Garrison Brooks being a star at North Carolina seemed like a longshot. The big man from Lafayette, Alabana originally committed to Mississippi State on November 9th, but de-committed some five months later amidst some family drama, only to commit to North Carolina on April 21st. Brooks, the 131st ranked player in the class of 2017, came in to Chapel Hill and started right away, partly due to the injury of Cameron Johnson, which forced Roy Williams to play small with Brooks at the five.
Since the start of the 2018-19 season, Brooks has started every game at North Carolina except for two, one game where he was sick and the other having been senior night. The growth that Tar Heel fans have seen from the junior forward in three years time is proof of how hard Brooks has worked, and how great of a talent developer Williams is.
This season, that growth was on full display. He doubled his points production and grabbed three more rebounds per game from last season, but the most impressive show of growth was his in-season growth. In the 2019 portion of the season, the first 13 games of the season, Brooks averaged 12 points on 53% shooting and 8.5 rebounds. In the 2020 portion of the year, the final 18 games, he bumped his points average to 20 points per game on 53% shooting, while still grabbing 8.5 rebounds.
Part of that can be chalked up to his performance in the absence of Cole Anthony, but even when Anthony returned, Brooks continued to show he was the most reliable scoring option on the team. His points per game average only dropped one point when Anthony returned.
One of the main reasons that Brooks took such a big step forward was the return to his natural position, power forward. Brooks played the five alongside Luke Maye in his first two years, which had him posted up under the basket for a majority of the game.
This season, we saw him step out to the free throw line area and be extremely effective from 10-to-18 feet. There were plenty of times where he still played at the basket as the five, and was effective from there as well. But there is no doubt that he is most effective when he can play in the mid-range area.
Picking out a single performance from Brooks’ season is tough, but his 30-point game in a win against NC State was one of his best. Yes, he did have a 35-point game, but it came in what feels like a pivotal loss in the season to Georgia Tech.
Perhaps Brooks’ closest comparison for his junior season would be the junior season of James Michael McAdoo at UNC, which ended up being McAdoo’s final year at Carolina. The per-100 possessions numbers are extremely close:
Brooks: 27.5 ppg, 13.9 rpg
McAdoo: 27 ppg, 12.8 rpg
Brooks, like McAdoo, was named second team All-ACC in his junior season.
As to how this season will be remembered for Brooks, and for the Tar Heels as a whole, it’s going to be strange. Brooks was the best player on the team, but not the most recognizable name, which was Cole Anthony. And, of course, with everything going on in the world right now, this entire basketball season could be an afterthought in a few years, outside of the fact that it will be a trivia question forever because there was no NCAA Tournament.
Some people will say that Brooks’ stats were empty calories, worthless points on a nowhere team, but that doesn’t give credit to the fact that Brooks’ development has been incredible to watch over the last three years, and we get another chance to see him in baby blue.
I think all Tar Heel fans owe Garrison Brooks a big thank you, not only for his incredible performances, but for being one of the few bright spots in an otherwise forgettable season. Expect the big man to be in the conversation for All-ACC First Team in 2021.