It’s been a short journey to stardom
by Staff Writer
by Cliff Mehrtens
Two exits away.
That’s the journey, measured in Interstate 77 off-ramps, that landed De’Mon Brooks at Davidson College.
He’s the leading scorer on the Wildcats basketball team, after a standout career at Hopewell High. Brooks, a 6-foot-7 sophomore forward, said playing in front of familiar faces at Belk Arena is a huge benefit.
“I love it,” Brooks said. “Obviously my family and friends can come watch me play. It’s a lot of fun having loved ones and people I care for coming to see you play.”
What those family and friends are seeing is the blossoming of a solid college player. Brooks is averaging 15.5 points and is second on the team in rebounding (6.1 per game). He’s shooting 52 percent from the field, and three times has scored 24 points.
Brooks is part of a balanced Davidson team that leads the Southern Conference’s North Division. The Wildcats are 8-0 in conference games, and 14-4 overall. They’re on a seven-game winning streak headed into a 7 p.m. road game Thursday, Jan. 26 against Chattanooga.
“De’Mon is seeing the game significantly better and that’s part of the experience factor,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. “Any kid that makes the transition from high school to college is going through a very, very sharp learning curve. For De’Mon to step in as a freshman and play the minutes he did was a plus for our program.”
“Now, he’s not just playing minutes, but he’s really understanding the system on both the offensive and defensive ends. I think that’s given him a comfort level and confidence level that’s allowed him to be as successful as he’s been to date.”
Brooks started this season emphatically, with a team-high 24 points in a 111-64 victory against Guilford College on Nov. 11.
As a freshman, Brooks was a solid contributor. He averaged nine points and five rebounds in 31 games off the bench. Brooks shot 53 percent from the field, 36 percent on 3-pointers and averaged nearly 19 minutes per game.
He made a smooth transition in to his sophomore season and has started all 18 games.
“It’s a matter of confidence and repetition,” Brooks said. “I haven’t really done anything spectacular (from last season). I’ve been doing what I’ve always been doing. Coaches are trusting me. They’re giving me the freedom and responsibility.”
He said the biggest adjustment to college basketball was the speed of the game, and how players must pay attention to every detail.
“The smallest detail,” Brooks said, “even being two steps from where you’re supposed to be can impact the whole play or the whole game.”
McKillop, in his 23rd season coaching Davidson, said he is impressed with Brooks’ development.
“De’Mon has learned to see the game,” McKillop said. “His hard work and his experience, coupled with his IQ, have allowed him to make the reads that are so necessary in our offense. Because of this, the game has slowed down significantly for him and he’s now able to fully capitalize upon his athletic skills.”
Davidson hasn’t been prone to slumps this season because it has depth and balance that most teams could only covet. Five Wildcats average between 9.2 and 15.5 points, and they routinely take turns being the leading scorer.
The pressure of having to produce is lessened when it doesn’t fall on the same player or two every game.
“It’s great,” Brooks said. “Maybe I’ll have an off night, but we have people like Jake (Cohen), Nic (Cochran), J.P. (Kuhlman) or Tyler (Kalinoski). It’s not even just our starters. People come off our bench who could probably be starters at other schools. Having that much talent means (opponents) can’t just worry about just one or two guys. You’ve got to worry about the whole team.”
Cohen and Brooks handle the inside duties for Davidson. Cohen has been the Southern Conference Player of the Week each of the past two weeks.
“I like that my teammates trust me to contribute,” Brooks said. “They’re the ones who get me the ball, and opportunities to showcase my talents. They trust in me to do what I’m able to do.”
McKillop saw that talent when Brooks was a star at Hopewell High. Brooks first verbally committed to Howard University as a high school senior, but changed his mind when Howard made a coaching change.
Davidson coaches had been at plenty of Hopewell games and had a close view of Brooks. He soon committed to Davidson, and away he went. A few miles north into NCAA Division I basketball.
“Charlotte is a hotbed for basketball talent,” McKillop said. “It is also a very competitive marketplace. Anytime we can get a local player, we feel very fortunate. Every Charlotte player who has played for us has become a leader and a captain in our program. I expect De’Mon to have a similar experience.”
Brooks said he enjoys not only his friends and family at home games, but all the enthusiastic Wildcats fans. Davidson is 9-1 at home.
“It’s exciting to come out and see a good fan base supporting you,” Brooks said. “It shows that all your hard work is coming home. Everybody worked tremendously hard in the offseason, and it’s great to see the fans appreciate that.”