The anecdotes shared about Brooks’s two seasons at UC Irvine from 1985 to 1987 have grown into folk tales. Some of the details have been embellished over three decades of storytelling. Things might not have happened exactly the way his loyal friends retell them — Brooks may or may not have come this close to catching a case just because his favorite fast-food chain forgot to hold the onions — but one fact remains unaffected by the passage of time: Brooks worked harder and played tougher than anyone on the court.
This is the true legend of Scotty Brooks, the overlooked kid who became a college standout, the undrafted player who won an NBA championship and is now a head coach in his fourth season with the Washington Wizards. A portion of his story came full circle Saturday when Brooks’s alma mater honored him by retiring his No. 12 jersey, only the second number to be displayed on the Bren Events Center wall in the history of the Anteaters basketball program.
“The guy worked his butt off,” said Johnny Rogers, a UCI teammate. “He’s a guy that everyone loved. Just an overachiever, really tough.”
Rogers was a senior entering the 1985-86 season when Brooks, a scrawny 5-foot-10 guard, transferred in for his junior year. The introduction to his new teammate ended with Brooks vomiting.
Brooks had played the previous season at San Joaquin Delta, a junior college, and few Anteaters recognized him to be the recruit when he showed up for preseason voluntary workouts.
“I didn’t even know we signed the guy,” Wayne Englestad, another teammate, said in recalling the day the team ran steps of the buildings on campus.
By the time the players reached the roof of the engineering building, according to Rogers and Englestad, Brooks lost his lunch. Rogers wondered why he never quit. Englestad thought, “This walk-on won’t make it.” Brooks learned never to eat McDonald’s again before running stairs.
“He has shares in McDonald’s or something,” Englestad quipped about how much Brooks, his former college roommate, loved the golden arches.
Englestad recalled when the two high-tailed it to the drive-through 10 minutes before closing and Brooks ordered a Big Mac with no onions. As a kid, he hated onions and always picked them off his burgers. On this particular night when Brooks examined his food and noticed onions, he staged a one-man protest for a burger without the offending diced vegetable.
“There was a line behind us of five or six cars,” Englestad said. “He literally would not leave his car until Irvine P.D. showed up.”
Brooks’s dogged determination was more effective on the court than in late-night drive-through lines. Recruited to be the third guard, Brooks started and played like a man obsessed by personal slights. In interviews, he shared how the reporters overlooked him during the team’s media day or crafted headline-worthy quotes about University of the Pacific, once his dream school located near his hometown of Lathrop, Calif., that didn’t give him a scholarship.
“I wanted to be ‘Local Boy Makes Good,' " Brooks told a Los Angeles Times reporter in 1987 after 22 points against Pacific. “Instead, it was ‘Local Boy Goes to Irvine … and Does Better Than Expected.' ”
Brooks performed his own stunts — flinging his body into towel boys in pursuit of loose balls, searching for layups and contact as though one couldn’t happen without the other and collecting bruises on his backside while taking offensive fouls.
“I just remember him . . . getting pummeled, and then he’d be laying on the ground and you’re thinking, ‘Is he going to be able to get up?’ ” said Rogers, now the Wizards’ president of pro personnel. “Or him taking a charge and laying there and you’re like: ‘Damn! Is he all right?’ ”
Still, for all of his scrappiness, Brooks also had skill. His career high was 43 points; as a senior, he averaged 23.8. He was also an early adapter of the three-point shot. The NCAA universally introduced the shot in 1986, and Brooks took advantage by making 141 over 58 games of his Anteaters career.
“There’s just so many amazing things that happen in my life,” Brooks told the crowd during Saturday’s ceremony. “Sometimes you ask yourself: ‘Why? Why me?’ And looking back and reflecting on it: ‘Why? Because the people I have around me.’ ”
On Saturday, many of those people joined Brooks on the court, applauding him as his jersey was unveiled. His wife and son were there, as were friends and several former teammates who witnessed Scotty Brooks become a UC Irvine star, a 10-year NBA professional and now a head coach. For them, the legend will never grow old.
“He’s a great story,” Englestad said. “You don’t see that very often, coming from Lathrop, California, and doing what he’s done. It’s incredible.”