HIGHLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich.
Late on a Sunday afternoon, Pierre Brooks II milled around one of three courts buzzing inside Szott Fieldhouse. For Brooks, a 6-foot-5 wing, the stakes for his third scrimmage of the day are low. Of the roughly 80 players who sojourned from around the state to the fringes of Detroit, the rising junior has relatively little to gain. Unlike many of his peers, Brooks isn’t vying for the attention of staffs from a smattering of Division II and NAIA scouts littering the sidelines at Milford High School.
Since starting as a freshman for his father at Frederick Douglass Academy, Brooks has been marked as a high-major talent. Posting 25.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game and landing a spot on the All-Detroit team only confirmed the obvious. By July, power conference suitors began lining up, starting with Missouri, which offered Brooks a month after he hopped over to Columbia for an unofficial visit.
For Brooks’ day at a camp hosted by Endless Motor Sports was a respite of sorts. A chance to catch up with friends, go through light drill work, and use loose scrimmages as beta tests for skills he honed in private workouts.
What becomes evident is how easily Brooks can toggle between dominance and deference. “It’s so easy for him to get to his spots,” said Matthew Dorosh, a scout and founder of Endless Motor Sports, which organized the camp. “It’s hard for a lot of these guys out here to keep him from getting where he wants to go.” At 205 pounds, Brooks already owns a college-ready frame. When he gets downhill, he’s strong enough that it takes three defenders meeting him at the rim to bump off-course. Yet for long stretches, Brooks is content to be a ball mover or floor spacer.
Now, with the day winding down, a familiar voice barked a demand. “Hey, P,” said Cornell Davis, Brooks’ skills trainer who was also tapped as a coach for the day. Taking two halting steps, Davis’ pupil leaned forward. “Dominate the game, P,” Davis said. “Take control.”
A wry grin crossed Brooks’ face, followed by a nod.
“I got you,” he mouthed.
‘I’m not going to back down’
For programs looking to import a scorer they can unpack right out of the box, Brooks potentially fits the bill. How he goes about piling up points, though, runs counter to the way the game is trending for wings.
Instead of pulling the trigger from long range or looking to attack in the open floor, Brooks’ base of operations is the mid-post, backing down smaller guards using a crab dribble while surveying the weak side of the floor. “It’s a nice feel,” Brooks said. “You can just utilize whatever the defense is trying to give you and turn it on them.”
Since the third grade, coaches have plopped him into that spot on the floor, relying on his strength and decision-making to propel their offense, Pierre Brooks Sr. said. And once his turn came to plug his son into the Hurricanes’ offense, he found the positional flexibility handy. “On the high school level this year, we’re probably going to be playing him at the point guard position a lot based on need,” he said. “But with his versatility, I’ve played him from the point guard to the center.”
On tape, Brooks doesn’t blow by many defenders off the dribble and typically elevates off two feet. What he might lack in elite athleticism, though, is offset by strength and outright tenacity around the rim.
During Sunday’s scrimmages, defenders struggled to thwart his momentum. Even if they beat Brooks to a spot, his raw power and body control made it look as if he were shedding arm tackles. Once he’s aloft, Brooks innately understands how to use his muscular frame as a shield— all while maintaining extension to complete plays.
At the moment, Missouri can afford swap brawn for finesse on a roster that doesn’t lack for shooting with Dru Smith, Mark Smith, and Torrence Watson. If anything, coach Cuonzo Martin’s objective has been to acquire players adept at attacking the rim, offering a safety valve if an offensive set gets bottled up. Brooks fits that template and has a personality that fits Martin’s stated preference.
“They really like my all-around game,” Brooks said, “But I also think they like my sense of toughness. They know that I’m not going to back down from others.”
The next step: tweaking a jumper
For all of Brooks’ preternatural gifts, an inherent tension defines his game. Whether it’s chatting with Missouri, Michigan State, Xavier, or any of the four other high-major programs pursuing his services, a common critique arises: Are you working on improving Pierre’s jumper?
It’s not an idle suggestion, either. When Brooks arrives on a college campus, the margin for error granted by his athleticism evaporates. If opposing guards don’t at least have a grudging respect for his shot, they’ll do what defenders have done for time immemorial—drop back, sit in a gap and dare Brooks to prove the scouting report wrong.
”That’s been the biggest area we’ve been trying to develop in his game,” Brooks Sr. said. “That’s been what’s helping him pick up those high-major offers— his consistency with his jumper the past couple of months.”
A frame-by-frame breakdown of Brooks reveals kinks in the kinetic chain.
While Brooks is often shot-ready, knees bent and hands up, his shot pocket is low— closer to his waist than his sternum. And instead of elevating the ball vertical — with elbow tucked— to just above his eyebrow, Brooks’ load loops left. Ultimately his hand position is sound, but when you factor in a wide stance, low pocket and hand swing, his jumper wasn’t always quick or fluid.
”My old shot?” Brooks said with a laugh. “I wasn’t going to get that off in college. No way.”
Suiting up for The Family on the Nike’s EYBL afforded Brooks the chance to play off the ball, while a pair of Michigan’s best combo guards in Jaden Akins and Kobe Bufkin orchestrated. At the same time, Brooks started working with Cam Nicholls, who was formerly on staff at Saginaw Valley State and won a Class B crown at Detroit Renaissance High School, to deliberately retool his mechanics.
Sitting across from me, Brooks cupped his hands, moving them a couple of inches up his torso to where he now tries to snag kickouts. And while he sometimes lapses into old habits, the hitch in his shot has been sanded down. Ironically, though, his form is fluid and close to textbook when shooting off the dribble.
“I don’t know why it is, but when we’re sitting around and watching film, it can look a little lethargic,” Brooks Sr. said. “But when he’s shooting off the dribble – at least to me – his mechanics look a lot better.”
Throughout Sunday, Brooks’ shot selection tilted toward using his dribble to carve out space to get into his jumper. Using a jab step and one power dribble, he’d fake right before sweeping a cross-over to his left and into his a jump shot. “I have more momentum,” Brooks said. “Going to my left, it just feels more comfortable that way.”
The results were mixed, but the ball came off his hand cleanly, rotated three times and didn’t trace a flat path toward the rim. When Brooks reverse pivoted into step-back jumpers out of post-ups, it was clear he was in his comfort zone.
“I always like to get to my hot spots,” he added.
Few programs can attest to the progression like Missouri. Assistant coach Cornell Mann has monitored Brooks since he was a freshman, back when programs in the MAC, Atlantic 10 and Horizon League were the first programs to get heavily involved. While MU held off extending an offer until Martin watched Brooks live, it’s not lost on Brooks or his father that the Tigers have been a steady presence.
“I can’t say how big it was,” Brooks Sr. said of MU being first in line. “I can tell you we won’t forget they were the first one to take that step.”
Bully ball still works
For now, Brooks can still call on bully ball when the time comes to assert control over the game.
All he needed last weekend was Davis’ direction. After corralling the tip-off, he trotted into the frontcourt, casually pulling up for 3-pointer. Two possessions later, he muscled his way through a scrum of three defenders for an offensive rebound and a stickback. Finally, he crossed up a defender and splashed in another 3-ball. In three minutes, Brooks racks up eight points— the start of what will be a 30-point crescendo.
By the second half, Brooks’ is getting to any spot he wants: mid-post, elbow, or baseline. For a helpless defender, getting faced up in the corner means watching Brooks catch, rip and go before ragged help defenders rotate. All the while, Davis goaded his apt pupil.
“Bully!” he bellowed.
Thirty minutes later, Brooks, freshly changed into a pair of black Nike shorts trimmed in red and an EYBL long sleeve t-shirt, will meticulously begin to pick apart where his game needs girding. Sure, his passing instincts are sound, but he could be more consistent getting shooters into the right position. If he’s going to run the point, his game management could be better. So, too, could his handle.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Brooks said. “But I think my shot and sense of the game has really improved.”