Seattles best is the next Luke
Super recruit Aaron Brooks hopes that Luke Ridnour stays at UO so he can learn from him
TACOMA Ñ Aaron Brooks remembers all the talk about the white point guard from Blaine, Wash., and how nobody in inner-city Seattle respected him.
'Everybody was saying, 'If he came to Seattle, he wouldn't be that good,' ' Brooks says of Luke Ridnour. 'He showed everybody he's the real deal, and now people respect him.
'He's improved since he left Blaine. That's another reason I want to go to Oregon: They develop their players. Oregon had something to do with it; they helped him.'
In Brooks, the Oregon Ducks will be getting another ballyhooed point guard from the state of Washington. He will be the fifth Washington player to participate in the McDonald's All-American Game on March 26 in Cleveland. The fourth? Ridnour, in 2000.
Brooks also has been invited to the other prominent prep all-star game, the EA Sports Roundball Classic on March 31 in Chicago.
In a state that houses Lodrick and Rodrick Stewart, the Rainier Beach twins headed for USC; Ryan Appleby, the Stanwood player going to Florida; and Derek Raivio, the prep star from Vancouver signed by Gonzaga, Brooks shines brightest. He hopes to conclude his prep career this week by leading Franklin High to the Washington Class 4A championship.
Next year, he'll be in Eugene. Actually, he'll be there this summer, enrolled in summer classes to get a jump start on academics and living with UO football recruit Johnny DuRocher. Brooks already has passed his entrance exams. With the uncertainty of Ridnour's status Ñ to the NBA or not? Ñ it's important for Brooks to play summer ball with his new teammates.
Brooks wants Ridnour to come back for his senior year, even though Brooks would be the starter if Ridnour goes pro.
'I wish he would stay, but he's his own guy, he's got to do what he's got to do,' Brooks says. 'I wish he could stay so I could learn some stuff from him, and I wouldn't have that pressure on me. But I'm not scared. I look forward to playing and contributing to the team.'
Brooks also looked strongly at the University of Washington ÑÊhe knows coach Lorenzo Romar Ñ but the Huskies have three point guards already. And UO coach Ernie Kent had the advantage, having coached Brooks on the USA junior team last summer.
'It was Kent,' Brooks says, explaining why he chose Oregon. 'He made an impression on me because he trusted me on the USA team. He showed me how he was going to treat me.
'He gave me a lot of freedom. In a game, we were down one point, and I was coming downcourt and he was like, 'Aaron, shoot it, shoot it.' I was like, 'OK.' Even if I'm not open, he said to shoot it anyway. That shows trust in me, and I respect that in a coach.'
Oregon assistant coach Scott Duncan, who watched Franklin's first-round tourney game Wednesday, calls Brooks 'one of the best point guards in the country. Our whole game is speed, and he's so quick and fast.'
Listed at 6 feet, Brooks says he's closer to 5-9 3/4. He needs to get stronger, although Duncan says wiry freshmen can play in the Pacific-10 Conference. 'That's the one position it doesn't matter, as long as you have the quickness and athletic ability,' the UO assistant says.
Brooks has all the qualities of a point guard: He breaks down the defense, finds open teammates, makes open-court steals and can switch from floor general to scorer on the fly. He doesn't shoot many 3-pointers in high school ball but was 'the best 3-point shooter on the junior national team,' Duncan says.
'Like a lot of high school kids, he takes everything to the basket,' Duncan says.
Brooks says Ridnour 'is more of a 3-point shooter and jump shooter. I'm more aggressive, get to the hole.'
Brooks plays for the same school that produced NBA starter Jason Terry and Jimmie Haywood, an Oregon State senior. In fact, Haywood was among those Brooks talked about when he said many Seattle players were not sold on Ridnour.
Franklin coach Jason Kerr says Brooks comes from a strong family that taught him to be humble. 'He's not afraid of doing poor; he doesn't have fear of failure,' Kerr says.
Brooks entered the state tournament averaging 22 points, five assists and three steals a game for the No. 1-ranked Quakers. Like most prep stars, he received much of his acclaim in AAU summer ball. In one game last summer, he defended LeBron James in the second half and held the 6-8, NBA-bound stud to 13 points, frustrating and exhausting him.
Duncan says the challenge for Brooks will be adjusting to college life Ñ 'he'll come in with a lot of hype' Ñ and the grind of the long season. Ridnour hit the proverbial wall during his freshman year, and Brooks all but expects the same.
'I worry about how I'll do and whether I'll be able to contribute,' he says. 'If I'm doing something wrong, I'll work hard to fix it.'