Brooks gives back to UCI

IRVINE — When UC Irvine supporters approached Scott Brooks about lending his name to a golf tournament to raise money for the school's athletic department, it likely had more to do with the cachet the Oklahoma City Thunder coach who starred for UCI in the mid 1980s could add to the event.

As it turns out, there is, perhaps, no former student-athlete who can better appreciate the power and possibility of a single scholarship than Brooks.

Though he led the West Coast in scoring at 23.8 points per game as a UCI senior and went on to play 11 seasons for six teams in the NBA, Brooks' basketball road might have ended in 1985 as a sophomore point guard at San Joaquin Delta Community College.

Brooks, who played as a freshman at Texas Christian University, but transferred to the Stockton-based JC program because he was homesick and missed California, helped lead Delta to the No. 1 seed in the 16-team state tournament held at Selland Arena in Fresno.

As the No. 1 seed, Delta played Riverside in the opening round's final game, late at night.

Then-UC Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan had long since left the arena by the time Brooks took the court, but not until he received a recommendation about Brooks from then-TCU coach Jim Killingsworth, with whom he sat in the stands.

Delta was upset by Riverside that night, and Brooks said he was surprised anew the following day to hear from Mulligan.

"He called me and gave me a scholarship offer without ever having even seen me play," Brooks said. "No one was offering me a scholarship other than Irvine."

It was yet another chance that Brooks seized. It provided not only a great two years at UCI, but a springboard to what Brooks hopes is a lifetime in the game.

"I wouldn't be here [without that scholarship offer]," Brooks said Wednesday at Oak Creek Golf Club in Irvine, where 138 tournament entries provided proceeds in exchange for a day of golf, a chance to meet UCI coaches and athletes, and a photo of their foursome with Brooks. "I would not have been an NBA player or an NBA coach. I was the youngest of seven kids and I would not have been able to go to college without an athletic scholarship."

Brooks said he has always been proud of his heritage with the Anteaters and was always anxious to give back. When a memorial service was held for Mulligan in 2010, Brooks was at the Bren Events Center at 10:30 a.m., despite having coached an NBA game in Oakland the night before.

"I was fortunate to be a student-athlete here," said Brooks, the NBA Coach of the Year in 2009-10 and who guided the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals last season. "UC Irvine gave me my start and put me in position to be successful. When they said they wanted to hold a golf tournament and they wanted me involved, I said, 'Great.' When they said they wanted to put my name on it, I said, 'Let's not do that.' But after playing a round of golf [with tournament co-chair Otto Reyer], he convinced me how important it would be."

That notion was affirmed Wednesday at the inaugural Scott Brooks Golf Invitational.

"I've had an opportunity to visit with all the coaches and all the student-athletes [representatives from all 18 Division I sports were placed at each hole]," Brooks said. "Today has brought back memories of being a student-athlete myself. If people didn't help the program when I played, there would not have been the scholarship money to provide the opportunities for athletes. We're doing the same [for student-athletes now] that [donors] did back then for us."

Brooks said he is enthusiastic about the success in recent years by several UCI athletic teams, including baseball's run to the 2007 College World Series and men's volleyball national titles in 2007 and 2009.

"One thing about professional athletics is, everybody always brags about their school," Brooks said. "And let's face it, there was a time when there wasn't a lot to brag about [at UCI]. But, lately, we're right there."

Brooks said Mulligan, who guided the Anteaters to a first-round NIT win at UCLA in 1986 and regularly knocked off nationally ranked UNLV and Fresno State, then members of the Big West Conference, was among the best coaches for which he ever played.

He also endorsed the work of current coach Russell Turner, who is entering his second season at UCI after five seasons as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors.

"I know [Turner] personally," Brooks said. "I spent time with him when he was with the Warriors and I've watched him work in the summer leagues. He's a terrific coach who has a lot of energy and who is very passionate about the game. He will turn the program around."

Brooks said he has committed to another Scott Brooks Golf Invitational next year.

"The only thing I regret about UC Irvine is they didn't recruit me out of high school," he said. "I would have loved to have played four years there. Two was all I had, which was great. I'm a graduate and I have incredible memories.

Brooks believes he is blessed to have an opportunity to coach the game he loves and he detailed his vision to some day coach at the collegiate, then high school levels.

"I don't know if that's how it's going to work out, but I've always felt that would be a great opportunity," said Brooks, who surely knows all about opportunity.

Twitter: @barryfaulkner5

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