“We wanted to run clock,” North Side coach Shabaz Khaliq said. “They gambled and the lane opened up. Once he elevates good things happen.”
“I anticipated them to foul me,” Brooks said. “They didn’t, so I cut hard and finished with a dunk. Easiest one I had all night.”
Brooks’ dunk all but sealed the win, and two free throws by Juan Quarles shortly afterward sealed it, as North Side beat Carmel 52-49 on Saturday to win the Class 4A regional title.
Keion Brooks with late overtime dunk in North Side regional win over Carmel. pic.twitter.com/zHioEXOsUK— Reggie Hayes (@reggiehayes1) March 12, 2017
It’s the first regional title for North Side since 1995. North Side (26-2) will play Merrillville (21-7) in the semistate at either Huntington North or Lafayette Jefferson.
That 1995 North Side team, incidentally, also featured a player named Keion Brooks. Brooks Sr. is an assistant coach, and he reveled in watching his son help North Side reach a semistate for the first time in 22 years. North has now won 13 regional titles.
“It’s kind of weird, looking at it being so long and for it to come full circle with my son being part of the team,” Brooks Sr. said. “It’s amazing. I’ve always pushed him to be better than I am. I’ll have to find something else to push him to do now.”
So the question is a natural: Which was sweeter? Winning that title in 1995 or being on the bench to watch his son’s team win it in 2017?
“I think it’s more enjoyable being a dad, seeing your son reach some of the goals he’s worked so hard for,” Brooks Sr. said. “Being in the gym, being dedicated to his craft and seeing him rewarded for it is just amazing.”
Khaliq was part of that 1995 team, too, and he’s been building his program to return to that level for some time. Carmel was a difficult opponent, making it challenging for North’s offense to get into a flow, but there’s a toughness about this North Side team that has led it to a special season.
Before they went out for the overtime, Khaliq reminded his players that they’d practiced all season for that very scenario.
The players knew it. They came out for the final period without fear.
“I would call it practice makes perfect,” Quarles said. “We do it every day in practice and we take it seriously. When it’s came time, we show up and do what we’ve practiced.”
Quarles, who committed a turnover late in regulation, had two big moments in overtime, driving for a bucket with 25.4 seconds left, and hitting the sealing free throws.
“I was incredibly happy for him,” Khaliq said. “He maintained that word ‘poise’ that we’ve been focusing on.”
The Legends, who beat Homestead in the morning semifinal, had a slow start in the title game, scoring only six points in the first quarter. But they took a one-point lead into halftime on Brooks’ shot at the buzzer, and gradually became more efficient in the second half.
Quarles, who was 9-for-9 from the foul line, led North Side with 15 points. Jaylen Butz scored 14 with eight rebounds and Brooks finished with 13 points. Carmel was led by Sterling Brown with 15 points.
“This group is special,” Khaliq said. “I love these kids and I love the environment we’ve created. It’s fun.”
One of Khaliq’s strengths as a coach is his ability to guide his players into situations where they don’t press, where they embrace the pressure and don’t get rattled. They’re not perfect. They're high school players, after all. But the poise mixed with confidence they showed heading into overtime was a catalyst to the win.
Nothing showed that poise more than Brooks’ drive for the late-game dunk.
“When we got that dunk, we were all hyped and we knew we were going to win,” guard Davontae Kinnie said.
No one was more excited to see the play unfold than Brooks Sr.
“He made a great basketball play,” Brooks Sr. said. “He saw the lane and attacked it and it felt great to see that ball go through the hoop like that.”
Brooks Jr. credited his father with pushing him to excel in moments like that.
“Sometimes we butt heads, sometimes we don’t get along,” Brooks Jr. said. “But at the end of the day, I know he’s doing it because he loves me, and he wants me to be the best.”
Now they both have regional titles on their resume. We’ll see next week if the son ends up with more.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.