Brooks preceded by legend at Irvine
Wizards coach’s number retired by alma mater
IRVINE, CALIF. — There’s a story about Scott Brooks almost getting arrested at McDonald’s while in college. Another about the time he played against the school that didn’t recruit him and every time he made a shot, Brooks mean-mugged the opposing head coach. There’s even a story about Brooks playing fearlessly while scaring teammates who thought he may never get up from one of his nightly falls.
The anecdotes shared about Brooks’s two years at UC Irvine from 1985 to 1987 have grown into folk tales. Some of the details have been embellished over three decades of storytelling. Things might not have happened exactly the way his loyal friends retell them — Brooks may or may not have come this close to catching a case all because his favorite fast-food chain forgot to hold the onions — but one fact remains unaffected by the passage of time: Brooks worked harder and played tougher than anyone on the court.
This is the true legend of Scotty Brooks, the overlooked kid who became a college standout, the undrafted player who won an NBA championship and is now the head coach in his fourth season with the Washington Wizards. A portion of his story came full circle Saturday when Brooks’s alma mater honored him by retiring his No. 12 jersey, only the second number to be displayed on the Bren Events Center wall in the history of the Anteater basketball program.
“The guy worked his butt off,” said Johnny Rogers, a UCI teammate. “He’s a guy that everyone loved. Just an overachiever, really tough.”
Rogers was a senior entering the 1985-86 season when Brooks, a 5-foot-10 scrawny guard, transferred in for his junior season. The introduction to his new teammate ended with Brooks vomiting.
Brooks had played the previous season at San Joaquin Delta, a junior college, and very few Anteaters recognized him to be the recruit when he showed up for voluntary workouts.
“I didn’t even know we signed the guy,” Wayne Englestad, another teammate, said in recalling the day the basketball team ran steps of the buildings on campus.
By the time players reached the roof of the engineering building, according to Rogers and Englestad, Brooks lost his lunch. Rogers wondered why he never quit. Englestad thought “this walk-on won’t make it.” Brooks learned never to eat McDonald’s again before running stairs.
“He has shares in McDonald’s or something,” Englestad quipped about how much Brooks, his former college roommate, loved the golden arches.
Englestad recalled a time when the two high-tailed it to the McDonald’s drive-through 10 minutes before closing and Brooks ordered a Big Mac with no onions. As a kid, he hated onions and always picked them off his burgers. On this particular night when Brooks examined his food and noticed onions, he staged a one-man protest for a burger without the offending diced vegetable.
“There was a line behind us of five or six cars,” Englestad said. “He literally would not leave his car until Irvine P.D. showed up.”
Brooks’s dogged determination worked better on the court than in late-night drive-through lines. Recruited to be the third guard, Brooks started and played like a man obsessed by personal slights. In interviews, he shared how the reporters overlooked him during the team’s media day or crafted headlineworthy quotes about University of Pacific, once his dream school located near his hometown of Lathrop, Calif., that didn’t give him a scholarship.
“I wanted to be ‘Local Boy Makes Good,’” Brooks told a Los Angeles Times reporter in 1987 after 22 points against Pacific. “Instead, it was ‘Local Boy Goes to Irvine … and Does Better Than Expected.’ ”
Brooks performed his own stunts — flinging his body into towels boys for the single-minded pursuit of loose balls, searching for layups and contact as though one couldn’t happen without the other, and collecting bruises along his backside while taking offensive fouls.
“I just remember him … getting pummeled and then he’d be laying on the ground and you’re thinking: ‘Is he going to be able to get up?’ ” said Rogers, who now works as the Wizards’ president of pro personnel.