December 30th, after the Tar Heels defeated Yale 70-67, I, along with other media members, were shooting our traditional postgame stand-ups on the court at the Dean Dome where it’s usually just us, operations staff and workers cleaning up. But that night we had a visitor. Garrison Brooks, who’d just played 35 minutes, scored 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the win, was on the court with us, going over post moves, shooting free throws and nailing jump shots. He was there for over an hour, along with a trainer and a family member, practicing his craft. UNC hasn’t won a game since that night- with their latest loss coming in the form of a double overtime heartbreaker at Virginia Tech.
Not much has gone right for the Heels during this stretch. Injuries that have plagued them- taking away their most talented player and a senior captain for extended time. There’s flux at a point guard position that’s historically been a strong suit. Three losses at home to teams that traditionally couldn’t buy a win in Chapel Hill. Forfeiting late 2nd half leads. Turnovers, stale defense, stagnant offense, demoralizing losses and frustrating postgame press conferences. But despite all of the bad, there’s been one bright spot…Garrison Brooks.
There’s no one who can question Brooks’ effort and will to win during this 5-game losing streak. He’s surpassed his previous career high of 20 points in 3 of the 5 games – including setting a new career high of 35 against Georgia Tech. He’s averaging 22.6 points and 11.6 rebounds. He’s become the Heels’ most reliable scorer and continues to be one of their best defenders. But Brooks won’t talk about his improved play. He wouldn’t even comment about his record-setting game against Georgia Tech. For him it’s more important for the team to get the win. But Brandon Robinson summed up his fellow captain’s contribution that night and almost every night during this tough stretch perfectly.
“If it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t have been in the game at all or even had a chance to come back. So, salute to him for going out there playing hard and playing his butt off.”
No one takes defeat well, but Brooks seems to be having a harder time than others on his team. After Wednesday’s double overtime loss to Virginia Tech, he fell to the floor as the final buzzer rang, frustrated and exhausted – having to be picked up by the same teammates he’s tried to carry during this tough stretch. They see the passion. They see the drive. They see the effort, but they’ll have to do more than help pick him up after games if the Heels are going to turn this around. They’ll need to start doing it during games too.