Former Punahou standout Brandon Brooks is the starting goalie for the U.S. team heading into Athens.

Brooks branching his
game out into Olympics

The U.S. is not afraid to pin
its medal hopes in water polo
on the Punahou product

The last practice in U.S. water was last Friday and Brandon Brooks was a little nostalgic. The Long Beach Aquatic Center pool was a second home the past few weeks for him and his USA Water Polo Olympic teammates.

Brooks enjoyed the 12-hour days and the intense practices intended to mold the American team into medal contenders.

"Packing my bags, I was kind of getting sentimental," said Brooks who, at 23, is the second-youngest player on the team. "Until two years ago, I had never really thought about going to the Olympics. But it is very, very cool to be going."

The 6-foot-7 Brooks has been the starting goalkeeper for the U.S. National Team for more than a year. At last year's World Championships, he drew international notice with his ability to feed the ball deep into the fast-paced U.S. counter attack, not to mention his 14 stops in a 4-2 loss to Greece.

Brooks is noted for an arm span that covers most of the goal mouth. He had nine saves on May 29 when the Americans dealt Russia its first home defeat in the 25-year existence of its Olympic pool in Moscow.

The Brooks file

Sport: Water polo (goalie)

Competition dates: Aug. 15-29.

Birthdate: April 29, 1981

Birthplace: Rock Island, Ill.

High School: Punahou School (1999)

College: UCLA (2005).

Fun fact: Brooks was the Honolulu Star-Bulletin's Mr. Basketball in 1999, leading Punahou to the state championship over a Julian Sensley-led Kalaheo team.

Did you know?: Brooks, who walked on to the UCLA basketball team (1999-2000), was a four-sport letterman for the Buffanblu: four in basketball and track, three in water polo and one in football. He was the captain of the state champion basketball and track teams as a senior.

Last month, he again showed his long reach with seven saves as the U.S. upset reigning world champion Hungary 11-9 in a nationally televised match at Newport Beach, Calif. Brooks was officially named to the Olympic team a week later.

"I can't say that I was surprised with making the team but I was very happy and thankful," said Brooks. "I'm grateful that the hard work has paid off."

Brooks and backup goalie Genai Kerr are an imposing tandem in goal. Kerr is 6-8.

The U.S., ranked sixth in the world, will compete in Group A with No. 1 Hungary, No. 3 Serbia and Montenegro (formerly Yugoslavia), No. 9 Croatia, No. 10 Russia, and unranked Kazakhstan. U.S. coach Ratko Rudic called it the "toughest Olympic draw I've ever seen."

"The parity is all over the place," said Brooks, who finished his UCLA career with a school-record 700 saves, 227 as a senior. "Every team is good, which is how the Olympics is supposed to be.

"My hopes for the U.S. team realistically are the same as my hopes. We can medal. We're in a position to have any kind of result we want. Anything can happen."

The same can be said for his future. The sociology major will graduate next year from UCLA and has no set plans either professionally or athletically.

"We'll see what happens," Brooks said. "I don't know if this will be my only Olympics.

"I am really excited to represent my family, Hawaii, UCLA and my country in Greece. It is a great honor."

His family will be traveling to Athens to watch him. Dad, Scott, mom, Lisbeth and sisters Nicole and Jessica leave Aug. 17.

"This has been a dream for him and now it's unfolding," said Lisbeth Brooks.

It's reminiscent of Brandon Brooks' first quarter in college. In his first 10 weeks as a freshman at UCLA, he earned:

>> A national championship ring as the starting goalie for the Bruins water polo team;

>> A 3.8 GPA;

>> And a walk-on spot on the 18th-ranked UCLA basketball team, which made it to the Sweet 16.

As then-UCLA coach Steve Lavin said, "Nothing fazes Brandon. He hasn't been in awe. Most freshmen walk-ons are intimidated but he came to us already as a member of a UCLA national championship team.''

Brooks is used to winning. His Punahou water polo team went undefeated for three years and he captained the Buffanblu to state titles in basketball and track.

Team USA left Saturday for Athens, knowing it had a tough road to the medal round. The team likely won't march in the Opening Ceremonies on Aug. 13, two days before its opening match with Croatia.

"It doesn't look good for us to walk," said Brooks. "That's a little disappointing. But I will enjoy whatever experience I have."

Athens 2004 Olympic Games


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