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'A learning experience': Garrison Brooks prepares to lead UNC basketball

garrison brooks shouting v wofford
UNC power forward Garrison Brooks (15) screams in the excitement following his slam dunk against Wofford in their first game of the season. UNC won 78-67 in the Richardson Indoor Stadium, Spartanburg, SC on Nov. 6, 2018.

After a half hour fielding questions from a group of high school and college journalists, Garrison Brooks decided to stick around.

There he sat in the UNC basketball press room, graciously taking pictures with the girls and answering eager questions from the boys. He didn’t do it because he had to, but because he wanted to. The teens swarmed him, but he didn’t seem to mind. He was enjoying himself.

Steve Kirschner, head of communications for Tar Heel hoops, was quick to call it a “first” for Brooks – doing more than what was required in a media setting.

It seemed like something a leader would do.

Leader. It’s a position the Lafayette, Alabama native hasn’t yet found himself in midway through his North Carolina basketball career. Yet after six Tar Heel departures following the 2018-19 season – three graduations, two NBA draft exits and a transfer – head coach Roy Williams has made Brooks’ new role quite apparent.

“He’s made it very evident – crystal clear – that the juniors and the seniors have to play a big role,” Brooks said. “Because we have six new guys, and they’re not used to the Carolina way. He’s made it clear to us that we have to be very good every day and lead by example.”

Those six new faces are made up of a pair of grad transfers, a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans and two more first years. The two transfers already have a combined six years of college basketball under their belts – but for the four first-years, the onus is on Brooks and a few others to show them that all-important Carolina way.

“As a leader, you try to make everyone feel comfortable around you,” Brooks said. “Make them feel like they can come to you about anything, whether it’s related to basketball, off the court, just becoming their friend, their brother.”

Upperclassmen leadership or no, incorporating six newcomers into a college rotation will be tough. Brooks described the team’s first practice this week as “a learning experience.” 

The Tar Heels lost more than 80 percent of their scoring from last season; thus, Brooks said his offseason focus so far has been on his shot and becoming more aggressive offensively. 

He’ll need to be. 

That’s not to say he won’t have help. First-year Cole Anthony is one of the most complete point guard prospects of the decade, while grad transfers Justin Pierce and Christian Keeling will be UNC’s designated 3-point threats.

And according to Brooks, the versatility of sophomore guard Leaky Black – on both ends – could provide a huge boost in the backcourt.

“If Leaky Black is 100 percent,” Brooks said, “Leaky Black is one of the best defenders and best players in the ACC.”

Meanwhile, Armando Bacot, a five-star center from Richmond, Virginia, is a worthy addition to the Tar Heels’ crop of big men.

“The frontcourt could be really good,” Brooks said. “My freshman year, we had a lot of guys, but I don’t think we were as ready to play. Last year, we had a pretty good frontcourt, but unfortunately Sterling was hurt. I believe with the frontcourt of me, Sterling [Manley], Brandon Huffman and Armando, we can be really talented, really good, and make a huge impact.”

The new additions, four of which came in the span of less than a month, ensured that next season would be a reload, not a rebuild. And, crucially, North Carolina’s goal remains the same, according to Brooks: a national championship.

“I feel like that should be number one on everyone’s list,” he said.

Those title hopes ended last year at the hands of Auburn in the Sweet 16, a 17-point drubbing in which, Brooks readily admits, the Tar Heels got outplayed.

Does the loss still bother him? Somewhat, seemingly. What about the fact that it was to a team from his home state of Alabama?

“A little bit,” Brooks said. “Because I have to go home and hear that nonsense.”

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In a season defined by new faces, Brooks is the only returning UNC starter. Coby White, Kenny Williams, Cameron Johnson, Luke Maye – all gone. More than 80 percent of Tar Heel points in 2018-19 – gone. Some of the most indelible names in recent UNC memory – gone.

Garrison Brooks, though, is sticking around.


@DTHSports |