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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Men's Basketball

From Round Rock to the pros: former UH guard Armoni Brooks’ journey pursuing his dream


UH guard Armoni Brooks dribbles up the court as Oregon guard Ehab Amin lurks nearby in front of over 7,000 fans at the Fertitta Center opener during the 2018-19 season. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

UH guard Armoni Brooks dribbles up the court as Oregon guard Ehab Amin lurks nearby in front of over 7,000 fans at the Fertitta Center opener during the 2018-19 season. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

As the success story of McNeil High School in Round Rock, guard Armoni Brooks has accomplished a lot in his 22 years.

He left his fingerprints all over UH as he helped lift the Cougars to a historic Sweet 16 appearance in the March Madness tournament.

Then his journey took him even further, but it began in the city just outside of Austin.

Goodbye Round Rock; Hello Houston

Brooks didn’t have several big-time offers lined up before leaving high school. For him, the recruiting process was “extremely hectic.”

From the constant phone calls to the frequent meetings with strangers, Brooks at times felt overwhelmed, but he was thankful for the overall experience. Not only for himself, but for his hometown.

When he arrived in Houston, however, Brooks was immediately drawn in by the sense of family between the players and coaches.

“All the teammates were super close; the coaches treated us like we were their own children,” Brooks said. “They made sure we were good outside of just basketball.”

Thinking back to his first game with UH, Brooks doesn’t remember much, but he does remember the way he felt before tipoff.

His hands were shaking a lot, his body was jittery and his stomach was filled with butterflies.

“It was terrible,” Brooks said.

Although not at the same level, Brooks admitted that he still feels some of those nerves when he plays today, but he has become noticeably more confident when running on the court, which he attributes to his work ethic.

“I just worked a lot harder than I normally did, and I became more comfortable playing at the speed and playing against tougher competition every day,” Brooks said.

Going back to when the Cougars advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 35 years, Brooks still remembers that achievement and is proud of what it meant for the team and how it served as a symbol for their perseverance that year.

The brotherhood bond that his teammates had that season is what helped make the accomplishment so special for Brooks.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to do that with a different group of guys,” he said.

Off to the League

In the spring of 2019, however, the 6-foot-3-inch guard decided that he wanted to see what his buzz was at the next level. Brooks didn’t feel any pressure to live up to any expectations when he declared for the NBA Draft but did have a few nerves.

“It was more of just the unknown, leaving school and not knowing what you’re really getting yourself into,” Brooks said.

The decision for Brooks was not an easy one. He went back and forth, pondering it for as long as possible. Then, three hours before the deadline, he entered his name into the draft.

After going undrafted, Brooks signed with the Washington Wizards and later the Atlanta Hawks. Soon after, he was waived from the official roster and filled a spot on the College Park Skyhawks, which is where he began his G League career.

Brooks was surprised at how many adjustments he had to make at the higher level.

“Oh, man. I didn’t realize how much of a difference there would be,” he said with a laugh. “The pace is a lot slower than it is in college.”

While a bit unexpected, the game slowed down for Brooks, which he attributed to playing under head coach Kelvin Sampson in Houston.

“Coach Sampson is an NBA coach, so he has a really good grasp on what’s going on,” Brooks said.

Brooks’ college practices were “NBA-like,” which gave him an edge over his competition he said, but going from competing every three to four days to every other one was another thing Brooks had to quickly get used to.

“You really have to be locked in on what you’re trying to do,” he said.

However, the gauntlet of games was only one of the sacrifices Brooks had to make while playing in the G League.

For starters, there were no holidays off, so it was hard for Brooks to go months without seeing his friends and family in a new environment. He had to adjust to being alone.

“Once you leave college, it’s more business-like,” Brooks said.

Embarking on a New Journey

After a year in the G League, Brooks joined the Canadian Elite Basketball League on Apr. 20 when he signed with the Saskatchewan Rattlers, but before he could suit up, the pandemic shifted the course of the year and Brooks decided to sit out this season.

“I didn’t want to travel outside the country with all that’s going on,” he said.

While Brooks waits for when he’ll hit the hardwood at a competitive level again, he realizes that the coronavirus pandemic is another bump on his journey as he continues playing basketball professionally.

Throughout his entire road since leaving college, Brooks has carried with him one persistent trait that he learned from his time in Houston: a strong work ethic.

“I really learned how to work hard at a young age rather than trying to learn after I left college,” Brooks said. “I think that will help me take this basketball thing a little further.”

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