Absent from all contact practices since early October and Kentucky’s first nine games of the season with a severe calf injury, second-rate striker Kion Brooks Jr. returned in revenge.
Finishing with 12 points in 6-8 shots, six rebounds, four assists, one block and one steal in 24 minutes, Brooks was one of the key reasons Kentucky managed to secure a 76-58 victory and move 3-0 in a conference game. .
After months of uncertainty and training constraints, UK head coach John Calipari was excited to have a “stable force” in Kentucky.
“The only thing he couldn’t do with us was contact. He was training, preparing, and I told him, “Better because we’ll know something in the next few days. Better condition. And he was, “Calipari said. “He is just a disciplined, conscientious (player). It’s nice to have stable strength. … There were many good things. “
The impressive debut performance comes after an emotional week for the sophomore, who is waiting for news of another delayed return from the doctors in the team.
“I told the team that when he talked to the doctors, he looked scared to death, he thought it would last longer. His hands were shaking. He came to see me, they cleared it and he and I became emotional and I hugged him. “
After the news, Brooks didn’t worry about where he would fit in the rotation or how many minutes he would get right away. The veteran forward cared only to do what was best for the team.
Given the team’s recent public and private turmoil, Calipari was quick to use Brooks’ response and general message as a lesson for the team.
I said, “I need to know how I can get you in.” “He said, ‘Coach, I believe you are doing everything you think is best for this team.'” I told the team, “Calipari said. I said, “Think of some of you. You end up in a subgroup, and some of you say, “Why did you obey me ?!” I think of you. Think about how he reacts to this. He is a leader by example. He’s not a collider, he’s not who he is. “
As for the court presence, Brooks built immediately after his impressive performance at the end of the year in Gainesville last March, carrying a balance and confidence. You could see a little rust, but Brooks more often made the right decisions for scoring, passing and defense.
“You saw what an athlete he was,” Calipari said. “You see, he’s physically stronger than he was.” He is much more patient mentally, the game slowed down for him. This is a big deal. We played without him, I mean.
Calipari likened Brooks to a coach on the field, praising the second-grader for his guidance and leadership in his debut this season.
“He can calm them down on the court by taking him off our staff,” said the UK head coach. “That’s what makes it amazing, in Mississippi, how we did it without him. How we did it and how they behaved together. He is a special young man, a great man, a great teammate and an experienced basketball player. Very talented. “
Standing with Brooks for the first time in his career, transfer defender Davion Mintz is struggling to come up with words to describe the 6-foot-7 striker’s performance in his debut. Simply put, he changed the game.
“You watched the game, you saw it,” Mintz said. “He gave us a completely different element in the game. Today, Kion was amazing. It was super fun. I was speechless, really. It was amazing. “
Oddly enough, Mintz could sense that an impressive day was coming for Brooks after talking to him during preliminary games. There were no nerves, zero pressure.
Brooks was just grateful to be back on the floor.
“Kion has good practices. He relaxed. But in order not to discredit his practices, it was not something like a game. He just turned a different key, it was amazing, “said Mintz. “We tested him to see what he could do. … We knew he would play well, but we didn’t know he would come in and make the impact he did. This is only a credit for his work and rehabilitation, the boys who helped him.
“… He does not put any pressure on him. He told me before the game: “I’ll just go there and have fun, I have nothing to lose. I’m just blessed to play right now. “When I saw that he had such an attitude, I realized, ‘Okay, good afternoon to Kion.’ And he did.”
As for Brooks, he was confident in his ability to produce in his debut, crediting Kentucky strength coach Rob Harris for keeping him in shape while a calf injury kept him out of competition.
“I have always believed in my ability to come back and play well. I was constantly training, keeping in great shape, “said Brooks. “A huge shout out for coach Rob Harris, our strength coach. I don’t even like to call him that, he’s much more than that. Not only did he do a great job of keeping me in great shape, but I also spent a lot of time with him, so he was always in my ear to stay positive. The conversations we had, he really helped me go through what I went through. “
Above all else, outside of production, Brooks was just happy to serve as the leader of a team that has been desperate for one since the start of the season. He wanted to bring a positive, contagious attitude to the floor, and that rubbed against his teammates.
“You hit the nail on the head, my guide.” I’m just trying to bring in energy and I hope my energy is contagious to my teammates, “said Brooks. “They also did a great job of sticking to me the whole time I was hurt. I didn’t want to go out there and disappoint them, not play by their standards, not be as engaged as them, not have as much energy as they would have. This works in both directions.
“My leadership really depends on them and they allowed me to be a leader. Tonight went well. ”