Over recent weeks here at Spartan Nation, we’ve introduced you to some of the top players in the upcoming graduation classes, all of whom have interest in Michigan State, and vice versa. For the Class of 2017, it’s Mark Smith…for 2018, it’s Joey Hauser.
Now we come to the recruiting Class of 2019, and immediately we’re going to introduce you to the number one player in the entire recruiting class! He’s a 5-star small forward out of Fort Wayne, IN. He’s ranked as the number one small forward in both the state of Indiana and the entire Midwest. With offers already from Purdue, Iowa, Butler, Xavier and Kansas State, plus interest from Michigan State, Kansas, Indiana and Louisville, this recruit is in extremely high demand with two more years of high school basketball left to play. Despite still waiting on an offer from MSU, he’s been on the Spartans’ radar since he was in 7th grade, and the interest and intrigue has only grown. Let’s meet Keion Brooks, Jr.
“To have Tom Izzo be the first to see the talent and the potential that I have, and actually sit down and watch a game and see what I can do, and for the next three years continue to watch me and have interest in me, it really means a lot, “Brooks told Spartan Nation in an exclusive interview from his family’s home in Fort Wayne, IN.
“Sometimes I call him on the phone and we talk,” Brooks continued about Izzo. “He tells me about what’s going on with the team and I tell him about how I’m doing in high school. We have a really nice relationship.”
Sarita Brooks, Keion’s mom, says she didn’t really know about Tom Izzo before he started watching her son play all those years ago, but the immediate connection she felt made it seem as if she had known him forever.
“The minute I met him, I knew him,” Sarita admitted. “He’s just such a nice, soft-spoken guy...he’s a hugger – there was just a connection. I feel like I know Izzo. We’ve met other coaches, but Tom Izzo has been very welcoming to our family. We definitely love him.”
“It’s very special that I can have outside resources to go and talk to aside from my parents and high school coaches to help me see what I need to work on and get better at and become a better man, as well,” Keion added of what it means to know he can call up Tom Izzo and any of the MSU assistant coaches just to talk.
Before we get to his thoughts on Michigan State and some of the other schools that have made him an offer or showed interest, let’s begin to understand what makes Keion Brooks, Jr. such a special player.
Tom Izzo frequently likes to say that some guys like basketball, some guys live basketball, and some LOVE basketball. Well, Keion fits into all three categories.
“It really consumes me,” he said. “I love the game – it’s always been good to me, so I just try to go out and play as hard as I can and get better any way I can.”
That respect and love for the game is what truly drives him.
“I don’t want to cheat the game,” Keion admitted. “I just want to get better any way I can. There’s things I want to improve on, there’s stuff I want to do, so getting better is just what helps me get to where I want to go.”
That’s a kind of maturity that you just don’t hear or see from many high school 10th graders. Keion is simply a high-character guy, and a lot of that maturity can be attributed to the people who raised him, his parents Sarita and Keion, Sr.
Sarita told us a story that perfectly exemplifies her son’s humble character.
“He was in 5th grade and there was a site that had Keion ranked as number one in the nation. Me and him went out to eat and I asked him how it felt to be ranked number one in the nation. He said, ‘Mom…I’m in 5th grade…it doesn’t mean anything…I haven’t even done anything yet!’ That even humbled me…that we have a long way to go. It’s shocking that my 5th grader had to put me in my place, but it shows the kind of kid he is.”
“He understands the big picture,” Keion Brooks, Sr. elaborated. “Sometimes you get lost in the things going on right now, like somebody ranking him – 9 times out of 10 that validates what you’re doing, but it doesn’t take you where you’re going. For him to see a bigger picture and understand that that’s just a step he’s taking to get to where he’s going, it helps him continue to grind through the hard times.”
“He wants to be the best guy at the end…he doesn’t want to be the best guy today but tomorrow he’s not,” Keion, Sr. continued. “He’s learned not to focus so much on being the number one guy now, but on what he has to do to continue to get better.”
And Keion, Jr. knows and understands how fortunate he is to have such a strong support staff at home.
“I think I have a good balance between the two – sometimes my mom’s tough, sometime’s my dad’s tough, so they really keep a good balance and keep me in check and make sure I don’t get a big head. I still have chores and stuff like that to do at home – I’m still a normal kid – so they make sure I stay on track and do what I’ve got to do.”
That balance also shines through in how humble Keion is…he simply doesn’t crave the attention.
“I’ve seen these stories where kids coming up through high school and middle school have had all the limelight but we don’t know where they are now or what they’re doing. The attention is there, but I just want to keep getting better and just focus on my game and not let the media take care of that.”
The common theme so far has been about Keion’s work ethic and always striving to improve to be the best player he can be on the court.
“I think I’m very versatile,” he said. I can do multiple things on the floor. I’m always willing to do whatever I’ve got to do to help my team win.”
One of those elements he takes pride in is something that not all players do well – defense.
“Basketball’s not played on one half of the court, so even if you do score, you have to get back and defend the other guy. I think I’m decent, but I have a ways to go.”
“I’ve always wanted to be the guy that stopped and guarded the best player,” Keion continued. “I don’t just want to be out there on defense…I want to make an impact on the floor.”
He makes his impact in other ways, too.
“Get out in transition, be able to finish and attack the rim,” Keion said of what he does best.
But being the humble, hard-working kid he is, he pays special attention the areas of his game that he believes need the most work.
“Defending on the wing – lately I’ve been transitioning from being down on the block to being more of a wing defender, so that’s probably where I need to take the biggest strides,” he admitted.
But clearly, based on the number and prestige of the schools that have made him an offer or shown interest, Keion Brooks, Jr. is on the right track. Here are his thoughts on a few of those schools:
On Purdue – “I like Purdue…I really do like them a lot. They were the first to offer me, so that means a lot, as well. I like their style of play and they’re not too far away.”
On Iowa – “I do like Iowa. They’re also in the Big Ten. I talk to one of their assistants a lot, but I haven’t really gotten to talk to the head coach [Fran McCaffery] a lot.”
On Louisville – “I like Louisville, too. They’re not too far. I always grew up liking their style of play, so they’re intriguing, too.”
And finally…his thoughts on Michigan State:
“I like Michigan State a lot. I’ve been there a lot to football games and the practice facilities. It’s a very big campus that’s nice to get around. The people are always nice and respectful, so I just really love the atmosphere.”
For a guy that cares immensely about respect, a school with the history and prestige of Michigan State stands out like none other.
“It means a lot to see that they’ve earned that respect. I want to be able to make my own path and earn my own respect – I don’t want anything to be given to me…I want to earn it rightfully.”
The trip to East Lansing even left a lasting impact on Sarita and Keion, Sr.
“It’s another surreal feeling just to be there,” Sarita said. “Being there, I actually feel like I’m being recruited! I have nothing but good things to say about it.”
“It’s an environment that we can put our son in, that we can feel safe in a place that’s like home, where he feels that the people around him sincerely care about him,” Keion, Sr. elaborated.
Keion’s skill on the court, and the humble, levelheaded drive off of it, are best encompassed by what he called the “biggest lesson he’s learned from his mom.”
“Just always work hard. She has a saying – ‘Hard work beats talent when talent refuses to work,’ so you can be the most talented guy in the world, but if you don’t put any hard work in, the guy who works hard is going to get the opportunity you missed out on.”
Keion Brooks, Jr. isn’t missing out on any opportunities. He’s taking advantage of every chance that comes his way, and that’s a testament to the hard work he puts in every day of his life. With the help and guidance of his loving and supportive family, Keion Brooks, Jr. will achieve exactly what he’s set out for – to not just be there, but to make a difference.”