Eliminating the negative

More news about: Western Connecticut | Whitworth
DaQuan Brooks recently became Western Connecticut's all-time leading scorer and has a shot at 2,000 career points.
Western Connecticut athletics photo

En route to becoming the premier talent in the Little East Conference, DaQuan Brooks traveled from Hartford to Atlanta and back to the Nutmeg State during his high school days. He went from having scholarship offers and entertaining dreams of playing regularly on ESPN to showing off his prodigious scoring talents before a few hundred fans at Western Connecticut State’s Feldman Arena.

Ultimately, Brooks' story is defined not by the talent that has already established him as the Colonials' all-time leading scorer, but the maturity he discovered soon after taking his first steps on campus.

“When I first came, I was young-minded,” Brooks admitted. “I had a negative approach to it because it was D-III and not D-I where I really wanted to play.

“Then I grew relationships with the team. I just put all the D-I stuff behind me and made the best of being here.”

Since his arrival, the Colonials (13-3) have re-emerged as a national power, earning their way into the NCAA Division III Tournament field last March after a five-season break from being penciled into a national bracket. Despite injuries to two starters that have tested their depth, they have remained in or on the cusp of the D3hoops.com Top 25 much of this season.

Brooks never envisioned Western Connecticut in his hoop dreams. Born in Hartford, he returned to Connecticut to live with his father 13 years after moving to Atlanta to stay with his mother. He enrolled at Bristol Central High School, became a big-time talent playing for what Western Connecticut coach Bob Campbell diplomatically called “not a very good team” and started hearing from big-time schools.

West Virginia offered. St. John's inquired. A few mid-majors joined the fray. But Brooks did not have enough core courses to qualify, vanquishing his dreams of a free ride.

Through the years, Campbell came to know Brooks, whose older cousin, Lonnie, scored 1,578 points for the Colonials from 1990-94. Campbell spoke at the older cousin's funeral after Lonnie Brooks died suddenly a few years back. He stayed in touch with DaQuan Brooks and offered him a place to play, even if it came without the scholarship and cache the student-athlete had always envisioned.

Outside of the early adjustment to Division III ball, the only thing Brooks has seemingly yet to grasp is the relatively cold New England winters compared to it being 50-60 degrees down in Atlanta where he said, “I didn't have to wear a coat down there. … I'm still not used to it.”

On the court, Brooks has already poured in 1,886 points and should top 2,000 before his career concludes sometime later this winter. He is averaging 25.9 points and 6.0 assists in his first full season as a point guard after playing the previous three seasons off the ball, including a 46-point performance against Keene State and a 40-point showing against WPI.

“He's had a tremendous career. He's the leading scorer in school history. He's prob one of the best players we've ever had,” Campbell said.

“For a D3 player, he's probably a scholarship-level talent for sure,” Campbell continued.

After walking in May (he will officially earn his degree in communications this summer), Brooks will attend tryouts for NBA, D-League and European teams in hopes of continuing his basketball career. Campbell said “six or seven” of his former student-athletes have played overseas.

For now, Brooks' focus is on an elusive championship. Western Connecticut lost 81-80 to Rhode Island College in the 2010 Little East finals, leaving cutting down the nets as the lone thing he has yet to accomplish in his record-setting career.

It will not be easy, though. The Colonials have lost their last two games entering Saturday's home game against Mass-Boston since senior forward Mark Redding (7.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and junior guard Michael Jensen (10.3 ppg) have recently been sidelined with shoulder and knee injuries, respectively. They should be back in the next week, though, and help the Colonials mount another postseason – and championship – push.

After his initial reluctance to embrace Western Connecticut, DaQuan Brooks got to live out his hoop dreams.

“It's been a great experience,” Brooks said. “Being a college athlete in general is a great experience. I'm just trying to make the best of it and try to get a championship in here before I graduate.”

Added Campbell: “I would love to see that happen. I think it's the only thing he's missing.”

Whitworth making more adjustments

In several respects, the Whitworth men's basketball team is through its transition phase. Matt Logie arrived from Lehigh and took the reins after Jim Hayford left for Division I Eastern Washington and kept the Pirates among the D3hoops.com Top 10 despite losing our 2010-11 National Player of the Year, Michael Taylor.

However, even national powers encounter depth problems. Although they have not quite leveled the playing field between the Pirates and most other programs across the country, they have forced Logie to institute what is essentially a seven-man rotation while forwards Mack Larkin, Jack Loofburrow and Zach Payne have endured different injuries.

“We just decided to go with our veteran players,” Logie said.

In seeing their six-game victory run snapped Tuesday night with a 77-66 loss to Northwest Conference rival Whitman, Logie played nine players but only seven appeared for double-digit minutes. And of them, Loofburrow logged only one minute in his first game back after missing eight contests with a stress fracture in his left foot.

Three days earlier, only six players saw double-digit minutes while four combined for eight-plus minutes in a 65-61 home victory over Linfield.

And yet, despite the attrition, the Pirates are still ranked No. 9 in the D3hoops.com Top 25, although they will likely drop some in next week's poll.

“One of the things I've been most pleased with is the way we've been able to persevere,” Logie said. “We've been a little shorthanded. But we were still able to win a couple of tough games on the road.”

Indeed, the Pirates won big road games on back-to-back nights at Pacific Lutheran (103-94 in double overtime on Jan. 6) and the University of Puget Sound (80-67 on Jan. 7) without the frontcourt trio of Larkin, Loofburrow and Payne.

In the meantime, German 6-8 senior center Felix Friedt (17.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg) and Belgian 6-2 senior swingman Idris Lasisi (15.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg), the latter a transfer from North Idaho College, have teamed with junior point guard Wade Gebbers (13.9 ppg) to give Logie a dependable troika of scoring threats.

Problem is, with the exception of the Whitman game in which Friedt played only 19 minutes because of foul trouble, all three have averaged 37-plus minutes over the last four games – not including the Pacific Lutheran contest. Only sophomore guard Colton McCargar (4.1 ppg) and 6-8 junior Michael Taylor (4.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, no relation to last year’s D3hoops.com Player of the Year) have regularly seen action while the Pirates have missed three of their top forwards.

However, as Gebbers explained, “We never really got down. We had the mentality that everyone was going to have to step up and play better. It may have galvanized us in a way, but we had guys who stepped up.”

Larkin (6.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg) returned to the lineup after missing four games because of a concussion against Whitman, contributing 12 points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes. Although Loofburrow (7.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg) only played one minute and missed his lone shot attempt, he is adept both inside and from beyond the three-point arc.

When asked if Whitworth will be able to expand its rotation soon, Logie said, “I think we're close.” In addition to helping them avoid getting worn down over the next two months, Gebbers thinks this the Pirates' rash of frontcourt injuries could serve them well come tournament time.

“I think, personally, it could help us further down the road,” Gebbers said.

Ryan Scot

Ryan Scott serves as the lead columnist for D3hoops.com and previously wrote the Mid-Atlantic Around the Region column in 2015 and 2016. He's a long-time D-III basketball supporter and former player currently residing in Middletown, Del., where he serves as a work-at-home dad, doing freelance writing and editing projects. He has written for multiple publications across a wide spectrum of topics. Ryan is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College.
Previous columnists:
2014-16: Rob Knox
2010-13: Brian Falzarano
2010: Marcus Fitzsimmons
2008-2010: Evans Clinchy
Before 2008: Mark Simon