North Carolina came into the season with a number of freshmen who could see plenty of playing time. That happens, though, when there’s such a large turnover. Before this season began, Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley, and Jalek Felton were all expected to see good minutes. Felton was in line to back up Joel Berry II, but that hit an unfortunate snag before it really got off of the ground. Brooks was all but anointed as the de facto starter at the center position with the loss of Kennedy Meeks. Manley, although athletic, was seen as a question mark and had a ways to go to catch up with Brooks.
Throughout the first half of the season, we saw Brooks anchoring the low post, while Manley came in off of the bench. At times, he was asked to move between the center and the power forward positions, being dependable at both. This allowed Luke Maye to move away from the post both offensively and defensively. Some could even argue that this is what gave Maye the momentum in the non-conference portion of the schedule that lead to his All-ACC season.
While he was the starter, Brooks averaged six points and nearly five rebounds in just over 17 minutes per game. His most complete game during his time as a starter was perhaps the win over Tennessee. He scored nine points on 3-6 shooting while grabbing eight rebounds.
We see an initial drop off in Brooks’ minutes and production when Cameron Johnson returned to the lineup. Then, after the Virginia loss, Coach Williams moved to a predominately small-ball lineup that saw Brooks come off of the bench. He was not completely lost, though, as Brooks posted a great 10-point, four-rebound game against Duke in the ACC Tournament to help propel the Tar Heels to the Championship game against Virginia.
Defensively, Brooks was North Carolina’s best in the post. His length and athleticism allowed him to torture opponents in a way that seemingly reminds you of Brice Johnson. This was no more evident than when he gave fellow freshmen Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter trouble. Fittingly, he earned the Defensive Player of the Game award eight times this season.
All-in-all, Brooks was a consistent player. Although he wasn’t very flashy or put up gaudy numbers, he did what he was asked to do. You could almost count on him posting a five-point, three-rebound game in limited action for any given game, occasionally finding a rhythm for more.
Honestly, you could argue that this award should go to fellow “Baby Big” Sterling Manley, who exceeded everyone’s expectations, especially in the latter half of the year. In fact, in our end-of-the-year-voting, Brooks beat out Manley by an 8-4 vote. However, if you look at the whole body of work, Brooks takes the top spot. There’s still a long ways to go for both Brooks and Manley, as seen in the NCAA Tournament loss to Texas A&M. As a freshman, though, who was thrust into a bulk of minutes earlier than expected, Garrison Brooks showed himself as a formidable post player.