Kenny Brooks won’t be alone when he takes the podium Wednesday in Blacksburg for the press conference officially announcing him as Virginia Tech’s women’s basketball coach.
The Waynesboro native will be joined by his wife, Chrissy, and his children Kendyl, Chloe, Gabby and Nicholas, as well as fellow Hokies coaches and various school officials.
There are others, though, who won’t be there physically, but were there when Brooks first stepped onto a basketball court, who coached him in and out of Waynesboro High School and were in the stands during his high school career and his collegiate playing career at James Madison.
But it’s not just what Brooks, who graduated from Waynesboro in 1988 and JMU in 1992, has done as a coach and how it’s brought him to the ACC, one of the best conferences in the nation. It’s how he’s done it, which is a source of pride for many in the African-American community in Waynesboro, Staunton and Augusta County.
“It’s the pride you feel because he’s a player who has come through here and is from the city, and is doing so well because he worked so hard,” said John Spears, sports director for the Waynesboro Y and one of Brooks’ AAU coaches. “Just to see one of your own, who you’ve seen grow from a 5- or 6-year-old boy to becoming an outstanding young man; there’s a special feeling inside watching him be so successful.”
Chanda McGuffin, who was a year behind Brooks at Waynesboro and JMU, feels that same pride, especially because of the course he charted to achieve that success.
“I’m very proud of him and the way he prepared himself for success,” said McGuffin, who is the branch manager for Harrisonburg’s Wells Fargo location. “He took what he learned at the places he coached and and utilized it to build his career.
“I’m not surprised he became a coach,” she added. “He’s smart, he’s level-headed and he was always thinking out a plan. He created a strategy of success.”
Brooks, who stepped down Monday as JMU’s women’s coach, had an impressive 14-year run as the Dukes’ head coach His 337 wins make him the winningest coach in JMU history. Now he moves on to Virginia Tech and the ACC to try and rebuild the Hokies, who went 61-93 overall and 17-65 in the ACC in five years under Dennis Wolff, who was fired March 22.
Larry Leonard, who was Brooks’ coach at Waynesboro, said his former player has always had the tools to become a successful coach.
“He loves the game, and has a great work ethic,” said Leonard, who recently retired as Fort Defiance’s boys coach. “He’s a people person. He makes everyone feel comfortable around him, and that’s a plus when you’re recruiting.
“I’m sure he has his moments,” said Leonard, who faced Brooks in 2005 when he was an assistant women’s coach at Charleston Southern, “but he has the right temperament for coaching, especially for coaching women.”
Spears also saw that temperament when he was coaching Brooks during his AAU days in the late 1980s.
“He was competitive and he got mad, but he never scolded,” Spears said. “Yelling and screaming wasn’t his cup of tea. He’s made it work. He’s brought all of those girls in from all over the country and molded them into a team.
“You have to admire the consistency he’s had with that program and you admire the way he treats his team,” Spears added. “You look at the way the kids react to him and you know he has a great relationship with them.”
Brooks played for three years at James Madison under the legendary Lefty Driesell while getting a business management degree, then became a part-time assistant for Driesell for the 1993-94 season.
From there, Brooks moved on to VMI, where he was an assistant under Bart Bellairs from 1994 to 1998. He came back to Harrisonburg to be an assistant men’s coach for Sherman Dillard from 1998 to 2002.
Brooks became an assistant for the women’s team in 2002. When head coach Bud Childers took medical leave during the season, Brooks was named interim head coach and took over permanently in March 2003 when Childers did not return.
Spears said there’s a message for kids in Brooks’ path to success.
“It tells them that if you do things the right way and work hard, you could find a place like JMU to go to and get your education and better yourself,” Spears said. “That’s what Kenny did. He got his degree, then he did all the little things and the dirty jobs you have to do as an assistant coach.”
Brooks has come back to Waynesboro from time to time to be a featured speaker, and McGuffin would love for kids to hear more about his career.
“Kids need to know about how he grew up, how he kept working hard and how he stuck to his strategy for success,” she said. “He never let anyone define him. He defined himself.”
When Spears needs to dole out a lesson for success, he comes back to Brooks.
“I tell the kids, especially the males, that they could be the next Kenny Brooks,” he said, “but I also tell them that it wasn’t handed to him. He paid his dues and everything has worked out for him. He built a great reputation for himself and for his program. It’s good for this community to see one of their own becoming a success. It’s very rewarding.”