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Brooks always manages to buck odds
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Shortly before Christmas, I had the pleasure of viewing the Hall of Distinction.
Located at Big League Dream’s indoor multipurpose facility, the area is dedicated to Manteca’s Sports Heroes featured inductees from last year’s inaugural class.
Included are former pro football players Paul Wiggins – once the head coach at Stanford and the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs – Jim Barber and Hardy Brown; rodeo champion Ted Nuce; motorcycle champ Chris Carr; and former NBA player and current interim coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder Scott Brooks.
The latter has often come up in discussion: Who was the last NBA player from San Joaquin County?
 Sorry, but Michael Olowokandi doesn’t count. The Kandi Man played for the University of the Pacific during the mid-1990s and was selected as the NBA’s top overall pick during the 1998 collegiate draft by the Los Angeles Clippers. Olowokandi’s pro career may have been lackluster but his story of how he chose Pacific while growing up across the pond is still fascinating.
We’re talking local products here. Guys like John Gianelli, who also played for Pacific in the early 1970s but had his roots in Stockton. Before playing alongside the New York Knicks during the days of Earl the Pearl, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Phil Bradley and Phil Jackson, to name a few, Gianelli attended Edison High. He also played for the Milwaukee Bucks under coach Don Nelson and finished his career overseas.
In the past year or so, I’ve talked to a few basketball referees with local ties, posing the same question.
In each case, they came up with Brooks and Gianelli as those born and bred in this area who established pro basketball careers.
There are several NBA products, both past and present, with CIF Sac-Joaquin Section ties. Included are DeMarcus Nelson (Sheldon, 2004), Chuck Hayes (Modesto Christian, 1998 to 2001), Gerald Madkins (Merced, 1986-87), and Bill Cartwright (Elk Grove, 1974-75).
Yet only a few from here have been among NBA privileged, including Scott Brooks.
I was away at college when Brooks starred at East Union during the early 1980s. The first time I heard of him was while standing around with several rival coaches at the Dalben Center during one of my first newspaper jobs.
At a shade or two under 6 feet, Brooks wasn’t considered tall by NBA standards. But he possessed a pure shot, according to these coaches. In other words, he could shoot the lights out of any gym.
I’ve only heard stories about Brooks growing up in Lathrop.
“I always remember him with a basketball,” said one local. “He took it to school. He was never without one.”
Perhaps it was out on the school yard of Lathrop Elementary that Brooks developed his shot along with his “handles” – short for ball-handling skills – that would take him to Texas Christian University right after high school.
He returned to star one year at San Joaquin Delta College, and the University of California, Irvine, for his final two years of college ball.
Brooks played 10 seasons in the NBA. He had stints with the Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Brooks was on the Rockets’ 1994 NBA title team.
In recent years, he was an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets. This past Nov. 22, Brooks was named interim head coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder, taking over for the fired P.J. Carlesimo.
For those keeping score, the Thunder has shown glimpses of a turnaround since Brooks took over. Just this past Sunday, his team came away with a 116-113 home win over the Kings.
Brooks, of course, has a tough task ahead. But he’s always managed to buck the odds.