"What I've learned from you is that really one of the most important things in life is showing up. I'm blown away by your ability to show up..."
-- Conor O'Neill (played by Keanu Reeves), Hard Ball (book by Daniel Coyle; screenplay by John Gaitins)
Most college basketball fans love this time of year. The tournaments are about to start, after all, and most college basketball fans love the tournaments.
For saps like me, this time of year comes with a cost. Several costs, really, but the one that starts to hit me about this time of year is that we are about to see some of those kids we root for suit up in Cardinal and White for the last time. March is exciting, but it is also "goodbye" time. We are about to say goodbye to one of my all-time favorites.
For about the last month, I have been trying to figure out why I am such a Brooke Smith fan. Yes, she was awfully nice to our awestruck (then) 10-year-old Stanford sports nut son when Stanford came to Columbia for one of her first games. Without a doubt, that is part of it.
But it is also her game. You gotta love that hook shot. Actually, that should be "hook shots," because she can go left or right with the hook. Having one hook shot is pretty remarkable these days. Having two is off the charts.
Many times, I have heard radio and television broadcasters refer to Brooke's Hook as "old school." Maybe that is part of the appeal. When you start to get old, you like a little old school.
The Hook is the first thing you notice about Brooke. Keep watching, though, and you will see more to love. Her footwork is a thing of beauty, at least to Stanford fans. Fans of opposing schools hate it, of course, because they mistakenly think it is traveling, unaware that one can step out of the pivot into a shot. She definitely gets bonus points for doing something that effective that drives opposing fans that nuts.
Her passing is solid, too. It is tough to learn how to pass out of the double team before it is too late. Brooke and Stanford's other bigs (on the women's team - it is still a work in progress for the men, but there is progress) are darn good at it.
She can even get you a few steals, which is a nice plus for a post. The occasional three-point shot is nice, too. And she is a solid rebounder.
All of those things are part of her skill set. In the end, though, I think the most appealing aspect of her game is something you see, but perhaps do not notice, when you first watch her.
She is always there. Offense or defense, there she is. With only one exception that I have noticed in three years of watching (and everyone gets one exception), she never takes a possession off. As soon as possession changes, she heads to the other end of the court.
As Keanu Reeves' character in Hard Ball observed, "showing up" really is one of the most important things in life. And in basketball. Especially for bigs. Most of them spend at least part of the game NOT showing up. And they get away with it, due to the widespread belief that big players cannot be expected to be in good enough shape to continuously run the floor.
Brooke busts that myth. She shows up. Not just for offense. [The bigs who do not always show up tend to rest on defensive possessions.] We have come to take it for granted. If you watch carefully, though, you will see it, often in the background: There she is, hustling down the court.
She does this while playing the most minutes of any player on the team. She is not getting her rest on the bench. She just does not get rest, except when she gets into foul trouble. [That reminds me of another thing I love about her game: She can play a long time with four fouls.]
Showing up is how a post player gets rebounds. How she is in position for the occasional steal. How she is ready to take the ball and then hook it, move it to the hoop for a layup, or pass it out of the double team. You cannot do any of those things unless you are there. Brooke Smith is always going to be there.
But "always" is about to run out.
We will miss you, Brooke. And we will miss Kristen, Clare, and Markisha, too. Good players and good kids all (except that they are not really kids anymore, I guess).
Wherever life takes the four of you, keep showing up. Just for fun, keep showing up in those Stanford uniforms as long as possible.
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