Maybe it was the moment. Maybe it was the 5,500 (officially) fans packed into the arena. Maybe it was the defense. Maybe it was just an off night.
But for the near entirety of the first 12 minutes, Fort Wayne North Side’s Keion Brooks was more bystander than aggressor, scoring just five points in the first half of Saturday’s semi-state game.
Then, it happened.
With Merrillville turning up the notch defensively, the Legends (yes, that’s really their mascot) were out of sorts. After tracking down a loose ball, North Side’s Elijah Holmes found a back-cutting Brooks who rose up through contact and hammered home a dunk.
Brooks looked much more like the prospect he’s been tabbed to be in the second half, pouring in a team-high 20 points, 15 of those coming in the final two periods, and led the Legends to their first state finals appearance in 52 years.
Listed at 6’8” and 185 pounds on 247 Sports, Brooks isn’t your typical wiry, lanky high school sophomore. He had no qualms on Saturday about not only getting to the rim, but playing out of the post for much of night.
Brooks grabbed five rebounds on the night, 2.5 less than his season average. He attempted just one three, but it was as pure a shot as they come. On the season, Brooks’ 38 three-pointers in 29 games is second-most on the team.
But the impact he had on Saturday came inside.
While his dunk in the opening minute energized the crowd (along with this ridiculous put back dunk from Mr. Basketball candidate Jaylen Butz), North Side struggled to pull away. Up seven midway through the third, Brooks took the ball on the left block, spun around his defender and finished through contact for another and-one.
Seconds later, Brooks finished in transition at the rim for his seventh point of the quarter. Two plays later, he came off a screen and buried a semi-contested right-wing three-pointer. The sophomore finished with 10 points in the period and helped North Side build a nearly 20-point lead heading into the final frame.
His exclamation point on the night came in the closing seconds as he finished off a lob in style to seal North Side’s trip to Indianapolis.
Brooks’ 20 points on the night matched his season average of 20.2 points, most on a Legends side that has spent the season near the top of the Class 4A rankings and finished the regular season ranked No. 4.
As of Saturday, 247 Sports lists Brooks as the top player in Indiana for 2019 and 17th nationally. While most fans have been (rightfully) enamored with Romeo Langford, who is ranked marginally higher than Brooks according to 247’s ranking system (Langford comes in at 0.9992, Brooks at 0.9928).
However, what isn’t deniable is the skill Brooks posses. Langford’s gaudy scoring has drawn all the attention in the state, but Brooks will have center stage next week at the state finals, a destination Langford fell short of this season.
Brooks is a special talent with a uncharacteristic skill set. Few kids his age or size are as willing or able to bang bodies down low and finish through contact. Even fewer possess a stroke as pure as his. He’s spent the year as the best player on arguably the best team in the state.
Saturday will mark the first of what will likely be a two-year journey going forward in the spotlight. While fans may be slow to catch on, the coaches have not. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo watched Brooks in-person multiple times on the season and the sophomore already has a scholarship offer from the Spartans.
The only other programs listed by 247 Sports to have offered Brooks is Xavier, Purdue and Kansas State.
As part of the Class of 2019, Brooks (along with Langford’s) will be one of the first in-state recruitments Indiana’s new head coach, whomever that may be, will be judged on.
Don’t take this as a plea for the Hoosiers to recruit Brooks. I’ll leave the much wiser men who are paid much more money than I to make those decisions.
What this is, however, is a warning to take notice. Keion Brooks is coming.