The little engine that could – a 5-foot-11 basketball scoring machine who went on to play and coach in the NBA – returned to Anteater territory last week to help raise money for UCI athletic scholarships.
This is the fifth year that Scott Brooks has hosted the aptly named UCI/Scott Brooks Golf Invitational, which provides Anteater jocks with the kind of aid Brooks received in the 1980s.
“I was the youngest of seven children, so there was no way my mother could have put me through college,” he says. “Fortunately, Coach [Bill] Mulligan gave me an athletic scholarship. Without that, I never would have had the opportunities I did.”
After graduating from UCI in 1987, Brooks played for 10 years in the NBA, including a championship season with the Houston Rockets in 1994. From there, he turned to coaching, most recently leading the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder for seven years. During that stint, Brooks was named NBA Coach of the Year in 2009-10, and the team captured four Northwest Division titles and reached the 2012 NBA finals.
At last week’s UCI fundraiser, held at The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Coast, Brooks mingled with golfers and student-athletes, posed for snapshots and reminisced about his days at UCI, where he relied on talent and hustle to offset his lack of height.
“His aggressive play – and disregard for his own well-being – made him an instant crowd favorite,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in 1986. “He goes after loose balls as if they’d explode if he didn’t.”
One of his most memorable Anteater achievements happened the night UCI debuted its Bren Events Center in January 1987. “The place was just crazy,” says Brooks, who racked up 43 points as the Anteaters upset powerhouse Utah State, 118-96.
Nearly three decades later, he still holds the school record for career free-throw percentage: .859. And he ranks fourth in UCI history for career steals (123) and eighth for 3-point field goals (142).
Dismissed as head coach by the Thunder in April, Brooks is angling to find a new team to lead in the near future. In the meantime, he plans to enjoy time with his family in Orange County and attend multiple NBA training camps, where he hopes to learn from watching other coaches.
He also expects to be in the stands for a number of upcoming UCI basketball games. When someone at the golf tournament last week asked if he had good tickets, Brooks jokingly replied, “No, I think I’m going to try to sneak in. I know how to get through all the back doors.”