Keion Brooks Jr.’s parents feel a different type of recruiting pressure

Keion Brooks Jr., center, poses with his parents Sarita and Keion Sr., after a practice at North Side High School. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of News-Sentinel.com)

Keion Brooks Jr.’s first experience with the need to remain humble in the face of basketball praise came when he was a fifth grader.

Someone had to learn a lesson.

“We were at this camp and Keion was named the No. 1 kid in the nation,” his mother, Sarita, said. “I asked him, ‘How do you like being No. 1 in the nation?’ He said, ‘Mom, I ain’t done nothin’ yet.’ That kind of humbled me. ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ That brought me back to reality.”

Raising a gifted child can be challenging, whether that talent is in sports, music or mathematics. Being a major NCAA Division I athletic recruit brings an additional level of difficulty. Coaches call, text and visit. Reporters weigh in with feature stories. Fans flood social media with praise and, sometimes, criticism.

With everyone heaping attention on the athlete, how can parents maintain their control?

If Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is talking about NCAA tournaments and academic opportunities, how do you keep a child focused on homework and chores?

“We have to work on the chores, but homework? We don’t have to remind him of that,” Sarita Brooks said. “His grades speak for themselves. He is an A and B student. Chores? We’re still working on that.”

Brooks Jr., a 6-foot-8 junior forward at North Side High School, has 17 NCAA Division I scholarship offers. College coaches from across the country stop by to visit. They text and call when allowed under NCAA rules. It can be overwhelming, but Brooks’ parents feel like they have a handle on it.

Better yet, they feel their son has a handle on it.

“He’s very normal as a kid,” Keion Sr. said. “He’s not a kid that walks around, ‘I’m a big-time recruit.’ He’s never in that mode. That’s been a blessing that he keeps his head like that.”

Still, there’s something different and challenging about being a big-time recruit, no matter how humble or unassuming the athlete is. Having Izzo, Purdue’s Matt Painter, Kentucky’s John Calipari, IU’s Archie Miller and UCLA’s Steve Alford call you – just to namedrop a few – is something very few young athletes experience. Brooks Jr. went to IU’s March Madness, where they treated him like a visiting king.

“That was fun, especially me being from Indiana,” Brooks Jr. said. “They cheered my name a little bit, the crowd told me how much they wanted to come there. It was surreal and humbling.”

So it goes back to the family home. It’s up to his parents and those who have known him longest to keep him grounded.

“Keion has been able to understand, from an early age, that where he’s trying to go, it’s going to take a lot of work,” Keion Sr. said.

Keion Sr. also has a key question he asks if he ever senses his son is tiring of putting in the time to improve.

“I’ve told him from the time he was little until now, ‘If you had to play against the best in the world, would you be ready?’ If not, that’s why you still have to work,” Keion Sr. said.

MAINTAINING PERSPECTIVE

Keion Brooks Sr., a 1995 North side alum, played basketball at Wright State University, but he didn’t face anywhere near the scrutiny or recruiting attention that his son has attracted.

Those were in the days before social media, too, which is another sometimes harrowing path a big-time recruit must face. Keion Sr. said he knew little about the recruiting process when his son started to gain attention. For example, he wondered why local programs, such as the Fort Wayne Mastodons or even his alma mater Wright State, weren’t recruiting him. He later found out the reason: They knew his son was on the radar of the Top 20 programs in the country, and he was out of their league.

Keion Sr. and Sarita attended a session on dealing with recruiting that included former NBA player (and former Mad Ants coach) Jaren Jackson and former NBA player John Lucas. They talked about the need to stay grounded.

“John Lucas said the worst thing is telling an eighth grader how great they are,” Sarita said. “We’ve seen it happen. You’re in the eighth grade and think you’ve made it. It’s a dog-eat-dog world and they will eat you up.”

That’s a point that the family has made to Keion Jr. as he hears about his talent from so many. Most of the coaches are straight up with him, Sarita said, telling Keion the areas of his game he needs to improve.

But it could still be difficult for a 17-year-old to keep in perspective.

“I’ve heard stories of kids who are 16, 17 and 18 and people tell them they’re great and they become complacent,” Keion Jr. said. “I don’t want to be that guy. I want to be someone who keeps working for everything they earn.”

He credits his parents and grandparents for keeping him grounded.

“My head can get a little big at times, so they make sure they bring me back down to earth,” Keion Jr. said.

LEARNING FROM THE EXPERIENCE

Brooks Sr. took the advice of those who had been through the recruiting trail to have a plan and to make the most of the outrageous attention. He has advised his son to take advantage of the recruiting interactions with coaches. Ask them for advice. Ask them for pointers. Even though he’ll choose one college as his destination, he can improve his game during the decision process.

“You can learn from them, and you can build relationships with those coaches,” Keion Sr. said. “You never know where some of those coaches will be when you are ready to commit, too.”

The decision on choosing college will be completely up to Keion Jr., his parents say.

They’ll have input. They’re his parents. But they also know it is Keion Jr. who will have to live with the decision.

“When it first started, I loved every school,” Sarita said. “I was ready to commit myself.”

There is no rush to commit, but there is a continued emphasis from his parents on remembering what’s at stake. Keion Sr. said the bigger picture dawned on him after his son was part of a fifth-grade AAU national championship team. It was fun, but other than another trophy, what did it mean?

“I started using the slogan: Scholarships over championships,” Keion Sr. said. “Every tournament you want to win, but do everything right knowing that (college) coach over there sees you. You can win a championship, have a bad attitude, and the coach walks out of the gym.”

IGNORING THE NOISE

Keion Sr. said he realized how much scrutiny his son was under when his youngest son, Karrion, bought a Kentucky cap and wore it to school. The word soon spread. Teachers were asking him if his brother was headed to Kentucky.

“I guess it’s one of those things where we have to watch what we wear,” Keion Sr. said. “People say, ‘His dad’s in an IU shirt. His mom’s wearing an Ohio State outfit.’ Now, I go get a shirt and think, ‘Don’t wear that.’ I never thought I’d have to worry about what shirt to wear when I got old.”

The day of the interview with The News-Sentinel, Keion Sr. wore his Wright State shirt. No confusion there.

At some point, if not soon enough for college recruiting fans, Keion Jr. will make his decision. And then his parents will know what school shirts to stock up on.

They also hope to be ready for the final phase.

“The hardest part might be when he does commit,” Sarita said. “I’m sure we’ll hear about that.”

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