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Keion Brooks was patient; Now he steps into a featured role

Keion brooks

Keion brooksKeion Brooks Jr. is the rarest commodity in college basketball: a patient five-star. A level-headed former blue-chip recruit with the understanding that top-25 recruiting status is all but a promise to play significant minutes at Kentucky; that Brad Calipari’s chest is a mantra to live by as a hooper in Lexington: “Earned Not Given.”

As a freshman, Brooks was quiet on and off the court; a slim presence on a Kentucky team un-typically dominated by lovable upperclassmen. The Hagans-Quickley-Maxey-Richards foursome grew into Kentucky’s most (and only?) productive unit, leaving Brooks in a power forward carousel with veteran sniper Nate Sestina and a 6-10 second-year big EJ Montgomery.

Sestina graduated, Montgomery opted not to “waste” his overwhelming talent on a level of basketball so beneath him, and fellow freshman wings Kahlil Whitney and Johnny Juzang were each vanquished by their own this-didn’t-go-my-way approach to Kentucky.

Not Brooks, he remained a ‘Cat, and he’ll be a perfect piece for 2021, playing a perfect role on a squad spectacular enough to be ranked only twelve spots behind Richmond on Jeff Goodman’s Way Too Early rankings (a team in the A-10 with a worse 2020 record than Kentucky and zero NCAAT appearances since the Romney/Obama election).

While we the BBN complain quite a bit (and often rightfully) about our basketball roster rotating in and out like Michael Scott replacements, the past two seasons were dominated by upperclass stars such as P.J. Washington, Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards and Ashton Hagans. The next will be Keion Brooks. And in his own way.

The consensus hope around the state seems to be that Brooks will turn in a P.J. Washington type in his second season with a similar spike in production. Pump the brakes on that one, folks. It’s forgotten how dominant Washington became at times late in his freshman year. In that miserable 2018 Sweet Sixteen loss to the Xavier Sneed heat check, Washington was Kentucky’s only hope, notching 18 and 15 (shut up about the free throws) as Knox went missing in all the important moments and Shai was just off (but still converted 11/12 at the stripe).

Freshman P.J. averaged double figures, had shown clear go-to offensive moves, and then added his ace of spades between years: that left block, one dribble, mini dream-shake and baby hook. Washington was a scoring star where I think Keion Brooks will thrive primarily as a rebounder, defensive stopper, and multiphase catch-and-shoot threat. It’s possible he develops into a PJ-like scorer but I don’t want to place that kind of expectation when that isn’t his best skill, a la Washington.

Weirdly, in a basketball world controlled by stars, at Kentucky, I’d prefer this version of Keion. Kentucky always has the star power, but they also have the Disease of More: celebrity high school stars get to college and endlessly want more shots, more minutes, more opportunity, more acclaim. And you can’t blame them, they have older mentors and coaches and relatives in their ear hungrier for the spotlight than they are for player X’s genuine basketball development. Again, you can’t totally blame them when future non-guaranteed money is the crux of the issue.

But the Brooks party has been different. His father gives glowing reviews of the coaching staff even when his kid is struggling to see the floor. According to a fantastic and premium version of what I’m writing, Kyle Tucker got this quote out of Keion Brooks Sr.: “Cal told [Keion] he was just proud of him for fighting and not giving up, not being discouraged and not running away, but coming in to get better every day.”

Those are the sentiments reflective of a hardworking team-first leader. Those kids are batting 1.000 at Kentucky.

Last season, Kentucky lacked reliable role players: secondary scorers who scrap for extra possessions, physical forwards to control the paint, three-point gunners, etc. In the past, guys like Darius Miller, Doron Lamb, DeAndre Liggins, Dominique Hawkins, Derek Willis, and Reid Travis filled those holes. The best teams under Cal include them.

We can act like it’s crazy to say you can’t win with a bunch of freshman stars, but the reality is that you need role guys willing to sacrifice their own stats and minutes for the betterment of the team, and usually, it takes a year or two for that mentality to develop. Perhaps Kentucky would’ve been a one-seed, top-five type of team this year had that been Kahlil Whitney’s approach (and he oozed athletic talent too, what a damn shame). It wasn’t. And it was probably the difference between 25-6 and a one-seed en route to the Final Four, not that it mattered.

Brooks has the selfless mentality and now he has a season of maturity to go with his abundant athletic gifts and likely huge offseason bulk-up. He’ll return to campus bigger, smarter, stronger, and prepared to bang with any forward in the country.

I foresee production more along the lines of a Reid Travis for sophomore Brooks. He’s bouncier and slimmer than Reid, but the rebounding, post scoring, and team-oriented decision-making are all traits Brooks flashed as a freshman.

Above all else, Travis was dependable. I always felt comfortable with him on the floor, which isn’t true 100% of the time for most guys. He didn’t sulk after missed shots or Cal tantrums, he didn’t jack contested jumpers with 18 seconds left on the shot clock, he never tried more than he was capable of. Reid Travis maximized his ability in a Kentucky uniform.

Keion Brooks should be that steady presence. The one 20-year-old whose judgment I don’t have to worry about, whose effort and commitment to improving and helping the team is constant–and contagious. Keion is a mature kid; quiet, but very thoughtful about basketball and concerned with becoming the best version of himself and the best version of a Kentucky teammate. He’ll be one of the top “glue guys” in the country next year; the engine, like an Ashton Hagans–the nonstop motor who maintains team energy. And he’ll be a draft pick because of it.

Keion Brooks Jr. made it through a freshman year of four points per game and no acclaim…and is going to make it out clean on the other side, a self-conscious sophomore physical beast with supreme versatility and the pacesetter for a team that will spank Richmond on its way to another contending season for John Calipari.

Article written by Alex Weber

@alexweberKSR on Twitter.

13 Comments for Keion Brooks was patient; Now he steps into a featured role

  1. Tom Bombadil
    4:54 pm May 24, 2020 Permalink

    Great article! You could see Keion coming on stronger and stronger as the season went on. He became more comfortable with the game plan and offensive sets. I’m really looking forward to seeing Keion blossom next year. He was right there at the end of last season…shame the season ended abruptly…but i forsee an explosive season for him. If his jump shot gets better… then there is no stopping him. A lot of times he would come in and miss his first jump shot or two and it would cut into his mental and his minutes. That Florida game did wonders for him!! His shot is going to fall this year!! Go Keion!! Yes sir!!
    GO CATS!!

    • CrystalBall
      5:06 pm May 24, 2020 Permalink

      Right on, Tom.

  2. BobbyBlue
    5:16 pm May 24, 2020 Permalink

    Great article— sure hope you are correct !

  3. chris43
    5:22 pm May 24, 2020 Permalink

    Montgomery opted not to “waste” his overwhelming talent on a level of basketball so beneath him, and fellow freshman wings Kahlil Whitney and Johnny Juzang were each vanquished by their own this-didn’t-go-my-way approach to Kentucky.

    I don’t even consider these guys Wildcats to be honest.

  4. Ipeeblue
    6:06 pm May 24, 2020 Permalink

    He needs to transfer to Louisville

  5. KentuckyBoy
    6:34 pm May 24, 2020 Permalink

    Very well written. Not the shite Drew throws out there. Articulate, well constructed opinion. Not sure I see the comparison to Reid though. I feel like Brooks is similar to Tayshun, with more bounce and less range. Keon is my favorite kid from last year’s team. I think he will work his tail off this off season, and some of the kids from last year’s team won’t recognize him on the court because of the leap he is capable of taking.

  6. Hot Stuff Eddie Gilbert
    8:35 pm May 24, 2020 Permalink

    He looks like Cane from Menace To Society.

  7. blueballs80
    8:46 pm May 24, 2020 Permalink

    Part of his late growth was a log jam. Cal had too many players and its hard to distribute minutes without expectations. I believe if Keion started in place of EJ earlier in the season, he would have really improved.

    • KentuckyBoy
      8:33 am May 25, 2020 Permalink

      I agree. I felt like EJ got more minutes than he deserved tbh. Keon had a few games early in the season where he played really well. Once he realized that EJ was a priority over him, he fell of for a bit.

  8. Aar
    10:32 pm May 24, 2020 Permalink

    Nice piece. The thing I like best about Brooks from his first interview through the entire season is his approach. He recognizes his opportunities and works his tail off improving them. As with all of Cal’s protégés, his first success was on defense. Best of all, his progress was continuous and I was looking forward to his post-season playing time. His opportunities at Florida came because the Gators chose give him the ball and make him beat them. At some point this season he will need to succeed when defended before the catch and, probably, when double teamed. Succeeding at that is the type of progress that gets players drafted.

  9. jahanc2uky
    11:21 pm May 24, 2020 Permalink

    Kansas State… Not Xavier

    • AreJ
      12:01 am May 25, 2020 Permalink

      Xavier Sneed was the KSU player that went off in that game, had like 20 points.

  10. Saul T. Nuts
    1:51 pm May 25, 2020 Permalink

    I hope Brooks can shoot 35%+ from 3pt range next year. If he shoots well, then his ceiling is very, very high.