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Talent-search triumph

On College Hoops: It took time, but Duck Aaron Brooks becomes NBA prospect
by: L.E. Baskow, Despite a hard check from some Beavers, Duck Aaron Brooks keeps on dribbling in a December game that Oregon won 76-73. Tonight he has another chance to test his moxie in the Sweet 16.

At one point, Oregon's Aaron Brooks might have been thought of as too small, too weak, too much of a scoring point guard and too erratic to play in the NBA. No longer.

'He has a chance to fit into this new type of NBA, with it being played at a faster pace than ever,' one NBA executive says. 'I don't think he's a first-rounder, but he's probably at the top of the second round, and he could sneak in higher if he has some good workouts.'

Of course, Brooks has other things on his mind as the leading scorer for the Ducks, who play the University of Nevada, Las Vegas at 6:40 tonight in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

If the Ducks win, they'll play either Butler or Florida in the Elite Eight, Midwest Regional final Sunday.

Brooks says he hasn't even thought about the NBA draft in June or his career beyond Oregon.

'I just want to be the best player or whatever and go out and play,' he says. 'I don't let it consume me.'

A Seattle native, Brooks knows many of that city's NBA players, including Jason Terry and Jamal Crawford. Both have told Brooks he could play in the NBA to boost his confidence.

'It goes in one ear, out the other. I'm just focused on right now,' Brooks says.

What a change a year makes

Brooks has been fabulous in his senior year, averaging 17.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists (only 2.4 turnovers) and making highlights with each of his six blocks. He's shooting .459 from the floor (.405 on 190 3-point attempts) and .838 from the free-throw line.

It's a far cry from a bad junior year - 10.8 points, .406 shooting (.336 3-pointers) -when he and the Ducks struggled to play their fast-paced brand of ball and settled for more halfcourt offense.

Brooks has been clutch, too. In January, after missing a key free throw in a home loss to the University of Southern California, he hit the game-winning shot against then-unbeaten UCLA.

'Point out a better guard in the country,' coach Ernie Kent says. 'He's leading the Pac-10 in scoring. He's 6-foot, but he plays 6-5. He takes charge, wins games at crunch time, brings energy to every practice.'

Kent compares Brooks to point guard T.J. Ford, of the Toronto Raptors.

'He's T.J. Ford with a jump shot,' Kent says. 'He passes like him, defends like him. He's quicker (than Ford), and he hits the jump shot and can finish inside. And Ford is up there (in the NBA), and doing quite well.'

One NBA executive says he loved Brooks' toughness, how he gets his teammates involved, pushes the tempo and makes shots.

'In this league right now, we're dying for that,' he says. 'I wouldn't have predicted he'd have had this year after the way he played as a junior. My job is to project into the future, and to be perfectly honest, I wouldn't have thought he'd have made this quantum leap.'

Strength, flexibility will come

Kent believes Brooks has the one-on-one game, range and ballhandling to make an NBA team. Brooks admits that he needs to get stronger, although the hand injury suffered his freshmen year has held him back in the weight room.

The one issue Kent sees: Brooks' true point-guard ability.

'(The NBA) needs point guards to run teams and score second,' Kent says. 'Any team at that level, they already have their studs. You have to get the ball to your studs.'

Brooks, who has been helped greatly by the addition of Tajuan Porter in the backcourt this season, says he can change his game to accommodate NBA players.

'I can do anything the coach asks me to do,' he says. 'On this team, they need me to be a scorer. If I need to be a passer, I'll be a passer.

'My game fits more the NBA, with no zones (played often), no helping defense. And I feel I have some upside, things I can work on, and I'm looking forward to doing that.'

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