'It really was surreal'

'It really was surreal'

Brian Brooks compiled a 324-121 record in 15 seasons coaching at St. Joseph-Ogden before stepping aside in March. The man who helped guide the Spartans to a 2016 Class 2A state title will serve as the South coach in today's Class 1A/2A Illinois Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Game in Pontiac. Before the action tips off at 4 p.m., sports editor MATT DANIELS caught up with Brooks:

How did you find out about the IBCA coaching gig?

One of the IBCA members contacted me a few years ago and asked if they wanted to put me in the pipeline to coach one of the summer games. I said, 'Absolutely.' They called me last year to do last summer's game, but the timing of it didn't work out. We were locked into playing at a summer shootout at Lincoln that Friday and Saturday, and I told them it wasn't going to work. They told me last year, we'll put you down for next summer. I hadn't heard anything, and I just assumed they maybe moved on down the list. They contacted me in the spring, though, and I was more than happy to accept.

Was there ever an overwhelming moment in your coaching career?

No, I don't think so. I never viewed coaching as work. I know all the time it takes, but I think it's a privilege to be a head basketball coach at any high school in Illinois because it's such a big basketball state. A guy I coached under at Riverton mentioned to me when I first got to St. Joe that you'll win 20 games a year and you'll win 100 games in your first four to five years. I thought he was nuts. Our fourth year we won the school's first sectional, and that was kind of a thrill. You set the goals for your program and the kids and you win that sectional, it was one of those, 'Wow, these kids have really accomplished a lot in a short time.' That first time going to play to Peoria in 2013 was almost surreal, too.

What was one play or offensive scheme you really enjoyed drawing up?

We did talk each year about different sets we'd have. It kind of became your favorite set for that team because of the personnel. Each year varied. If we had a guy who could get up close to the rim — and to be honest, we didn't have very many of those — we had one where we had a few backdoor alley-oop plays. Those would come in handy where a team would go on a run and we'd call a timeout to set up a play to try and stop the run. In the 2015-16 season, it was totally different than any other team because we had a kid like Brandon Trimble that was so good at creating his own shot. We're not a big isolation program. We did more of that with him, especially in the state semifinals where he seemed like he couldn't miss. I remember Jake Pence coming over to me during that game and saying, 'Throw everything you've got at Tribmle, and we'll keep giving it to him.' It worked out well.

What advice would you give a first-year coach?

To keep learning. Every year, we'd go to coaching clinics and pick the brains of other coaches. The day you stop trying to learn, and this is probably true with any profession, is the day you need to get out. When I was a young assistant coach, I would see veteran coaches there, guys like Tom Wierzba at Farmington, a great coach who was at the tail end of his career, but he was at almost every clinic I would go to. You've got to keep trying to learn, and I think that's really important for any coach.

When did it sink in that SJ-O won a state title in 2016?

The night we won, it really was surreal. I remember getting back to our hotel and just being drained. I had the flu the whole weekend, and I had felt horrible, to be honest, for about two weeks leading up to that. I don't know if there was one moment, but we went back to the state tournament the next year to watch and they had a big thing in the March Madness Experience room at the Civic Center in Peoria. To go back a year later and see our school's name next to the words, 'State champion' was really neat. Like we always told that team, that championship will never be taken away from them, and to see that really made it hit home.