Clutching the Most Outstanding Player plaque, Keion Brooks Jr. could have gloated over his performance after Washington captured the Paycom Wooden Legacy tournament title as Thursday night turned into Friday morning.
After all, his name would be alongside that of legendary coach John Wooden.
Following his clutch performance after the Huskies scored a 68-64 overtime victory pondered what it meant to have the Wooden trophy with his name on it.
“It means everything for what he did for basketball,” Brooks said. “As you’ve been around coaches, those coaches probably come around from the tree of his. Mainly it’s just a testament to my teammates. This isn’t just for me, this MVP is for all of us. We all did it together.”
The 6-foot-7 senior forward, a transfer from Kentucky, put his stamp on the final with 14 points, 11 rebounds, two steals, two blocked shots in 43 minutes and a plus-9 on the scoresheet. In the two-game tournament, he had 30 points, 16 rebounds, four steals and five blocks.
In four games this season, Brooks is averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds for the Huskies, who are off to a 5-1 start.
“He’s an elite player,” Washington Coach Mike Hopkins said. “He came to the University of Washington to have a different role. He got hurt and it was really hard for him. He came back and won an MVP making big plays in the moment.
“His rebounding was really good but he’s just scratching the surface. That’s what exciting. You can’t just want that role, you’ve got to have reps in it, you’ve got to be comfortable. You can’t just say ‘I want that role’ and you become that.”
Brooks led an all-tournament team that included teammate Franck Kepnang, center Mitchell Saxen of Saint Mary’s and forwards Liam Robbins of Vanderbilt and Isaih Moore of Fresno State.
While Brooks was humble over his collection of hardware, you don’t get to Kentucky without a good degree of self-confidence.
“After we won I knew I was going to be MVP, just to be honest,” Brooks said. “But coming into it, I wouldn’t even think of anything like that. I just wanted to win, that’s all I cared about. Win, play defense, that’s why I appreciate the guys every day. Just whatever I can do to help us win and that’s what I did tonight. I went out there and I rebounded and I was able to make some big plays down the stretch.”
His biggest plays came in the final minutes of regulation and overtime. He hit an acrobatic shot as he was falling to floor to keep the Huskies alive in the final three minutes, then hit a turnaround jumper in overtime to give Washington a 65-62 lead with 43 seconds left.
“Coming into this game, we believed we could we could beat them,” Brooks said. “They’re a good team, but we’re pretty damn good too.”
The victory could be a scene-setter for the Huskies as the season unfolds.
“It’s going to give us some momentum going forward,l” Brooks said. “We can carry this to our next practice, just keep building, stacking good days on top of each other and from there keep getting better, keep listening to our coaching staff, putting us in great positions to be successful. If we do that, believe in one another, we can be a real dangerous team.”
Kepnang, a 6-11 center and a transfer from Pac-12 rival Oregon, helped set the tone for Washington’s 2-3 defense with 10 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots.
“Every single game I try to come up with the same intensity, the same grit that’s inside me,” Kepnang said. “Today it was a little more outspoken because this game was really big for us. It was big for our team just to get this win and go back to Seattle with the trophy.
“That’s what we said coming into the game is that we’re coming back home tomorrow with the trophy.”
Or two, including a plaque with Wooden’s pyramid of success that Brooks earned.