WHS alum leads Dukes to NCAA Tourney

Column by Jim Gordon
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I don’t know who will be named CAA Coach of the Year for the 2009-2010 season, but our vote goes to Waynesboro’s own Kenny Brooks, who guided his JMU Dukes to their first conference tournament championship Sunday by thrashing perennial power Old Dominion by 15 points in the championship game Sunday afternoon.

Yes, we know the Lady Dukes were playing in their own Convocation Center, but remember that the students were still on Spring Break and the Lady Monarchs had beaten the Dukes on the JMU court during the regular-season. But the JMU Band, which is equal in energy and quality to the Virginia Pep Band, provided an emotional edge for the Lady Dukes who were able to sleep in their own beds during the stretch of three straight games.

Most area basketball fans remember Kenny who was a member of the Waynesboro High School varsity basketball team from 1985 to 87, was named to the All-Valley District team and was also named to the Little Giant Hall of Fame several years ago after being named All-State Honorable Mention in his junior and senior seasons and played in the Virginia High All-Star Game down in Lynchburg after his senior year.

He then played college ball at JMU for four years (1987 to 91) and became a regular in his sophomore season when he started in 20 games and averaged 11.5 points and had 112 assists to lead the team in that statistic. Brooks averaged only eight minutes per contest as a junior in Lefty Driesell’s first year at JMU, but then played an average of 20 minutes a game in his senior season when he averaged 6.8 points a game. He played in two NIT tourneys under Lefty and was an assistant coach for the men’s team in ’93 and ’94 when the Dukes won the CAA Tournament title and got an NCAA Tourney bid.

Kenny became a full-time assistant at VMI in 1996, then became a full-time men’s assistant back at JMU under Sherman Dillard in 2002 before being named head coach in 2003. He was CAA Women’s Coach of Year in 2007 and Virginia Coach of the Year that same season.

Coach Brooks has an overall record of 172-78 as head coach of the women’s team. He is the second winningest coach in JMU women’s basketball history behind the legendary Shelia Moorman and the Lady Dukes have made the CAA finals in four of the last five years. The Dukes got an at-large bid to the NCAA Tourney in 2007.

His mom, Darlene Brooks goes to every home game and still lives in Waynesboro where she works for Ntelos. Kenny and wife Chrissy have three daughters ages 4-to-11.

We talked by phone to Kenny Monday morning during a day off from practice and asked him what are the aspects of the game which the team has improved on the most over the course of the past season? Said Brooks, “We have improved on every aspect of the game and our chemistry has also improved a lot.”

What will Brooks stress in practice this week? “We are playing well right now so it is just a matter of fine-tuning and staying sharp,” said the JMU Coach. “Since we won’t know until tonight who we are going to play yet in the tourney, we are giving the girls a day of rest after three straight games to get their physical strength back so they have fresh legs by Thursday or Friday.”

Asked if he thought the zone or the man-to-man was the Dukes’ most effective in the CAA tourney, Brooks replied, “The zone was best in the first two games to keep us out of foul trouble. But the man-to-man was better in the finals because we played man most of the season. We have a full-court press, but didn’t use it this past weekend because of the fact we were playing three straight games in the tourney so we needed to conserve our energy and keep from running out of gas.”

Some coaches shorten practices in the post-season. Does Brooks believe in that strategy? “Absolutely,” said the Dukes’ top dog. “We only go an hour and a half at most now, partly to prevent injuries.

“Winning the CAA Tourney title for the first time since 1989 was one of our goals at the begining of the season. Our next goal on the list to challenge this team is that we want to tie or pass the single-season 28-win record for girls at JMU.”

The Dukes will now be playing against even stronger competition in the NCAA tourney and they will be playing in a venue which the girls may not be familiar with. Will this be a problem, or were the games at big arenas like the ones at UVa., Duke and ODU enough to give them the confidence they need to compete against quality teams on the road, especially since JMU won two of those three games?

Replied Brooks, “Our girls are very confident and believe if they do things well, they can win the game.”

Which was the toughest place JMU had to play at this past season? Said Brooks, “ODU, W&M and UNC-Wilmington were tough this year while Duke was the toughest team we played. The sweetest win was Sunday against ODU,” partly because it clinched a berth in the NCAA Tourney.

The Kansas men’s hoops coach said Sunday during an interview on ESPN that there were several things that every coaching staff should do to prepare to play a team they have not played against recently. One was to get as much tape or film of that team’s games as you could and another was to call coaches of teams they had played to get their insight or to find out what they thought their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses were. The other aspect was to try to continue to improve on your own weaknesses? Did Brooks try to do the same things in women’s basketball? “We get DVDs on other team’s games and we may call a coach or two if we know them,” said the JMU mentor.

Does Brooks feel he has enough depth on the bench if any of his starters get in foul trouble or go down with an injury?

“I believe our bench is one of our strong points, said Brooks. “We only have 10 players on our team now so all but one of them are playing 10 or more minutes a game. We actually practice against an all-male squad which makes us play hard in our scrimmages.”

The thing you notice during a JMU game is that Coach Brooks does a lot of teaching on the sideline during time-outs and right before another player is lining up to shoot free throws, which the Dukes are very proficient at. During the CAA tourney, there were very few times when he was upset and expressed his anger over an aspect of the game the girls were not playing as well as he knew they could.

We don’t know how long Kenny Brooks will stay at JMU, but we will not be surprised if he gets an offer to move up to a bigger program in the near future.

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