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UNC Basketball: Appreciating Garrison Brooks’ defensive efforts

The junior big man may be the most underrated defender in the ACC.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

The Tar Heels are now three games into the basketball season, and we figured it was time for our first film breakdown of 2019-20. Sometimes it’s easy figuring out what to explore. Other times, it can be difficult to find something worth breaking down, especially this early in the season.

Thankfully, UNC has Garrison Brooks to deliver some inspiration. More specifically, we have Brooks’ defensive acumen to give us some pre-Thanksgiving film study. (Sorry folks. Cole Anthony highlights will have to wait for another day).

Brooks has often been misunderstood by fans, but that’s because so much of his effort does not show up in a box score. We highlighted that aspect after last season, when we named him our most improved player of the year. The coaching staff and players agreed with that assessment, naming him the program’s 2018-19 most improved and defensive player of the year. It’s fitting we begin this year by focusing on a few skills that make him so good on the defensive end of the floor.

Notre Dame

Anthony stole the show in the season opening ACC win with 34 points in 37 minutes. Andrew Platek surprised with 8-4-2 in 25 minutes. Brooks? He finished with 10 and 9, while actually leading the team with 39 minutes played. For the only returning starter from last year’s squad, some may have hoped for more production.

What’s not shown is that preseason first team All-ACC selection John Mooney was held to 10 points and 8 rebounds on 5-13 shooting (0-2 from three). In case you were unaware, Mooney entered the season a career 39% shooter from behind the arc and was one of only two players to average a double-double last year in ACC competition. (Luke Maye was the other). Shutting Mooney down was not a small task, but after he scored the Fighting Irish’s first four points, he only managed six points the rest of the way. He didn’t score in the final 10 minutes of the game. Here are a few clips.

Missed Jumper #1

Notre Dame’s offense uses inside-outside big men to create mismatches, thus their post players don’t try to establish position deep in the lane. That scheme, plus Brooks' underrated ability to force players off the block meant Mooney frequently received the ball outside the paint. Brooks stays behind Mooney, and knows to defend the drive or shot. Mooney can’t back Brooks down, and forces up a fadeaway across his body with the shot clock winding down. Mooney didn’t try to drive on Brooks the rest of the game. Seriously.

Missed Jumper #2

I wasn't joking about Mooney not trying to drive the rest of the game. Here Brooks gives a soft hedge on the ball screen and eventually recovers. Mooney helps out UNC by taking another awkward 15-foot fadeaway, despite having some daylight to the rim. That gives Brooks time to contest the shot. (Hint: Brooks taking away the paint will be a theme in the following highlights)

Brooks’ Tip Part 1

Now playing at the center with Justin Pierce as a stretch-four, Brooks sags off Mooney. Nate Laszewski dives down the lane after the pick-n-roll. Brooks picks him up and gives him a friendly love tap to break Laszewski’s momentum. In simple terms “low man” (Brooks) gets the “roll man” (Laszewski), and directs Pierce to pick up Mooney at the top of the key. Good communication and awareness by the duo.

Brooks Tip Part 2

In a continuation of the previous clip, Laszewski pops to the corner after diving down the paint. Brooks shades over to make sure the three-point shooter doesn’t get a clean look. Mooney takes Pierce to the block, and receives the post feed. Laszewski cuts over the top, but Brooks has positioned himself between the two Notre Dame players. Anticipating the cut and the pass, Brooks tips the ball away and UNC is off to the other end of the court.

Did Brooks get a little lucky after turning his back to his Laszewski? Maybe, but this seemed more like great anticipation than being reactive.

Brooks Block

This wasn’t on Mooney, but it deserved a shout-out. Laszewski receives the reversal at the top of the key. Armando Bacot doesn’t really know what to do, and Laszewski drives right by him and Leaky Black. Brooks sees the play developing, slides over from across the lane, and blocks the layup attempt. It was one of three blocks on the night for the junior big man.

Back to Mooney

This is Mooney’s shot chart, showing 4-11 shooting. (Not shown are two layups — one make and one miss). A player who attempted 36.6% of his shots at the rim last season and who is attempting 41.9% of his shot attempts at the rim this season was held to two layup attempts. I really was serious earlier when I said that Mooney didn’t attack Brooks after that opening possession.


Brooks may have been more impressive on Friday night when he played a season low 30 minutes. The Bulldogs from Boiling Springs put up 61 points. Check out these splits.

UNC w/ Brooks on the court: 30 minutes, 36 points allowed
UNC w/ Brooks off the court: 10 minutes, 25 points allowed.

With Brooks on the bench, Gardner-Webb was on track to hang approximately 100 points on UNC over 40 minutes. With him on the court, that number dropped to 48 points over 40 minutes. That’s insane.

If you don’t like my extremely reliable, non-negotiable, highly scientific math, then check out this tweet from Adrian Atkinson. While not specific to the Gardner-Webb contest, it simply highlights Brooks’ importance.

Against Gardner-Webb, no stretch was more important than the first 4:23 of the second half. UNC went on an 11-0 run, stretching a 30-27 halftime lead to 41-27. A few highlights.

Brooks Dive and Rebound

This doesn’t seem like much. Brooks was occupied with his man, Eric Jamison. Anthony steps over to alter the drive and Keeling keeps the ball alive. Brooks doesn’t hesitate to hit the floor when he sees it’s still a live ball. The defensive rebound leads to a fast break, where Leaky Black hits a mid-range jumper on the other end.

Brooks Foul

This may seem out of place, but stick with us. Brooks runs with the ball down the court, and actively points out the ball handler. Jaheam Cornwall. Anthony picks up the ball and Brooks slows the momentum by crossing in front of Cornwall to pick up Jamison on the wing. Brooks then provides help when it looks like Cornwall is looking to get into the lane. That discourages Cornwall, and Jamison takes the pass on the wing. Brooks is out of position and is called for a foul, but stops the shot attempt.

Brooks and Keeling double-team

On the ensuing inbounds, Gardner-Webb tries to get to the rim again. This time, Bulldog guard and leading scorer Jose Perez thinks he has a mismatch. Instead, Brooks denies Perez middle and baseline. Christian Keeling slides over to take away any remaining shooting angles. The ball is kicked back out and eventually results in a missed three. Keeling is rewarded for that defensive effort by draining a three on the other end.

Brooks Defensive Rebound

To finish it all off, Brooks steps up in the lane to alter Kareem Reid’s shot. Reid took advantage of Bacot playing over top for the ball screen. Reid slips that screen and thinks he has a clear path. Brooks never leaves the paint, meets Reid outside of the circle, forces him to change direction, and then contests the shot. Brooks corrals the rebound and finds Anthony for the fast break. Anthony would make the layup and get fouled on the other end.

In total, these four plays directly led to seven UNC points during their 11-0 run. At the 15:37 mark, Brooks took a seat and didn’t come back in until 10:40 remaining. In those four minutes and 57 seconds, the Bulldogs outscored UNC 17-10. Brooks may have only finished this game with six points and six rebounds, but nobody had a bigger impact than the junior from Alabama.

The season is three games old, and already Garrison Brooks appears to be in mid-season form. As the rest of the new Heels get comfortable, Brooks offensive production is likely to increase. If it does, we’ll break that down for you as well. Until then, appreciate Brooks’ defensive efforts. (Also, if you have anything you’d like to see us breakdown in the future, let us know in the comments.)

Go Heels!