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Friday, August 6, 2021

Men's Basketball

Former UH guard Armoni Brooks reflects on journey to the NBA


Former UH guard Armoni Brooks (2016-19) broke the NBA record for most 3-pointers made, with 47, through his 17 games during his rookie season with the Rockets. | Courtesy of the Houston Rockets

Former UH guard Armoni Brooks (2016-19) broke the NBA record for most 3-pointers made, with 47, through his 17 games during his rookie season with the Rockets. | Courtesy of the Houston Rockets

From becoming the fifth Cougar in program history to make 200 or more career 3-pointers to playing a big role in Houston men’s basketball’s path back to national relevancy, Armoni Brooks had cemented himself as one of the nation’s best shooters in line for a huge senior season — until he made the shocking decision to forgo his final year of college eligibility and declare for the NBA draft.

By leaving UH early, Brooks was taking a giant risk. It could potentially jeopardize his lifelong dream of playing professional basketball if he went undrafted.

A couple of months later, the clock struck midnight signifying June 20, 2019, the day of the 2019 NBA Draft, had come to an end. Brooks’ name had not been called.

It appeared as if Brooks’ gamble to leave college early in hopes of being selected by one of the 30 NBA franchises was a major mistake as his path to setting foot on an NBA floor transformed from a hill into a giant mountain.

The journey

Though disappointed in going undrafted, Brooks remained unfazed and was motivated as ever to prove he has what it takes to compete with the world’s best basketball players.

The 6-foot-3-inch sharpshooter began to catch some eyes at the beginning of 2020 when he scored 38 and 32 points just four days apart while playing for the College Park Skyhawks, the Atlanta Hawks G League affiliate.

While the light at the end of the tunnel began to emerge for Brooks, the COVID-19 pandemic quickly threw a wrench in his plans for the rest of 2020. It appeared Brooks would once again have to start from square one.

But just as Americans put a chaotic 2020 behind them and hoped for a fresh start, the tides began to change in a positive way for Brooks.

On January 11, Brooks returned to Houston, a city that had grown close to his heart, after being selected in the first round of the 2021 G League Draft by the Rio Grande Vipers, the Rockets G League affiliate.

The call

After averaging 16.8 points and shooting 37.5 percent from deep in 15 games for the Vipers, Brooks decided his next step was to play in a pro league in New Zealand.

As Brooks waited to board his plane to begin his international professional basketball career, he suddenly received the call he had been dreaming of his whole life— the Rockets had signed him to a two-way contract.

Brooks broke down into tears in the airport, realizing that the thousands of shots he put up, the early morning lifts, runs and everything he did in between had not been done in vain.

“I took a chance leaving college early and I believed in my heart that I was an NBA player,” Brooks said. “It was just a matter of time until it got to the point where other people began to see it. Just all the hard work that went in behind closed doors and all the blood, sweat and tears and grinding through the G-League is finally starting to pay off.”

After the news of his signing with the Rockets broke, UH assistant coach Kellen Sampson was one of the first people to text Brooks.

Sampson reminded the former Cougar he belonged in the NBA and more importantly told Brooks how proud he was of him as a person, basketball aside.

“Even more so than basketball, I’m just so proud of (Armoni) for believing in himself,” Sampson said. “For Armoni, he believed in himself. He’s earned the right to have confidence. He’s earned the right to have swagger. He’s put in the work to be at this level.”

The rookie season

Like most NBA rookies, Brooks expected to play sparingly for the Rockets, picking up a few mop-up minutes here and there when a game was clearly out of reach — but this expectation could not have been further from the truth.

As the injury bug bit the Rockets harder and harder as the season progressed, Brooks was immediately thrust into action, playing big minutes whether he came off the bench or was in the starting lineup.

“Just getting that experience is a thing a lot of rookies don’t get to get early in their careers,” Brooks said. “I was blessed to get into a situation where I was able to learn on the floor, playing through mistakes instead of just learning through film.”

Having to learn on the fly so quickly, Brooks had his fair share of typical rookie mistakes, but he also had a lot of high moments which culminated 17 games into his NBA career. The former Cougar broke Damian Lillard’s record for most 3-pointers made through a player’s first 17 career games, hitting 47 shots from downtown.

“I think (the 3-point record) is just a testament to hard work and being blessed to get an opportunity like that early in your career,” Brooks said. “(The Rockets) signed me because of my shooting ability so being able to make the most out of those opportunities I was given and get inside the record books by doing it was great.”

Brooks finished the season averaging 11.2 points, shooting 38.2 percent from deep and 3.4 rebounds during his 26 minutes a game.

The next step

While Brooks proved his ability to shoot during his short stint in the NBA as a rookie, he plans to specifically focus on developing a few other areas of his game over the offseason to take a step forward as a professional athlete.

“Definitely I need to get stronger because I didn’t realize how intense the physicality was in the NBA,” Brooks said. “(Also I’m focusing on) getting my defense on and off-ball better.”

Even though Brooks currently does not have a contract guaranteed with the Rockets for the 2021-22 season, the sharpshooter wants to remain in Houston and early indications show the organization feels the same way, telling Brooks they want him to continue to work out with the team over the summer.

If Brooks is indeed in a Rockets uniform to start the upcoming NBA season, the UH alumnus’ ultimate goal is to continue to bring joy and excitement to a city that has given him so much.

“Being able to give back to a place I’m comfortable with and around people I’m comfortable with was big for me,” Brooks said. “(I hope) to grow my following (in Houston) and to continue to make the city as proud as possible of their team.”

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