Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, January 13, 1999

H A W A I I _ P R E P _ S P O R T S


Brooks is
Double Trouble

Punahou's Brandon Brooks has
the talent to play collegiately in basketball
and water polo; his next challenge is
finding a school that will let him do both

By Cindy Luis


THERE'S love and then there's passion. And when it comes to competing in college, Brandon Brooks is having a difficult time choosing between following his head or his heart.

Water polo would be the smart choice. As one of the top-ranked goalies at the junior elite level, Brooks is considered U.S. national team -- perhaps Olympic team -- caliber.

But basketball ... he was born to play that. It's the sport he teethed on before he could talk, sitting on the bench as a 2-year-old, watching his father -- who played at Bradley -- compete in park league games.

It's a double dilemma for the 17-year-old Brooks, one of the tri-captains of the Punahou School varsity basketball team. Not many colleges he's looking at will give him a chance to play both.

He doesn't want to choose.

"I've always liked basketball better, but I think the gap between it and water polo has narrowed in the last year," Brooks said. "I'd be satisfied to play water polo in college but ... I'd still like to play basketball.

"But right now, the goal is to win a state (basketball) championship. That's what our team is working hard for, winning the ILH, getting to the state tournament and winning it."

Brooks is doing his best to make it happen. The Buffanblu, off to a 2-0 start in the ILH, finished 14-1 in non-conference play, with two victories over perennial power Kalaheo and a four-point loss to nationally ranked Rice of Manhattan in the Iolani Prep Classic.

Brooks scored 28 points against the New York team but it was against the Mustangs in the Walter Wong Invitational semifinals that he had a come-of-age moment. The 6-foot-6 center had just nine points but scored the winning basket on a drive with 3.5 seconds left.

"If there's one play that says it all, it's the one against Kalaheo," said Buffanblu senior guard Steve Gilliam. "He took (all-state selection) Julien Sensley one-on-one and took it to him.

"Brandon has a tendency to make that clutch play. He's very versatile, has good ballhandling skills for a big man and he's very unselfish."

"In a situation like that, we usually clear out for Steve (to take the shot)," Punahou coach Alan Lum said. "When I said we were going to clear out for Brandon, he was surprised. It was his turn to step it up. He has confidence, but he's very unselfish.

"I've had him for four years (on varsity) and I really like the kid. A lot of our success we owe to him for being a good player but even more for being a good leader."

In the ILH opener against overmatched Damien, Brooks played about half of the first and third quarters. He scored just four points but had eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks in nine minutes.

Lum put him in for 41 seconds in the fourth quarter. Brooks responded with a block, an assist, three rebounds and two baskets, the second off a steal at mid-court.

"Scoring isn't everything," said Brooks. "Because of water polo, I have found the joy of passing."

"Brandon is a super good kid and, to me, he is the consummate athlete," said Buffanblu water polo coach Ken Smith. "He's got strength, size, agility, the perfect body for a goalie, and a positive attitude. He's not a swimmer but he was our third-fastest guy. He's what every coach is looking for.

"It would have been easy for him to rest on his laurels this season but he didn't. He was such a leader. He's got great composure and that comes from basketball, from being in pressure situations. But the thing is, he has so much fun playing."

The Brooks family moved from Illinois to Hawaii in 1989. Brandon attended Liliuokalani School where, as a fourth-grader, he played on the school team.

"From early on, we knew he was athletic," said Brooks' mother, Lisbeth. "He's just an achiever, very self-motivated. He's been at Punahou since seventh grade and done very well. I truthfully couldn't ask for a better son."

"I never pushed him into basketball but I think he picked up my enthusiasm for the game," said Brooks' father, Scott, who is 6-8. "He was always coming along with me to my games and naturally picked it up.

"I'm a basketball fanatic. I didn't appreciate water polo until he started playing at Punahou. We're hoping he can find a school where he can play both sports. It's his decision."

Brandon Brooks said he is leaning toward UCLA, which has talked to him about a water polo scholarship and walking on in basketball. He's made his recruiting visit to UCLA and will also make one to Pepperdine.

Brooks began playing water polo in seventh grade and was spotted by Smith in a P.E. class. He made the varsity as a freshman -- in water polo, basketball and track.

Following basketball, Brooks will compete in the high jump and the discus. When he graduates this spring, he'll leave with 12 varsity letters, including one from football when he played wide receiver as a sophomore.

"The only thing I want to say is thank you to everyone who has helped me," Brooks said. "I don't want to leave anybody out so I won't mention names. Just a thank you to anybody and everybody."

"He's matured a lot in his four years," Lum said. "We knew about him from the intermediate team but no one expected him to play varsity as a freshman. But he contributed a lot, even that first year.

"The only thing that has eluded him is a state championship. It's a team goal and it's going to take a team effort for us to get there. Brandon tells the team, 'Let's raise the bar.' He raises his level of play and that of everyone around him."

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