'He is the best basketball coach at the high school level'

St. Joseph-Ogden Athletic trainer Casey Hug said head coach Brian Brooks has been vital to the Spartans’ success.

“The old adage of Great Coach, Better Person was written for people like him,” Hug said. “There is no doubt SJO high school has had a lot of talent over the years, but there are many games that I recall that we won because he simple out coached the other coach.”

SJO Principal Gary Page said the first time he watched Brooks coach was in February 2015 when the Spartans were playing Monticello in the sectional basketball tournament at Maroa-Forsyth.

Page had just been approved by the board of education to become the next principal at SJO.

“I had met with Mr. Brooks on several occasions at this point through the interview process and had a very high opinion of him but I was absolutely blown away by what I observed in terms of leadership, demeanor, and character,” Page said.

SJO ended up beating Monticello in the closing moments of a low scoring game.

Page said Brooks’ composure instilled a quiet confidence in the athlete.

“I remember leaning over to my wife and stating ‘Wow, I am stoked to have the opportunity to work with this guy,’” Page said.

Page said it is clear that Brooks’ influence doesn’t stop on the basketball court. Brooks’ expectation of excellence is seen throughout the district he leads.

“His leadership and insistence in doing things the right way will leave a lasting mark on the SJO basketball program and is continuing to make a difference every day in the classrooms and hallways at SJO,” Page said.

Hug said that when kids bought into Brooks’ system they succeeded and he thought it was due to Brooks’ professionalism. Hug said that professionalism extended to everyone he came into contact with.

“His professionalism rather it be dealing with officials, players, stat girls or cheerleaders never wavered, unless there was a bad call against Jordan,” Hug said.  “He had very few assistants during his 15 years because nobody wanted to leave.”

Hug said Brooks never put winning ahead of the well-being of the athletes.

“He always allowed me to do my job,” he said. “I have no doubt that he is a future Hall of Famer and hope his wife’s honey-do list drives him right back into coaching.”

Former St. Joseph-Ogden Football Coach and AD Dick Duval, said he can still remember Brooks at his first summer practice.

“I could tell from that practice he was a great coach and that our basketball program was in great shame with him at the helm,” Dick said.

Duval said he respected how Brooks interacted with other coaches and students who played more than one sport. If football was making a playoff run, Brooks would tell the athletes to focus on that sport before turning their attention to basketball.

“He wanted athletes to concentrate solely on their in season sport,” he said. “Brian is a young coach with ‘old school beliefs’  I love that in him.  He would listen to me vent during my season and I would listen to him vent in his season.  That is not always the case in a lot of schools.”

SJO softball coach Randy Wolken, who has the most wins in St. Joseph Boys Basketball program history, said he had the utmost respect for Brooks.

Woken was coaching a softball game against Riverton when the softball coach, who also coached boys basketball told him he had a very good, young, coach that would fit in nicely at SJO.

“That coach was Brian Brooks. He was right.  Brian was a very good young coach that did fit in very well at SJO,” Woken said. “From all the years I have observed many coaches,  I feel Brian Brooks is at the top of the list when it comes to comparing coaches.”

Woken said Brooks’ teams are teams are always prepared, physically and mentally and  fundamentally sound.

Duval agreed SJO was fortunate to have Brooks as a coach.

“SJO was very fortunate to have him as the leader of the basketball program,” he said.

Kendra Pence, who’s son Jake played for Brooks, said she and her husband Todd have so many great memories of watching Jake and his classmates play for Brooks.

‘The things that have stood out the most to us about Coach Brooks aren’t necessarily  basketball related, but more about how he handled his players and the classy way in which he always handled himself,” Pence said. “I remember a point midway through Jake’s senior year where he was struggling a little, he just wasn’t himself.  I wasn’t sure how to help him get through it, and then I got a phone call one afternoon from Coach Brooks.  We talked for quite awhile, but there is one thing he said that I’ll always remember, ‘right now I’m not worried about Jake the basketball player, I’m more worried about Jake the young man, let’s figure that out first, the basketball will straighten itself out,’” Pence said.

Pence said Brooks called Jake into his office for a long chat that focused not just about basketball but life.

“There was a huge change in Jake after that day, and it carried over to the basketball court,” Pence said. “I’ll never forget Coach putting basketball aside and going that extra mile to help my son.”

Pence said she believes Brooks is a great coach because he is leads by example and demands their players to do the same.

“His success is obvious, but his positive, selfless leadership, his love for his players and for the game of basketball, and the leadership skills he taught our boy along the way are what Todd and I will always appreciate the most,” Pence said.

St. Joseph-Ogden Athletic Director Brady Smith said he has known Brooks in many different roles including principal, superintendent and coach.

Smith said in all those roles Brooks is respected.

“The way he can communicate things to other people, he just has a presence about him,” Smith said. “People listen to him. Obviously, that is going to turn into success.”

Smith said that Brooks’ retirement was a big loss for SJO.

“In my mind, he is the best basketball coach at the high school level,” Smith said. “He is going to be missed.”

Smith said he has been following the reaction to Brooks’ retirement on social media and has seen a number of former players comment.

“There are just  many kids who are reaching out and saying he’s the best coach they ever had,” Smith said.

Smith said he thinks the players react to Brooks in a positive way because they know he has their best interests in mind.

“There is a complete and mutual respect,” he said. “I know he truly wants what is best for our kids. He is really honest with them when they are doing well and what they can get better at. I think he gets that more out of them.”

Eastern Illinois University Athletic Director Tom Michael said that when Brooks first arrived at SJO, Michael was an assistant coach. He said he was able to see things from the perspective of a coach as well as a parent when his sons Nick and Nate played for SJO.

“We couldn’t have asked for our boys to play for anybody better than Brian,” Michael said.  “There is no question they both got so much better from their freshman year to their senior year and had a ton of success.”

Michael said Brooks is responsible for not only the success of the program, but the success of his players.

“Brian brought the program to places it had never been before,” he said. “How they view him now, what kind of impact he had on them during the four years and who they are today as young men. Any time you have coaches at any level, you hope they have impact on players so they become better individuals when they are done playing that sport. He had it on most of the kids.”

Jennifer Brooks, Brian’s wife, said that it was difficult for her to narrow down all the special memories she has from SJO Basketball.  Jennifer said when they moved to St. Joseph in 2003 she was not thrilled about leaving her family and a job she loved.

“Soon after moving here, our family was embraced by the community and we felt right at home here,” she said. “Some of my earliest memories were the team including Jordan in pre-game summer stretching, sitting the sidelines, and taking him into the pre-game huddles after starting line ups.”

Jennifer said the Brooks children looked up to their father as a coach and each year they got very attached to the players.

“They hated the end of each season and sometimes took the end of season just as hard as the players and coaches,” she said. “The basketball team and coaching staff were an extension of our own family and basketball had become a family business. “

Jennifer said Brian put in countless hours to make Spartan basketball the best it could be.

“Taking a program to the next level and keeping it there means putting in a lot of hours year round,” she said. “He is not one of those coaches who got into coaching for the individual accolades. It was always about the players and team.”

Jennifer said that although the team going to state in 2013 and 2016 were great memories, the family valued the relationships they had made more.

 

“When I look back, the best thing that ever came out of Brian coaching were all the relationships that were developed over the years. I have gotten to know a lot of players, families, coaches and fans through the years and many of them have remained dear to my heart. Our entire family will miss being a part of Spartan basketball and miss seeing him on the sidelines in the years to come,” she said.

For his part, Brian said the reaction to his retirement has been overwhelming.

“I never thought it would have the response I have had,” he said. “It is extremely humbling just some of the messages I’ve gotten from former players, area coaches, college coaches.”

Brian, true to form, said the thing that has touched him the most have been the comments about how SJO players have conducted themselves on the court.

“We’ve preached for 15 years that if you do things the right way the wins will take care of themselves,” he said. “I value those relationships more than anything. I got some messages from former players that have hit the heart a little bit. “

Brian said he does recognize that the program is in a much different place now then when he took over 15 years ago.

“We challenged them to put St. Joseph-Ogden basketball on the map across the state,” he said. “We went places within Illinois and people didn’t know who we were and I said ‘We wanted people to know who we were,’” he said.

Brian said outside of his family his two big passions in life are working with kids and basketball.

“You hope you can build relationships with your players when you area head coach,” he said. “It doesn’t end when they walk out the door. My door is open for them and I am willing to do anything I can for them for the rest of their lives. I am glad some of them taken me up on that. Anything I can do to help them out I want to do. I value those relationships greatly, way more than any of the wins or the championships.”

As for the future, Brian said he doesn’t know what next December will look like for his family.

“It has been a huge part of our family and it is a big change,” he said. “They love going to games, they love supporting the team and love getting to know the players."

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