At the gleeful end of the spectrum, Aaron Brooks soars to catch an alley-oop, hangs in the air, reaches behind his head and taps a highlight-reel...
At the gleeful end of the spectrum, Aaron Brooks soars to catch an alley-oop, hangs in the air, reaches behind his head and taps a highlight-reel layup off the backboard.
The guard from Franklin High School is emerging as a star in these NBA playoffs, helping a Houston Rockets team without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady scare the supremacy out of the Los Angeles Lakers. Things are going so well for Brooks that he wore a red sports coat and matching bow tie Sunday and actually looked stylish.
At the sorrowful end of the spectrum — or rather, at the end of the Lakers’ bench — Adam Morrison sits, bored and out of place, a gifted scorer who has lost his swagger, his status and, worst of all, his playing time.
It’s quite a change from six years ago, when both players were on the same level and dueled in a memorable state-championship game. Even nuttier, it’s a dramatic shift from three years ago, when Morrison dominated college basketball and was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft, while Brooks struggled through his junior season at Oregon.
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In the 2003 Class 4A title game, Brooks knifed through the defense of Spokane’s Mead High School with his incomparable speed, wowed the crowd with 38 points and helped Franklin capture the fourth of its six state championships.
But even while losing 67-55, Morrison made an unforgettable impression. He scored 37 points in the final and tied a tournament record with 127 points in four games. Current Washington star Isaiah Thomas exceeded that mark in 2006, but Morrison’s scoring binge — and his battle with Brooks — remains a fond memory.
“If you talk to people around here, that game has stood the test of time,” said Franklin coach Jason Kerr, who won his first of three championships with that 2003 Quakers team.
During his three years at Gonzaga, Morrison continued to be an unstoppable scorer. He left school early after averaging 28.1 points as junior and garnering comparisons to Larry Bird. Meanwhile, at Oregon, Brooks was the epitome of a four-year player, learning from his early struggles, finishing with a fantastic senior season and improving to become the No. 26 pick in the 2007 draft. Still, at 6 feet tall and 160 pounds, Brooks was considered too small to be a major-impact NBA player.
Now, look at the shocking role reversal. Who would’ve guessed it?
Michael Jordan drafted Morrison for the Charlotte Bobcats, but Morrison struggled as a rookie, lost his second season to a knee injury and was shipped to the Lakers in February. He has no role in Los Angeles. He’s just 25, so it’s too early to write him off. But this is a path few would’ve expected from a forward selected ahead of Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay.
On the other hand, the Rockets made Brooks their starting point guard in February after trading Rafer Alston to Orlando. He has handled the responsibility with incredible composure, the same kind of poise that Kerr saw from him during his high-school days.
“There’s not a lot he’s doing now that he hasn’t been doing dating back to high school,” Kerr said. “He’s stronger and more efficient. But getting into the paint and making open shots, that’s the same thing he’s been doing since Day One.”
Kerr, who still talks to Brooks regularly, didn’t get to watch his former player on Sunday, when he scored 34 points and led an inspired Rockets effort. Kerr was out celebrating Mother’s Day, but he kept receiving text messages. Did u see that? Ur guy’s going off! Later, he beamed with pride while watching the highlights.
“There’s no question that each time someone has challenged him, he’s met that challenge,” Kerr said of Brooks. “And he does it with class. There’s something about his poise and being able to make adjustments to improve himself. He handles it all in a very smooth fashion.”
At the highest level of basketball, the difference between a star and a journeyman can be subtle. Brooks has mastered the nuances of the NBA. Morrison is merely a once-proud scorer. He doesn’t even have the floppy hair anymore.
If the two are destined to have a back-and-forth career similar to their tournament duel, it’s well past time for Morrison to match the little guy.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com