George Pfeifer didn’t wince when he heard that junior point guard Jordan Brooks had a bold prediction for the Idaho Vandals.
“We’re under the radar, ranked last in the WAC,” Brooks said. “That’s cool, we like that, that’s motivation. We’ve got a chance to shock the nation.”
In fact, Pfeifer smiled.
“He’s young,” the second-year UI coach said with a chuckle.
Seriously, he added, “He should be confident. He’s got no reason in his past not to be confident in the way he plays, right?”
No argument there.
Brooks helped Midland (Texas) College win the National Junior College Athletic Association national tournament last season and the University of Arkansas- Fort Smith do the same the year before. Both times he made the all-tournament team, no small feat in the world of junior college basketball.
“You want to bring guys into your program that have had success, that know what it takes to be successful,” Pfeifer said. “You want your players thinking they’re going to do that. You don’t want them talking, ‘We’re going to be real average.’ “
Not that average would be bad after the Vandals went 4-27 in Pfeifer’s first year, 1-15 in the Western Athletic Conference.
But Brooks isn’t about to let that happen without a fight, and his teammates are following suit.
“Everybody expects big things this year,” senior forward Darin Nagel said. “We don’t want to keep doing what Idaho teams have been doing. We want to change this thing around. We have a whole new team and everybody can play. I think everybody is getting the same feeling.”
Brooks is a big part of that.
“He’s an outrageous player,” Nagle said.
Brooks would have to be considered the centerpiece among the newcomers on a retooled roster where new players outnumber holdovers.
His role is simple.
“Leader, pretty much the same as it’s been,” he said. “I’ve got to lead on the floor as well as off the floor. I’ve got to be the heart and soul of this team.”
Brooks thinks big because he plays big. Though the 6-foot-3 Houston native is expected to be the Vandals’ point guard, he earned his championship rings as a power forward.
“I can rebound like a 4; it was always a mismatch we had,” he said. “It made it difficult for teams to press us. I could get the ball and go right up the floor.”
He doesn’t expect that to change much with his new role.
“I like to rebound. When your point guard can rebound, it’s different, it’s a faster pace because your point guard can get it and go,” Brooks said. “Instead of waiting for the outlet, I’ll be going down the floor while the defense has its back turned. We’re going to be a run-and-gun team. We’ll slow it down when we have to but we’re going to push it a lot.”
Pfeifer doesn’t want Brooks to get too far ahead of himself, and suspects he won’t.
“He’s got great instincts. We’re depending on those instincts with the ball,” Pfeifer said. “He’s a good passer. We need him to do the simple things and do them well. We don’t need him to be flashy. He can post people up, he can get to the basket. He’s pretty athletic.
“We need him to grow into the point guard and become more comfortable with what we want him to do. There has been no resistance. He’s been getting better and better, more comfortable.”
Nagle said, “He’s really fun to play with. He sees the floor so well. He gives you the ball when you’re open. He’s not worried about his shot; he gets everybody else going but if we need a bucket he can do that as well. He’s a player that can do everything.”
Alvin Brooks III, a current assistant coach at Bradley, was an assistant coach while Brooks was at Fort Smith and Midland.
“He’s a confident dude, to say the least,” he said. “He never steps on the court thinking he’s not going to win. We had a lot of good players at both schools (and) he was a major contributor. He’s a mismatch problem. If you guard him with a big guy he can go around; for a guard he’s too strong. I was around him two years and I’m not sure anyone can completely shut him down. He just has it.”
If that allows Brooks and the Vandals to shock the nation, well, that remains to be seen.
“There’s a difference between perception and reality (but) I like this group because they work real hard,” Pfeifer said. “We’re farther along than we were at any time last year to be honest. We have a lot of guys that have swagger.
“We’re going to put them in some pretty difficult situations, too, with our early schedule. They need to have a certain constitution and resolve.”
The Vandals tackle neighboring Top 25 teams Gonzaga and Washington State on the road in the same week.
“We constantly talk about adversity,” Pfeifer said. “What we’re really trying to sell is getting better all the time. If we get better and do the things we’re supposed to do then it equates into wins.
“Our goal is to play to our potential. People want to put an accounting term to it. I’m not ready to put an accounting term to it. I think if we play up to our potential, play hard, we stick together through adverse times, we’re going to beat some people that people wouldn’t expect us to beat. Then success breeds success.”