted him.”
Both said most people would not know about the adoption unless they were told. Ryan Brooks is 6 feet 4 inches, and Darlene Brooks is just about as tall.
“People ask, and I tell them right away,” Ryan Brooks said. “I’m not ashamed about it at all, and I don’t know why anyone would be. I think I’m just pretty open about a lot of things. Everyone’s usually very shocked to hear it. I’ve heard things like, ‘You look alike,’ and people put together the height. I like it like that, but if they want to ask, go ahead. I’m not shy in talking about that subject at all. I’m straightforward. I’ve always been like that since I was little and the first time she told me. She told me as soon as I could understand. Ever since she told me about it, we’ve never really talked about it. She asked me if I wanted to meet my [biological] parents, and I said, ‘No,’ so we never talked about it again.”
“Where I am today is because of her,” he added. “I definitely am the man I am today because of her.”
“I wanted him to have a very healthy concept about himself and be OK with who he is,” Darlene Brooks said. “It makes him double special.
“[We’ve always said,] ‘What’s the big deal?’” Darlene Brooks added. “We’ve been together since Ryan was an infant.”
Ryan Brooks grew up in New Orleans until his mother moved north to teach at Temple after he completed sixth grade.
It was down in New Orleans that he first got involved in sports – and lots of them.
“He was the most active child I have ever seen,” Darlene Brooks said. “Finally, one summer when he was 5, I needed to find something for him to do. He was into everything. I talked to a woman who said to take him to a park. I took him to the park, and it was the best thing that ever happened.
“He played baseball,” she added. “At 5 years old, he was a home-run hitter and a first baseman. Then from baseball, we went to soccer. He was very fast. I kept telling him, ‘You could be the next Pele!’ and he would say, ‘Mom, what’s a Pele?’ Then from soccer, we’d go to basketball. We’d do all three sports, every year, until we moved here.”
Once they got to the Main Line and middle school, Ryan Brooks tacked track and field onto that list.
In high school, he played baseball for an outside league, and his team won the league championship with him pitching. Darlene Brooks said she still thinks he would be in the minor leagues right now had he continued playing the sport.
But back in eighth grade he made a pact with a friend who is now at the University of Miami. That friend said he intended to go to college and become an agent. Ryan Brooks replied, “My intention is to go to college and become a professional basketball player,” and the two boys shook on it, Darlene Brooks said.
A year later at Lower Merion, coach Gregg Downer selected Ryan Brooks for the varsity team as a freshman, though he played mainly junior varsity his first two years.
“They saw the skill, but they wanted Ryan to focus on team, to focus on defense,” Darlene Brooks said.
At Temple, Ryan Brooks has drawn the assignment of guarding every opposing team’s best offensive player. He credits that to Downer, who said he teaches defensive progressions every day in practice.
“When I was in Lower Merion, we really preached defense,” Ryan Brooks said. “My senior year was when I started guarding the best player on the other team. My coach wanted me to use my length and athleticism to my advantage. I really bought into it and took the challenge to stop the opposing team. I felt that if I stopped them that we would win the game.
“When I first got here, if I wanted to play, I was going to have to make a concerted effort on the defensive end,” he added. “I had no choice but to continue to play good defense and make a name for myself on that end of the court. Ever since then, it’s been my job to come out here and be in the zone defensively.”
Originally recruited by teams like Army, Binghamton, William & Mary, New Hampshire and Hartford, Ryan Brooks accepted a scholarship from new coach Fran Dunphy on June 29, 2006, after first turning down a walk-on spot. He was prepared to attend a year of preparatory school. Darlene Brooks had already paid the deposit. But then the scholarship became available when Matthew Shaw opted for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
“It was the longest, hardest weekend,” Darlene Brooks said. “I’ve never seen someone go through so much anguish. I finally made him sit down and make a list of pros and cons. At the end of the weekend, he said, ‘OK.’ I kept telling him, ‘Don’t do this for me. It’s going to be your four years. Don’t do this for me.’ He said, ‘I’m not, Mom. I made up my mind, and I’m going to do it.’ And it has just been a love affair. He moved away, but he was close enough that if he needed me, I was there.”
As a freshman, Ryan Brooks called her one night because he was hungry. Darlene Brooks loaded her car with food and drinks from Costco. When she arrived, four teammates came outside to help unload everything and to thank ‘Mama Brooks,’ as she is known to the team.
“From that point on, I’ve been ‘Mama Brooks,’” Darlene Brooks said. “I have relationships with the younger kids, and it’s a relationship where I will send them a text message individually. You know, ‘Shake off the loss. Stay focused. Play hard. Have fun.’”
She has attended all but three of Ryan Brooks’ home games in his four years on campus. She wears a signature Temple sweatshirt with his number sewn into one sleeve and sits beside his girlfriend of three years, Villanova women’s basketball player Lindsay Kimmel, who wears her own custom-made Brooks jersey.
“I try to get into the gym while they’re warming up,” Darlene Brooks said. “I like to get in and watch them at shootaround. It kind of gives me a sense of what kind of shooting game he’s going to have. When they first come back over right before they’re getting ready to do ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ I’ll look at him. You couldn’t even tell what was going on because it’s the slightest head nod of acknowledgment. When they’re playing really well or they’re struggling, if he looks up, I’ll do the same thing, and it’s kind of like, ‘Don’t give up. Keep going. We’ll get through this.’”
Ryan Brooks was the Owls’ third-leading scorer the last two seasons. This summer, Kimmel said he worked out at the University of Pennsylvania with coach Jerome Allen daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in an effort to improve.
“I’ve never seen someone with such a drive who loves working out so much,” Kimmel said. “Watching him play, he’s always had all the tools, but now he knows it is his time to step up. Before he took a backseat and his main focus was defense. Now, he’s elevated his offensive game. He drives more, and he’s concentrated on passing and rebounding.
“Behind the scenes, he gives the guys advice on and off the court,” Kimmel added, “whether it’s academics or making sure they’re where they need to be. I think they look up to him and want to follow in his footsteps. I’ve never heard a bad thing about him from them or his coaches, even before we were dating. He’s the one who huddles them up during timeouts and brings them together at the foul line.”
Ryan Brooks said he welcomed that responsibility. His first three years, he played with the likes of Dustin Salisbery, Mark Tyndale and Dionte Christmas. Now, it is his time to shine and lead.
“The last three years helped me evolve into the player I am today by watching those guys and learning to mature,” Ryan Brooks said. “I saw how they led the team, how they approached certain game situations. I was always aware of certain things they did working out, their preparation. I really took note because I knew that this time, my senior year, was coming, and I was going to have to write my own chapter.
“I wanted to put that on my shoulders,” he added. “When you have a successful team during the season, you can’t get complacent, but you can say, ‘You know, I’ve done a pretty good job helping lead this team with my other captains and the coaching staff so far.’
As Dunphy’s first recruit, Ryan Brooks said he does feel some pressure to succeed. As a senior at Lower Merion, he helped lead his team to the 2006 PIAA Class AAAA state title. The past two years, the Owls have won the Atlantic Ten Championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
“You kind of want to leave your stamp on the program,” Ryan Brooks said. “You want his first recruit to be a successful one. Here in my senior year, we’ve been pretty successful to this point, I think. We have a pretty good shot of finishing my career strongly and on a high note as we have in the past two years.”
“I think he looks at it like, ‘This guy took a chance on me. His reputation is dependent upon how good he can produce players, and I’m going to give him everything I have,’” Darlene Brooks said.
The Brooks family would love the Owls to not only make the NCAA Tournament but to play at the New Orleans site for the first and second rounds.
“If that happens, I think it’s because somebody made it happen,” Ryan Brooks said. “That would be a perfect ending to my career here.”
His academic career will end when he graduates May 13 with a degree in advertising. With just one class one day a week this semester [Ryan Brooks would have graduated in three-and-a-half years if one class had not been canceled last semester], he has already talked about the future with his mom during lunch on campus. She wanted him to enroll in non-matriculated graduate courses this semester and would like him to either pursue a master’s degree down the road or go into coaching. He wants to pursue his basketball dream.
“It marks a shift in our relationship,” Darlene Brooks said. “He’s no longer the student. He’ll no longer be the kid. It really has been a real pleasure watching him grow up into the man he is. I think that I’m probably one of the luckier parents around because I teach here and because I get to go to the Liacouras Center and watch him do what he loves.
“Initially, as a parent, I told him that there’s life after basketball, and you’ve got to get your degree,” Darlene Brooks added. “I know the competitive nature of the sport. There are very few spaces. Then I realized that I needed to change my thinking. I shifted gears because I felt like I needed to support his dream. I needed to get on board. I believe in your dream. Go for it.”
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.