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September 26, 2005With the start of fall quarter this week, the University of Washington welcomes the most acclaimed recruiting class in its basketball history. Jon Brockman, honored as the state Player of the Year by the Associated Press, is the cornerstone of a freshman corps that hopes to continue the momentum of last year's Sweet 16 run. As Hec Ed began to stir with the arrival of the Notre Dame Football squad, Brockman shared stories from the recruiting trail, the all-star games, and his take on the upcoming season.As a senior forward at Snohomish (Wash.), Brockman averaged 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 assists per game, and was named to the McDonald's All-American squad and the USA Basketball Junior National Team. Brockman found himself courted by the likes of Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina's Roy Williams. What was the best advice he received during the recruiting whirlwind?
"It was from John Wooden on my (UCLA) visit at breakfast with him. He gave me this whole analogy on how it's not going to be the same as it is on the visit right now when you get to the school," Brockman explained. "It's a really funny story actually." Wooden described a football coach who was going to heaven and making his final commitment in the after-life. God asked if he was really ready to go to heaven, was he sure he didn't want to go to hell. The coach decided to take his final visit to check out hell and, Brockman continued, "It was golf courses and beautiful women and children playing. He went back up to the pearly gates and said, 'I think hell's where I want to go.'" God granted his wish. "And he went back down there and it was everything hell would be, fire and everything. The devil looked at him and said, 'Well, that was recruiting.'"
Brockman couldn't help but be impressed by the coaching legends. "Every single one of them was a great person and, obviously, a great coach. So I kind of knew wherever I went it was going to be a good place for me," said the poised freshman. "But when it came down to it, it was me and coach (Lorenzo) Romar, there was just something there. There was a lot more of a personal thing. I was a lot more connected to him," Brockman added, commenting on a similar style and religious perspective. "It just felt like it was the right fit on and off the court. I wasn't just looking for a great basketball coach that would get me to improve and get me to be the best player I could be, but I wanted someone I could go and talk to and that's what he is."
The broad-shouldered Brockman and his fellow freshman-point guard Justin Dentmon, wingman Harvey Perry, and bigs Joe Wolfinger and Artem Wallace-have already become a tight-knit unit. "Right when we came in here, we just glued together." And Brockman, currently 6-feet-7 and 249 pounds, sees a great deal of potential in his consensus Top 10 class.
"Joe, at 7-foot, being able to hit the three," Brockman started his scouting report, "he's going to be a tough player later on down the road. You can't teach seven feet of height. Justin (has) head smarts on the court; he knows where everyone is at. He doesn't make many mistakes. Harvey, he's a freak athlete and he can shoot from deep. And Artem is so athletic. None of us really knew how athletic he really was before he came in here," Brockman said of the 6-foot-8 post that played 1A hoops last year at Toledo (Wash.). "I don't think it's really been released yet on the court. As soon as he finds that, he's going to be scary."
The frosh posse wants to write another chapter in the Huskies' ascension. "We don't want to be one of those schools that, 'Oh, they had a couple of good years,' or, 'they got lucky or whatever,'" Brockman outlined. "We want Washington to be the school that (stays) up there at the top. The last few years since coach Romar has been here, it's been like that and I don't see it changing. We want that big basketball school name and so far it's looking pretty good I think." With verbal commitments so far from Quincy Pondexter (#50 Class of 2006), Adrian Oliver (#102), and Phil Nelson (#71), it's hard to argue with Brockman's optimism.
"We want to get that Pac-10 ring and we want to go all the way; don't stop at anything. The national championship always seems kind of far off, but after last year it's kind of like, 'Wow, its right there.'" While humble, Brockman brims with youthful enthusiasm. His classmates feel that such lofty goals are not unattainable. "We really do believe that in the four years that we're here that it's a good possibility."
Brockman, considered one of the top 20 players in last year's crop, has a seasoned perspective, having traded shots with the best in the nation and the world. His summer AAU team, Friends of Hoop, featured fellow Husky recruit, now NBA-bound Martell Webster, and Seattle Prep stud-de-jour and good friend, Spencer Hawes. The squad was successful at the elite level, Brockman recounted. "So we got to go to Pete (Newell's) Jam, Boo Williams' New Orleans tournament, and then we won the Vegas main event."
At the McDonald's All-American week in March, Brockman enjoyed visiting the children's hospital, the dunk contest, and working out with the marquee players from across the country. "A couple of the guys are in the NBA now; guys are at North Carolina, Kansas, everywhere," said Brockman, who dropped 51 points on Stanwood High in February. The game itself "was kind of a guard show. The typical all-star game, people want to have fun and show off what they have," offered Brockman, who's work on the boards was praised by the broadcasters. "Here (at the UW), you can just tell it's more of a team thing."
With the Junior National Team, he was exposed to an all-star squad made up of foreign players at the NIKE Hoop Summit in Memphis. The international style was "a lot more physical. I loved it. Last summer I got to go to France and play against Europeans. So I kind of knew what it was about. But I love playing that style of banging around. They're great shooters, that's for sure," said Brockman, who was also impressed with their fundamentals.
Earlier this month in a Husky Digest interview Brandon Roy, the Huskies' Wooden Award candidate, described the team's top recruit. "Jon Brockman is an animal. We've never had a rebounder like him since I've been here."
"I'm not the only rebounder," responded Brockman, deferring to the senior starters. "Jamal Williams, you can have him boxed out and his arms are so long that he'll just reach up and grab it. Mike Jensen has (become) a better rebounder. I don't think there's any way anyone should get any rebounds on us this year. That's kind of the mentality that I think we have to have."
The only unproven position on this year's squad is the point, so I asked Brockman about his early impressions of Ryan Appleby and Dentmon. "They're two great point guards. They're different though. They bring different things to the table," which Brockman believes will allow the Huskies to match up with a variety of teams. "That is not a weakness for us at all."
"Ryan, his shot has been incredible lately. He really worked on that, you can tell. And he's so quick. He gets up and moves down the court," Brockman continued. "Justin's a little stronger and can take someone off the dribble and get in and get fouled. He wants to make the cute pass and get it to the post. His strength and Ryan's quickness are two really good factors."
"Brandon Roy, he scores whenever he wants to. He's going to be a big key to this year I think. He's definitely our go-to guy," stated Brockman, who was familiar with the role while leading Snohomish to the state tourney three of four years. "And then with Bobby Jones, he's everywhere, all over the court and he can score whenever he wants to. So those two leaders really do fill that captain role, setting an example of how you work and everything you have to do."
What will Brockman focus on during preseason practice? "Because of my size I'm going to have to play a little bit outside, a little bit inside, depending on who's guarding me or what the scenario is, so I'm really looking forward to working with coach (Paul) Fortier in the post. And hopefully getting in there with coach (Jim) Shaw and coach (Cameron) Dollar a little bit with the wings, some wing skills and just shooting. I've been trying to stretch my range out a little bit," said Brockman, currently comfortable from 15-18 feet.
Brockman isn't the first in his hoopaholic family to lend their talent to the Husky cause. His sister, Kirsten, played for the women's team before being sidelined with stress fractures. His father, Gordy, laced them up at Seattle Pacific, and his brother, Paul, will play this year at Bellevue Community College after breaking his foot. "It was huge just being around the game at an early age," the youngest Brockman said of his family's influence, "and getting beat up on. It helped a lot." Their nurturing has produced an impressive basketball IQ in Jon, and he draws a tangible confidence from their support.
Brockman is quick to credit his mentors as well. Gary Doughty coached Brockman's fall and spring league teams from 7th to 12th grade. "I put numerous hours in the gym with him, just personal workouts; we'd go in before school started." Jim Marsh, coach of Friends of Hoop, "kind of took me from a little player to the next level." Snohomish's Len Bone "is just an awesome coach too. His brother (Ken) coached here. There's a lot of history between his family and my family."
What is Brockman's favorite accomplishment so far? "A lot of people would think it was the McDonald's game. And that was always kind of a goal of mine, something I always wanted to do. But the most fun, the thing I remember the most is going to state my freshman, sophomore and senior year. Especially the senior year, we weren't really expected to do it and we kind of came together as a team and made a lot of memories going to the Tacoma Dome." The Panthers advanced to the 4A quarterfinals last year, finishing 19-6.
Was he mildly surprised that Martell Webster, the Seattle Prepster who also shined in the McDonald's game, was drafted as high as No. 6? "I don't know if I was more surprised or more excited for him. I knew there was a possibility, but I wasn't thinking that he was going to go that high." Brockman commented. "I knew he was going to be first round, but it kind of blew me back. But, I mean, he deserved it."
Does that give him some confidence that he can excel at the college level and perhaps in the NBA? "A little bit," Brockman said with a hint of hesitation. "He's just a great player. He was ready for the draft with his body, his athleticism, and his skill level. So I just know that I've got a lot of stuff to work on. But it gives me something to work for."
Looking forward to wearing the purple and gold, what has him the most excited? "The atmosphere here is amazing, like on game day, people lining up. And then when you get in here and they're just screaming at the top of their lungs," Brockman said of the madness on Montlake. "Thirteen of our first fourteen games, or something like that, are at home, so that's going to be fun. We're really young, especially next year, so it's going to be a good way to get our feet wet. I think we definitely have an advantage here with our fans. It's gonna be good."