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Scott Brooks goes from blue collar to Thunder blue

by Jenni Carlson Modified: April 13, 2010 at 4:42 pm •  Published: November 27, 2008
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Scott Brooks is coaching basketball and preaching effort.

It’s more than his job.

It’s his testimony.

The man now holding the reins to Oklahoma City’s NBA franchise was the bluest of blue-collar kids. A small-town boy from Northern California, he is the son of a single mother, the youngest of seven children and the unlikeliest of NBA head coaches.

Then again, everything about his basketball career has been unlikely.

A kid from a town no bigger than Jones or Chandler getting a college scholarship? A 5-foot-11 point guard surviving in the NBA? A career journeyman becoming one of the league’s rising coaching stars?

The secret to his success — hard work.

That has been his way because the most important woman in his life demonstrated it, because the most influential man in his world encouraged it, because that’s what the main character in a rags-to-riches tale has to do.

Nothing has changed.

"Every day, you have to put your time in,” Brooks said. "Nothing ever was going to come easy for me on the basketball court, but I love that. It gave me a mentality that I have to work.

"That’s how I made it.”

***

Scott Brooks never knew his father.

He split when his youngest was only 2 years old. He sent a grand total of $17 in child support.

As a youngster in Lathrop, Calif., a small town about an hour’s drive from the Bay Area, Brooks didn’t realize how dire the family’s straits were. He figured everybody had what he had. He figured everybody had nothing.

"It wasn’t like I struggled day in and day out,” Brooks said, "but she did.”

Brooks’ mother, Lee, was on welfare for a while, but one day, she decided that she would not accept government aid anymore. She would not live off the system.

She wanted to make it on her own.

Lee Brooks worked 12 hours a day, six days a week building automotive parts, and she picked up overtime and odd jobs whenever she could.

Then, every year during the harvest, Lee would take all the kids to work in the fields. They would pick walnuts. They would top onions. They would make a few extra dollars.

Every little bit helped.

Working in the fields also gave Lee a chance to teach her children a lesson.

"If you don’t get your education,” she would tell them, "this is where you’re going to be.”

Scott Brooks knew he didn’t want to end up in the fields.

Not after he discovered basketball.

***

Basketball wasn’t a sport that ran in the Brooks brood.

None of Scott’s older siblings played the game, but then, a community center went up in the family’s neighborhood. There, on the shiny courts with the new goals, Brooks fell in love with basketball.

"I was there every day,” he said. "After school. Late nights.”

Brooks had a trick that allowed him all-hours access. He’d put a piece of paper or a bit of foil between the lock and the door. It looked closed, but Brooks would be able to get in after everyone was gone.

Lee Brooks always thought someone at the community center was letting him in.

"I didn’t know he was sneaking in,” she said.

Scott would play until 10 or 11 every night, earning a nickname from his family.

The Vampire.

"When you wanted to find him, you went to the park, to the gym and there he was with a basketball in his hand,” Lee Brooks said via telephone from Manteca, Calif., where she still works every day at the family’s car wash business. "That’s all he thought about.”

When Brooks heard about a camp at the community center, he decided to go. Never mind that it was for boys two or three years older than him, boys who were about to be freshmen at nearby East Union High.

"I couldn’t get him out of the gym,” said Bill Stricker, then the East Union coach, now the school’s athletic director.

"To this day, I wished that I would have taped some of his practices.

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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