BLACKSBURG — This has been a dream season for Kenny Brooks.
Brooks, who in his first year as the women’s basketball coach at Virginia Tech, had always hoped to coach one of his daughters. It’s one of the reasons he left the world of men’s basketball 15 years ago to coach on the women’s side.
This season, his wish has been fulfilled. He is coaching Kendyl, the eldest of his three daughters. She is a freshman reserve for the Hokies.
“I always felt like it was a dream to be able to do that,” he said. “I go out here to practice every day and it’s happening. So it’s a lot of fun.”
It has also been a special season for Kendyl, who used to attend her father’s games when he was the women’s basketball coach at James Madison.
“It’s always been something I’ve always wanted to do, ever since I was little, watching the girls play for my dad,” she said. “I always wanted to be one of those girls playing for him.”
Brooks left his JMU job for the challenge of coaching in the ACC. His task has certainly been challenging lately — the Hokies are on a six-game losing streak.
But Brooks is getting to do what he loves.
“I always wanted to be around the game, and I was always a student of the game,” he said.
And now his daughter is one of his pupils.
As a point guard for Waynesboro High School, Brooks was preoccupied with the sport even away from the gym. He would come home and play a strategy basketball board game.
“I just played it for hours and hours and hours, to the point where it almost messed me up academically,” he said.
Brooks was recruited to play for JMU. But during his sophomore year of college, he realized he did not have an NBA future. So he told JMU coach Lefty Driesell he wanted to be a coach one day.
Not only would he pay close attention to Driesell’s tactics, but he would stick around after the men’s practices and watch JMU women’s basketball coach Shelia Moorman run her practices.
Brooks was so intrigued that he began thinking about becoming a women’s basketball coach himself.
“I always felt like the women’s game is in its purest form,” he said.
But he became a men’s basketball coach after graduating from JMU. After serving as a part-time assistant for Driesell, he landed a full-time job on the staff of VMI coach Bart Bellairs in 1994.
Kendyl was born in February 1998, during Brooks’ final season with the Keydets.
“When he had a daughter, you could see it sway there a little bit, that he was open to coaching women,” said former VMI assistant Kirby Dean, who is now the men’s basketball coach at Eastern Mennonite University — and Kendyl’s godfather. “He even made the statement to me, ‘If I end up coaching women, I might be able to coach my daughter.’
“I never dreamed it would really work out that way. What are the chances?”
Brooks left VMI to become an assistant to JMU men’s basketball coach Sherman Dillard in 1998. Four years later, he told Dillard he was going to move over to the staff of JMU women’s basketball coach Bud Childers.
“I still to this day don’t know how I got up enough nerve to do it,” Brooks, 48, said. “People looked at me like, ‘Why would you want to leave the men’s game for the women’s game when you don’t have to?’ ”
But Brooks and his wife, Chrissy, had two daughters at the time.
“I thought that was an omen — having all these girls, it must mean something,” Brooks said. “It was an opportunity for me to be able to coach them one day.”
‘It was time’
In December 2002, Childers told his new associate head coach that he was taking a medical leave of absence.
Brooks went 16-10 as the interim head coach. Childers resigned in February of that season. After the season, JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne took the interim tag off Brooks’ title.
Brooks guided the Colonial Athletic Association team to 337 wins, six NCAA tournament bids and five WNIT berths in 14 years at the helm of the Dukes. Three of his players were chosen in the WNBA Draft.
“He always was there to … not only tell me things to make me better, but he also used to demonstrate,” said former JMU star Tamera Young, a forward for the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. “He didn’t punish you for making a mistake. … That’s why he’s always able to get the best out of his players.”
In the 2010-11 season, Brooks led JMU to its sixth straight year with at least 24 wins. But Brooks said he did not get a call in 2011 from the late Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver, who was looking for a new women’s basketball coach. Weaver hired Dennis Wolff.
The following year, Brooks heard from both Georgetown and Virginia about their vacancies. UVa opted for Joanne Boyle. Georgetown did want Brooks, but he chose to stay at JMU. Brooks said he felt there was still more he could accomplish at JMU, and he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of raising his three girls in the Washington, D.C., area.
Last March, Virginia Tech was again looking for a new women’s basketball coach.
Brooks was impressed by Tech athletic director Whit Babcock, and family life in Blacksburg appealed to him. After 11 straight seasons with at least 24 wins, Brooks was ready to make a move.
“I just felt like it was time for me to step up and have a different challenge,” Brooks said.
‘Tremendous, tremendous feeling’
Kendyl, who helped Spotswood High School win the Group 3A state title last year, had signed to play for her father at JMU. She was released from her letter of intent and signed to play for him at Tech instead.
“I watched a lot of girls get really good once they started playing with him,” said Kendyl, who is on scholarship. “I wanted to be one of those.”
Basketball has always been a bond between Kendyl and her dad.
“When my little sisters were annoying or something, we could go to the gym and shoot, or we could go outside and go dribble,” Kendyl said.
Brooks had planned to redshirt Kendyl this season. But with the Hokies having depth woes, Brooks changed his mind. Kendyl made her college debut in the third game of the season.
Kendyl has become the top sub on the Hokies (16-7, 3-7).
“I watched her go through the state championship run at Spotswood, and she would look at me in the stands and we’d have our little hand gestures,” Brooks said. “But now being with her on the court, it’s a tremendous, tremendous feeling.”
Kendyl ranks second on the team with 38 3-pointers. She is averaging 5.9 points and 20.8 minutes.
“I’m proud of her,” Brooks said. “She’s exceeded my expectations because I really thought she wasn’t ready to play college basketball.”
Brooks used to tell Kendyl to clean up her room. Now she gets chastised for basketball misdeeds.
“Against Nebraska, she made a couple mental errors and when I went to her, I was kind of harsh,” Brooks said. “I could tell she was getting a little emotional, and I just looked at her and walked away. She said, ‘I’m OK, I’m OK,’ and 30 seconds later she hit a big 3.”
Kendyl calls him “Coach” on the court and “Dad” when she drops by his office.
“When he’s more tough on me is after practice — in his office he’ll tell me what I’m doing wrong, what I need to do to fix it,” she said.
Brooks’ middle daughter, Chloe, is a junior on the Spotswood High School girls basketball team. His youngest daughter, Gabby, is in the sixth grade. In October, they moved with Brooks’ wife back to Harrisonburg so Chrissy Brooks could help care for aging relatives there. Brooks expects the three of them will move back to Blacksburg after this school year.
Brooks said his wife is envious that he sees Kendyl each day.