Former Washington star Jon Brockman was waived out of the NBA after a freakish eye injury, but he's averaging a double-double in Limoges and has French fans chanting his name.
LIMOGES, France — “BROCK-MAN!” — stomp, stomp — “BROCK-MAN!” translates in any language.
The last time Jon Brockman heard thousands of screaming fans serenade him he was wearing No. 40 for the purple and gold of the Washington Huskies.
Now, wearing No. 15, he hears his name echo from the 6,000 Celtic-green clad supporters of his French Pro-A team, Limoges.
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Less than a month after being waived by the Houston Rockets at the end of October, the former Snohomish High School star developed a cult following after signing with Limoges, in the Ligue Nationale de Basket.
Brockman chants during games can be earsplitting, and passionate fans stop the 6-foot-7, 255-pound power forward walking down the street. The language barrier prevents much more than a nod and a smile, but his rugged, all-out playing style has won everyone over.
How Brockman’s career was derailed in the NBA by a freakish eye injury, then reborn across the Atlantic, is only the latest chapter in a remarkable story that made him one of the most popular players in UW basketball history.
Limoges coach Panagiotis Giannakis, who coached European powerhouse Olympiacos and the Greek National Team, loves Brockman.
“He gives everything,” says the legendary coach. “He goes for every ball and plays with a lot of energy. Every coach likes him.”
Limoges, the 2011-12 Pro-B champion, was promoted to the top division this season. The team added Brockman to a roster that already included former U.S. college standouts Brad Wanamaker (Pittsburgh) and Kyle McAlarney (Notre Dame).
The city of 250,000, 229 miles southwest of Paris in west-central France, is hardly a hot spot for tourism — unless you consider the following the bruising Brockman is building among French fans.
Brockman, 26, a second-round (38th overall) selection in the 2009 draft, bounced around the NBA before going overseas. Washington’s all-time leading rebounder was traded by the Portland Trail Blazers on draft night to Sacramento and also played for Milwaukee. He was looking forward to a fresh start with the Houston Rockets before misfortune struck.
Eager to start with his new club, he flew in on a red-eye and headed straight to practice. Stretching, as he had done hundreds of times, Brockman had a resistance band slip off his left foot and recoil into his face. It struck him in the right eye.
It happened before he could meet his teammates or even touch a ball.
“I was so excited to go to Houston and then it happened the first 30 minutes while stretching before practice,” said Brockman after 10 points and 17 rebounds in a recent loss to Elan Chalon.
Brockman was hospitalized immediately, but avoided surgery.
“I couldn’t see out of it for a month,” said Brockman, who returned to recuperate with bed rest in his hometown of Snohomish, where he was The Seattle Times’ Boys High School Player of the Year as a senior. “I didn’t know if I was going to play again. It was scary.”
He insists he is nearly 100 percent and doesn’t suffer from any serious lingering effects.
“I still have a cataract, but it’s small,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s just because of the cataract but the right eye has trouble adjusting to light at times, but I don’t notice it on the floor.”
Brockman was in Snohomish when he learned he had been waived by Houston. Limoges quickly contacted Brockman’s agent, and he jumped at the chance.
“To be completely honest, I didn’t really know what I was getting into or what it was going to be like,” Brockman said. “But I came over with an open mind and thought it would be a good opportunity to contribute and be more of a main player.”
Brockman felt the differences in European basketball as quickly as one of his sharp elbows as he jockeys for rebound position.
“It’s different, for sure,” he said. “I try to go out and play my same way, but the biggest adjustment has been on the defensive end because I’m guarding guys that really stretch the floor.”
The typical European power forward is less of a rebounder who scores inside and often spots up behind the three-point line.
Brockman is a throwback to a more physical game. What he lacks in shooting he more than makes up for with energy and aggression on the boards.
Entering the week, he was the only player in the league averaging a double-double — 10.8 points and a league-leading 10.5 rebounds in 17 games.
“It’s hard sometimes because you can’t communicate,” Brockman said. “People come up to me on the street and I just nod at them. It’s tough. I like talking to people, so it definitely adds a little to the loneliness, but fortunately my teammates and I have really clicked. It’s a great group of guys.”
The Limoges faithful have taken to Brockman’s unique style, but it took a little while for Brockman to adjust to the passionate home supporters.
“It took a month to get used to the constant noise,” he said. “At times at Washington, it got loud where you couldn’t hear yourself think, but I try to tell (people back home), here it’s the whole game. It’s like a Sounders game. It’s a lot of fun.”
Brockman admits he initially considered Limoges a pit stop on the way back to the NBA. Now he loves it in France and “isn’t closing any doors.”
“I’m open to anything,” Brockman said.
One thing is for sure, he definitely will be welcomed back in Limoges.