Brooks hire generating excitement among UK fanbase

Published 1:00 pm Friday, April 5, 2024

Hiring Kenny Brooks as the new Kentucky women’s basketball coach resonated well in the Bluegrass and seems to have created enthusiasm after two subpar seasons.

He had been the head coach at Virginia Tech since 2016 and led the Hokies to eight straight winning seasons, including a 2024 Atlantic Coast Conference championship and 2023 Final Four berth as a No. 1 seed before losing to eventual national champion LSU.

Kentucky sophomore guard Cassidy Rowe’s father, Lonnie, a former high school coach, thinks it was a home run hire for UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart.

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“I am very excited. The system he runs fits Cassie very well,” Lonnie Rowe said. “He likes high IQ kids. They share the basketball. No one goes one against five. They throw the ball inside and he surrounds the inside player with shooters. I really like what he does. I think Cass will fit into his style very well.”

Kentucky currently has five returning players, with more in the transfer portal. Lonnie Rowe hopes some, especially Maddie Scherr, might consider staying at UK with Brooks as the new coach.

Emma King just completed her fifth and final season at UK in what turned out to be coach Kyra Elzy’s final season.

“I can’t speak for anybody but the thought about going into the portal could be that Kentucky was still an option but to explore other options and get ahead of what might happen,” King said after Brooks was named the new coach. “The transfer portal is such a beast that you have to hop on things quickly. You can’t wait.”

Brooks will have the same option now to go into the transfer portal to restock UK’s roster.

Georgia Amoore has been an All-ACC point guard at Virginia Tech the last three years and was the 2023 NCAA Tournament’s Seattle Region Most Outstanding Player. She has a COVID year remaining and announced last week she was leaving Virginia Tech after Brooks’ departure but did not indicate where she would continue her playing career.

The Hokies signed a top 10 recruiting class in November with Lexi Blue, Myah Hazelton and Clara Silva. Brooks also signed four top 100 players in his 2023 recruiting class and one— Samyha Suffren — is already in the transfer portal after playing only sparingly last season.

Blue is a 6-2 guard from Orlando and a top-40 prospect. Hazelton is a 6-4 forward from Baltimore. The star of the class is Silva, a 6-7 center from Portugal and the kind of post player UK has never really had. One of Brooks’ freshmen this season was 6-5 Clara Strack.

King senses fans are “excited” about the hire and possibly he could be the one to create a quick turnaround for the program.

“This is a very established coach and very likely could bring players with him but also have success getting recruits or through the transfer portal,” King said. “I think depending on what kind of roster he has it could be possible to see the turnaround if he as good as people say and it sure looks like he is and will be a great coach for Kentucky.”

Brooks’ reputation reaches more than just Division I players.

“He is the reason I became a huge Virginia Tech fan,” Centre College junior Bailey Rucker of Boyd County said. “I love the way he coaches. He shows emotion in a way that a lot of coaches are afraid to do. Any time he is coaching I am watching the game.”

Rucker, a 1,000-point scorer at Centre College and former Kentucky All-Star, was surprised Brooks left Virginia Tech to come to Kentucky.

“It had to be hard to leave the team he had at Virginia Tech, so obviously he sees that same potential in Kentucky,” Rucker said. “That has to excite Kentucky players and fans.”

Brooks said there was no set blueprint for rebuilding a roster like he has to do at Kentucky.

“I’m looking forward to sitting down with the young ladies and just talking about a lot of different things. The expectations. What they are looking for. Just getting to know them. I know a few of them and I recruited a couple of them and competed against a couple of them. We played Kentucky last year in the Bahamas. I’m very familiar with what they do,” Brooks said.

“I know there is a lot of potential there. And obviously in this day and age right now, there is a lot of movement going on.”

Brooks understands the work it will take to reconstruct the roster at Kentucky to where UK can be competitive in the SEC against teams like national powers South Carolina and LSU.

“Nobody thought we would go to the Final Four with Virginia Tech. The first year I was there we were preseason 14th in the ACC and I kind of stuck my foot in my mouth, I thought, and said, ‘If Syracuse can go to the Final Four, why can’t we?’ The whole place erupted and I was like oh,” he said.

“But we got there. We got there with a lot of hard work. Countless hours in the gym. When people counted us out. I think this is a sleeping giant. It’s a great opportunity. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be here. I’m going to be knocking on everybody’s door just to make sure that we get the support that we need. Because if so, I think this can be a tremendous, tremendous opportunity.”

Brooks has had nine former assistant coaches go on to become head coaches including Shawn Poppie who was named the new coach at Clemson last week.

“I’m not going to be around all the time so to have trustworthy assistants who are really going to share the same message is important,” the new UK coach said. “I’ve always had great people around me who share the same philosophies and spread it, the same message. That’s how we’ve had that success with people going on. I think that has trickled down to the success of our program throughout my tenure.”