Keion Brooks played arguably his best game of the season at Arkansas, finishing with ten points, seven rebounds, a block, and a steal in 17 minutes. For the first time in almost a month, Brooks didn’t start, but was an integral part of Kentucky’s second half surge, scoring five points in the final 2:44 to help the Cats hold off the Hogs.
After John Calipari was ejected at the 8:19 mark, Associate Head Coach Kenny Payne kept Brooks in for the rest of the game in hopes it would encourage the freshman to swim, not sink. It worked.
“The whole time I’m telling Keion, ‘You have to grow up today. So I’m not taking you out. I need to know that you can get through this. I need to know that—you’re taking a test. How are you going to do on this test?’ He passed. I’m so proud of him because he’s had a hard road. The pressure that he’s been under to perform is a lot. The game is coming fast. He stood up and he came through for us. Really big. Big day for him today.”
“It was real quick and short in the huddle during the timeout,” Brooks said of the conversation with Payne. “He just said he’s going to let me play through some mistakes, make me grow up, being out there in a tough environment on the road, playing against a good team, Arkansas, with Coach Cal gone. He was just letting me know, we’re going to ride with you no matter what happens and you’re going to learn from whatever happens on the floor. Gratefully, I did some good things.”
The last time Brooks scored in double figures was the win over Georgia Tech on Dec. 14. Today, he admitted to reporters that he’s struggled over the past month, but knows his game is slowly evolving.
“Yeah, I’ve just been relying on my training, my work ethic, the faith I have in God to push me through everything I’m going through. It’s not always easy, but I know I’m going to push through it and fight through it. So, the game has been coming a little bit easier to me. I’ve just got to keep getting better and keep progressing.”
After Saturday’s performance, Brooks said he’s already feeling more confident.
“Yeah, it did. Especially my teammates continuing to believe in me to get things done. My teammates and coaching staff, their faith in me has never waned or faltered throughout this whole process, even when I was struggling. Just, for them to keep believing in me, and I finally have a good game out of it, it feels good.”