It is a long list, full of great names. And even more important probably, of great characters. Ever since Tom Izzo became the head coach of Michigan State University, he has had special relationships with his players. A lot of players had fantastic college careers under Izzo, but, of course, some were more special than others.
Think of someone like Mateen Cleaves who Izzo loves like a son. Izzo even loves him so much, that he gave his name to his own son, Steven, as a middle name. Think of Draymond Green, who with his tough-minded personality and outspokenness, became a wonderful mirror and partner in crime for the Hall of Fame coach. Then there was Denzel Valentine, who over the years, turned himself from a slightly overweight and flashy freshman into someone who could carry an entire team on his later chiseled back. The latest in the long line of true Izzo prodigies would be Cassius Winston, Izzo’s arm and mind on the court to whom he grew even closer through trials, tragedy and amazing athletic accomplishments.
Many of his former and current players consider the Spartans head man a father figure or close confidant, and he will be the first one to tell you that he loves all of them like his own kids. Of course, Izzo adores all of his former players. But some of his players truly have a special place in his heart as they become the embodiment of what he views as true Spartans, on and off the court, as true leaders and as people who stand for everything that is right in the Green and White world.
Enter Pierre Brooks II, who was recently named Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Michigan.
Now, the sturdy freshman swingman from Detroit‘s Frederick Douglass Academy hasn’t been on campus quite as long as fellow freshmen Jaden Akins and Max Christie. However, it is already easy to envision him as someone who will be able to set the tone for many Spartan teams in the coming years.
Brooks’ high school resume looks like it is copied straight out of an Izzo handbook, which he might or might not hand out to his assistants on the recruiting trail. Local kid? Check. Strong family behind him? Check. Great student? Check. Tremendous presence off the court? Check. Tough? Hard nosed? Willing to work? Willing to be coached? Checks everywhere.
In Spartan basketball lore, someone like Brooks is usually referred to as an “OKG” – our kind of guy. And on top of it he already is a very good basketball player, too. Brooks attributes many of the aforementioned characteristics to his parents, Dad, Pierre Sr., and mom, Inger. The couple made sure that the young Pierre didn’t sulk for long when he was cut from his sixth grade AAU team. They made sure he realized that he had the potential to become a tremendous player and that he stayed focused in his belief, his academics and his everyday business.
Pierre Brooks is putting the “man” in “freshman”
It wasn’t a surprise that his parents were among the first people Brooks thanked when he received the Hal Schram Michigan Mr. Basketball Award after his senior season, edging out, among other prominent candidates, Foster Wonders from Tom Izzo’s hometown of Iron Mountain.
“I want to thank my parents, without them I wouldn’t be the man I am today,” Brooks said when he received the award, neatly dressed in a perfect tailored suit and tie.
He might have used the word “man” unconsciously, but it couldn’t be more fitting for this 18-year-old. Not only does he possess a build far beyond his years, standing at 6-feet-6-inches tall and weighing in at 220 pounds, but he also has a seriousness about him that one can rarely find in players that age. It is more than his 4.13 GPA or his numerous academic achievements in various advanced classes. It is more than his membership on the Michigan High School Athletic Association Student Advisory Council. More than his voluntary work for underprivileged people or work as a youth basketball coach. It is a certain kind of quiet maturity that immediately turns him into someone who will demand respect wherever his journey might take him. Especially whenever he sets foot into the Spartans locker room.
Now, until he had reached this point, the sailing wasn’t always smooth. His father is quick to note that it took his son some time to grow into the role he is more than capable of filling today. And that it took the younger Brooks some time to accept his Dad’s hard coaching.
“I was even more harder on him because I knew what he was capable of, not just because he’s my son,” Brooks Sr. told MLive.com. “Just because I know the type of work and the type of player he was. We’ve had some adversity, but each year he has gotten better and better with handling adversity and just becoming a better teammate and leader.”
For the head of the Brooks family, it was preparation for what would materialize for his talented son on the horizon — a high level college basketball career.
“Going into his sophomore year, he started taking coaching a lot better, knowing that in the next level, his college coach is going to be 10 times harder on him than I was,” Brooks Sr. said. “I told him, ‘I’m trying to prepare you for the next level. That’s what I’m trying to do.’ And he started to realize that once other coaches started telling him the same thing, hearing from other people, it was good for him.”
Somewhere you might be able to hear Tom Izzo giggling listening to those words.
Family means a lot to Pierre Brooks and Michigan State
At the end of his senior year, after four years of intense coaching by his father, countless early morning workouts, filling in as a part-time big man on his undersized AAU team, “The Family,” and some hard discussions at the dinner table, father and son made it all the way to the Michigan Division 4 state championship game against Wyoming Tri-Unity.
It was a special day for the two, as Brooks Sr. had never won a title in 22 years of coaching and Brooks Jr. was playing at the Breslin Center, his future basketball home. The younger Pierre made sure it would be a night to remember as he led Douglass to a 47-41 win. His final stat line was 15 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. A lasting image from the game was his three-pointer from the Spartan logo to finish the first half. Yet, what made the day even more outstanding was the fact that father and son could share this memory together.
“Just winning a state championship for your dad and having a great bond and relationship with him is the best feeling you could have as a son“, Brooks II told MLive.com. “Knowing that he’s going to be there for you every step of the way throughout your whole life is just a great feeling.”
His emotional father was fighting back tears as he noted to the Lansing State Journal: “I’m just so happy for him to be my son.”
Brooks Sr. didn’t just mean it because his son was a great basketball player who is about to enter the next stage of his career. He is just as, or even more, enamored with the type of person he and his wife have raised, someone who is universally respected by teachers and teammates, who respects the game and his opponents and who is every bit the role model the Spartans envision for their basketball program. Plus he is someone who a certain coach can’t wait to get his hands on.
“His strength, his long range shooting and his passion are enough for me that if I do my job, I’ll make him a hell of a basketball player”, Tom Izzo said in a call with various reporters recently.
Izzo also knows a thing or two about kids who were taught by their fathers in high school, as he’s had great success with some of them in the past. When he then sat behind Inger Brooks during one of Pierre’s games and noticed how she wrote down stats to critique their men later over dinner, Izzo’s love for the basketball family was set in stone, already calling Brooks II one of his “favorites.”
Now that family is part of a bigger family, the Spartan family. And just like it has been the case for so many others before him, Pierre Brooks II values that special bond among the Spartans tremendously.
“I just think that State fits everything well,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “Every time that we’ve been to State, I’ve been treated like family. I know the guys very well, I know the coaching staff well. It’s just this whole base of a family atmosphere.”
It won’t take long until Spartan Nation will get to know Pierre Brooks II, too. Sure, he isn’t a surefire top-10 recruit, not a jump out of the gym type athlete or a flashy kind of player that will find himself in highlights every other week. He also didn’t play at the highest level of Michigan high school basketball. But Brooks still comes into college probably as ready for the next level as possible. His body already resembles the one of a seasoned pro, his long range jumper should easily translate into every role he gets for MSU and his old school game should make him less vulnerable to the expected struggles many freshmen face in the Big Ten.
From his hometown of Detroit, Brooks II brings a certain breed of toughness and the understanding of what it means to play for Michigan State. And with that, the sense for what it means to play for Tom Izzo. Just like some others knew before him.