LATHROP — The everyday grind of an NBA coach was evident in the tired red eyes of Scott Brooks Friday at Lathrop High, where over 50 kids took part in the Manteca Unified School District Basketball Camp this week.
Yet there he was, interacting, inspiring and instructing the youngsters with vigor. Brooks even put on displays of his dribbling skills and deft shooting touch developed well before his 11 years as an NBA player, drawing oohs and ahhs.
“I’m used to not sleeping,” said Brooks, the city’s legendary gym rat who starred at East Union High and is now the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Twenty-four hours before the camp’s final session tipped off at 2 o’clock Friday, Brooks was in Oklahoma City making final preparations for the NBA Draft.
He got home around midnight, and at 6 Friday morning he was on a plane heading west.
Brooks was heading to the home where his heart is.
“I loved growing up here in Lathrop,” said Brooks, standing inside the three-year-old Lathrop High’s gymnasium for the first time. “It raised me, and I wouldn’t be in the position that I am now if it wasn’t for the city I grew up in.”
Brooks’ one-day appearance at the camp was a way for him to give back to the community. He not only taught proper shooting mechanics Friday; he stressed the life lessons that can be learned through the sport and the importance of community.
And for the kids, it was an opportunity to slap fives, get autographs and take pictures with a local hero.
“I was shocked to see him here,” said 11-year-old Ascension Urbina of Lathrop.
“Because he’s famous.”
Her 10-year-old brother, Noah, wouldn’t let a little injury stop him from joining in on the fun.
“I came out here with a sprained wrist,” he said. “I just wanted to meet Scott Brooks.”
Lathrop athletic director Bill Slikker put the camp together with help from varsity head coaches J.J. Ramirez of Lathrop, Brett Lewis of East Union and Ryan Bono of Weston Ranch.
Both Slikker and Bono were instructors for Scott Brooks’ summer basketball camps held at East Union in 2002-04. Lewis was then a high school player at East Union and attended Brooks’ camps.
There was an obvious difference between Friday’s session and the previous ones. More parents came to watch their children learn from the NBA’s 2009-10 coach of the year on Friday. Other community members and leaders dropped by.
“Look around,” Slikker said. “We have a bunch of people here — parents, the Lions Club, people from the Lathrop Fire Department and a few others from the city. This is what we wanted it to be like. It’s good for the community.”
Slikker intends for the camp to run annually, and if Brooks’ busy schedule allows for it he may return in the future.
Tonight, Brooks will attend a special dinner conducted by both Lathrop Lions Club and his old high school coach, Bill Stricker, inside the Lathrop Community Center gym that now bears his name. It is the same gym that Brooks used to sneak into after hours to refine his game during his youth.
“Maybe they can give me a key now,” Brooks joked.
Lathrop City Council voted unanimously to rename the gym in his honor back in September, and even now he remains humbled and honored by the gesture.
But Lathrop Planning Commissioner Jaime Hernandez, who also serves as board director of the Lathrop Lions, said that it is the community that is honored by Brooks’ presence.
“Scott Brooks provides so much inspiration to all the people, not only in the basketball world but to the kids in this community,” Hernandez said. “They have so many reasons to look up the guy. He bounced the ball here in Lathrop growing up just like they are right now, and it gives them hope.”
Which is exactly what Brooks intended.
“I wanted to do this clinic because I remember when coach Stricker held a free clinic on a Saturday and it ended up changing my life,” Brooks said, “From that day on basketball was a big part of my life.
“I wanted to do the same thing out of respect to the people that helped me along the way. Like I always tell people, it takes a community to raise our kids. It’s the community that creates new leaders and new heroes for future kids to look up to.”