For the second time in as many weeks, Kentucky freshman forward Keion Brooks Jr. came off the bench and provided a much-needed spark on both ends of the floor.
Against Fairleigh Dickinson last weekend, the 6-foot-9 forward finished with a career-high 15 points to go with five rebounds, one assist, one block, and one steal.
And then on Saturday evening against Georgia Tech, Brooks came off the bench and hit the double-digit mark once again, finishing with ten points, four rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block in the 14-point victory.
It started on the offensive end of the floor.
“This stuff is hard here,” John Calipari said of Brooks after the game. “It’s easier to just say let me shoot more balls. Well, it’s not how this stuff works. It’s not how you elevate your game. But Keion (Brooks Jr.) did today.”
And then on the other end, he fought, something Calipari has been stressing in practice over the last two weeks.
“He’s fighting. Fight,” Calipari said. “He’s a skilled basketball player. I even saw him stay in front of people where we were getting beat on the dribble — No. 5 (Moses Wright) beat us on the dribble with everybody else who played him, and he didn’t get around Keion (Brooks Jr.). I was proud of him.”
What his teammates have seen in practice is finally showing in the games, and it’s something they feel “a lot of [other] guys and teams don’t have.”
“Keion has been hooping,” sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley said. “He’s really tough and more athletic than anybody who steps on the floor, so he definitely gives you something that a lot of guys and teams don’t have.”
Brooks said the confidence he plays with now is “night and day” from when he first got on campus.
“It’s night and day,” he said. “First coming here, I was a little confused and lost at times but with practice, games, and constant repetition I’m really where I’m supposed to be on the floor.”
And it’s showing on the floor, as Brooks has combined for 25 points on 10-18 shooting in his last two games.
According to the freshman out of Fort Wayne, IN, the shooting success can be attributed to his time in the gym working with coaches and trainers. When he finds open shots and opportunities arise, he has the confidence to knock down shots.
“I know my spots where I’m most comfortable, I try to stay in those spots, and I try to stay out of spots where I’m not as comfortable as I usually am. So just I try to find an open spot where I can rely on my training and my skill to make the shot.”
While his own game is improving, Brooks is focused on the entire team progressing as a collective unit as the schedule gets tougher.
Georgia Tech was a solid challenge, but the real test starts next week in Las Vegas.
“I’m up for the challenge to see how good we are,” he said. “Georgia Tech was another good game that could really test us to see how far we’ve come from the beginning of the season until now, so I’m up for it and excited to stack up and see how good we are.”