Have an open date? JMU wants to fill it for you
Story by Chris Graham
Wake Forest, George Washington and Maryland at home, Pittsburgh in a holiday tournament, Clemson and Liberty on the road.
Kenny Brooks will play anybody anywhere anytime.
“We’re no longer trying to win 22 games playing against nobody and don’t have a shot at an NCAA bid. We’re trying to get a shot at an NCAA bid,” said Brooks, whose James Madison women’s basketball team earned an at-large invite to last year’s NCAA Tournament out of the midmajor CAA in large part due to Brooks’ scheduling philosophy.
One trick that he’s trying to add to his repertoire is more equality, if we can say that, in his team’s annual roster of opponents. Midmajors usually have to be willing to take their lumps on the road against traditional powers, but Brooks has been able to persuade Atlantic 10 and ACC schools to test the Convocation Center in recent years.
The biggest fish of all was fourth-ranked Maryland, which almost regretted the move to play a game in point guard Kristi Toliver’s old stomping grounds before pulling out a gritty 71-65 decision in the Convo Center last week.
“Kudos to her, because she will go to a tough environment like this. And you’ve got to think that this game has helped them – coming here and playing in front of this hostile crowd against a team that plays as hard as we do. This has got to help them somewhere down the stretch,” Brooks said, playing the role of salesman with his praise of Maryland coach Brenda Frese.
“A lot of teams won’t come here – they won’t come here. Got one across the mountain that just won’t come here. Got one down 81 that refuses to come up here. We get told no all the time. I bet you GW doesn’t come back up here,” Brooks said, alluding to, in order, Virginia, Virginia Tech and George Washington, which was vanquished by an 80-55 final by JMU in November.
Call Brooks a mad genius – he might like it if you did – but you can’t argue with the goal that he has in mind.
“What we got last year, we want it again. We got that taste in our mouth, and that’s what we want. That’s why we scheduled like we did,” Brooks said. “People thought I was crazy. You lose 5,000 points and 2,500 rebounds, and you make this schedule? I owe it to Tamera Young, I owe it to Jen Brown, to get them back to the NCAA Tournament, and not to just have to rely on winning three games in March.”
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The SportsDominion.