It is the morning of June 23rd, 2011 as I lay back in my seat on an Amtrak train heading from Boston to Newark to begin a weekend in the tri-state area. I'm very excited to be attending the NBA Draft this very night, easily one of my favorite sporting events held each year. I will be meeting three of my closest friends, Eric, John, and Sumer, all Nets fans from New Jersey, with whom I had graduated from Providence College only 5 weeks earlier. As basketball aficionados, we had all made a pact before graduation that we would attend this potentially franchise alrtering event at the Prudential Center. When would the next time a Providence Friar be selected in the first round? Marshon Brooks, a senior classmate of ours, is projected to be drafted in the middle of the first round. Not only am I excited to see where he ends up, I also ponder who the Celtics will select with their very own 25th pick. Jimmy Butler (a small forward from Marquette whose game resembles former Celtic James Posey's) and Reggie Jackson (a versatile and athletic point guard out of Boston College) are my two favorites for this Celtic selection having watched each of them play numerous times and thinking they would fit this aging Celtic team quite well. I also wonder how awesome it would be if somehow, someway Marshon dropped to to the Celtics all the way to number 25...
I transferred to Providence College before my sophomore year and during one of my first days on campus, a new friend of mine and I were walking toward the fitness center behind three basketball players (you can tell who the basketball players are on this campus, trust me). We couldn't help but laugh at this one skinny player with his long frail arms swinging back and forth as he walked with a slight hop in his step while an afro pick hung out the backside of his head. Both of us, being new students at the school, could not believe this kid was a Division-1 basketball player.
After doing some research, I found out this player's name was Marshon Brooks and he had barely played as a freshman during that previous season. He was only a 2-star (out of 5-stars while most PC players were either 3 or 4-star) recruit when signed by PC and he was not expected to contribute much to this year's senior-laden team. I could not wait to see him play though, in more of a "Can this kid really compete in the Big East?" way, rather than looking at him as a potential star. How could this rail-thin kid last in the best and most physical college basketball league in the world?
During this sophomore season, Marshon turned some heads rather quickly. While coming off the bench most of the year for a bubble-worthy Providence squad that won 19 games including a victory over the #1 team in the nation at the time, PITT, Marshon flourished as an instant offense type guard averaging 10.6 points in 21.8 minutes a game. Late in the season, Marshon struggled with his shot after spraining an ankle, but boy did he prove he can play early in the year. I remember a game at Boston College when Providence was down by 9 with only 2 minutes left. Marshon, after struggling to score most of the game, slithered and slipped his way towards the goal to score on several clutch occasions as the Friars closed this gap to one point. The Friars ended up losing the game, but Marshon's play at the end made many people realize that this team might have a nice surprise on their hands.
As the clock starts for the first pick, we sit and try to predict each selection in this supposedly weak draft. Two other PC classmates from Long Island (Knicks fans) spot us and walk down the aisle to chat. After catching up for a minute or two, one of them tells us that they had heard from a very good source that Marshon received a promise from the Indiana Pacers. He was to be drafted at number 15- it was a done deal. I'm bummed because I realize that there is no chance he could become a Celtic. For Marshon's sake, I want the Milwaukee Bucks to snag him at 10 where he could possibly start day-1 while the Pacers have a log-jammed rotation of shooting guards and small forwards.
Entering his junior season, all the talk in Friartown was about Marshon Brooks. There really was not much of a storyline for anything else as nothing was expected from this young team. Kevin McNamara, Providence Journal beat writer, went on to declare that Marshon would be the next great Friar before the season even began. Can you talk about pressure for a player who had never even started a game during his first two years on the team?
Things started ok, but then took a sharp turn to the worst for Marshon during the 2009-2010 season. The Friars could score and Marshon was certainly one of those guys who could create for himself and put the ball in the hole, but he fell out of favor and became the third or fourth option as the season wore on. Combo-forward Jamine Peterson emerged as a standout player averaging 19.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Providence itself turned out to be a laughingstock defensively as they gave up 82.2 points per game. Fingers were pointed at Marshon first and foremost for his lack of enthusiasm on the defensive side of the ball together with his many bad decisions and forced shots offensively. By the end of the season, Marshon was having his minutes reduced. This was a bad Providence team and it seemed like Marshon was only making it worse. Would he come back for another year? Could his story at PC end in a remotely good way?
As the beginning of the first round moves on, I notice San Diego State small forward Kawhi Leonard slip pick after pick. Considered a potential top-5 pick before the draft, Kawhi slips out of the top-10 when Millwaukee elects to take shooter Jimmer Fredette (later traded to Sacramento). There goes Marshon's ideal spot to be selected as well. Shockingly, Klay Thompson, Alec Burcs, and the Morris twins' names are all called without hearing Leonard's. It is now time for Indiana to fulfill their supposed promise and select Marshon.. or is it?
A terrible turn of events occurred for the Providence College Basketball program during the 2010 off-season. A few weeks before the semester ended, two freshmen, point guard Johnnie Lacy and center James Still jumped an innocent student only a few weeks from his graduation directly off of the Providence campus. It was a terrible scene and the student, also a known supporter for the basketball program, spent at least a week in the hospital. After a disappointing year and already having a bad reputation on campus for in-season drinking and fighting, what else could players do to shame the program?
Two weeks after the spring semester ended, it was announced that the the best player on the team, Jamine Peterson, would be kicked out of school because of an inappropriate event involving recruits and co-eds at on-campus apartment. Providence basketball was at an all-time low. Another terrible season was coming this year as this team now would be led by "the next great Friar, Marshon Brooks." This was as laughable as it was distressing.
The Pacers select Kawhi Leonard and swing him to the Spurs for point guard George Hill. There goes Marshon's promise. Like Leonard before him, Marshon is falling. I think there is a good chance for the Knicks to take him at 17. They select Iman Shumpert, and I look up at the draft board... I though to myself, Marshon truly could fall to the Celtics.
Out of the next seven teams selecting before the Celtics, I feel that only Minnesota at 20 and Denver at 22 may want a shooting guard. Chris Singleton goes to Washington at 18, Tobias Harris is selected by Charlotte at 19, and Minnesota takes a Lithuanian power forward Donatas Motiejunas. One of the two off the list, only five more selections and just one of them I believe could take Marshon.
As I watched the 2010-2011 Friars play their annual Mal Brown intra-squad scrimmage and got my first glance at then-incoming top-30 recruit Gerard Coleman, I wondered whether now-senior Marshon Brooks should even be playing for this Providence team. They would be very young, they weren't going to win much, and Marshon didn't have a remote chance of ever playing in the NBA. Why another year of college ball when he can make some money overseas? Additionally, would Marshon play hero-ball all year leaving Coleman and sophomore point guard Vincent Council (off of a fantastic freshman season) without their deserved touches? It certainly looked that way during this scrimmage as Marshon tried to do his thing all game.
Portland takes Nolan Smith at 21, Kenneth Farried goes to Denver at 22 and I give off a huge sigh of relief. Two more picks! Houston takes Nikola Mirotic. This is Gerald Green night 2.0 I tell my friends, but Marshon is going to be good! OKC takes Reggie Jackson. My beloved Boston Celtics are now on the clock and all evidence suggests that they should take a player who I've seen play live in person at least 35 times in the past 3 years. I've witnessed him doing it all in Providence.
As the season began for the 2010-2011 Providence Friars, it became obvious this would be Marshon's team and nobody was complaining. Leading the team to an 11-2 out of conference record early on, it became apparent that Marshon stood up to the challenge carrying this young team on his back while averaging 23.1 points and 8.9 rebounds. Marshon had never even pulled down 8 rebounds in a single game before this season throughout his entire college career. He was now averaging 8.9. Marshon was not only here to play, he was here to fight for his team. Although they had seen a weak schedule thus far, Providence was very excited to witness what Marshon could do with these young Friars in Big East play.
This isn't just about a Providence to Boston connection I reason with my friends as the clock for the Celtics pick ticks down. I truly believe Marshon will have a solid career in the NBA as an instant offense type of player from the moment he takes step onto an NBA floor. The Celtics showed a glaring need for this type of player in their second round loss to the Heat as they were unable to generate enough offense to keep up with this uber-athletic team. Marshon could have made a serious difference in this series. He also has a little Paul Pierce in his game with his knack for finding and making a shot when it looks impossible. Pierce could take him under his wing and show him the ropes to this league. The clock ticks down to one and David Stern takes the stand. Please say Marshon Brooks!
While the Providence Friars only won four out of their nineteen Big East games, Marshon gave fans a reason to watch every night. Whether it was single-handedly keeping this team in games it had no business being in or putting on one of his historical performances, Marshon Brooks was beginning to become a household name rather quickly. As a PC student watching his every game, it was almost like seeing Pedro Martinez pitching in his prime for the Red Sox where something unforgettable could happen on any given night. Meanwhile his NBA draft stock jumped from zero to as high as a lottery pick over the course of the season whilst he averaged 24.6 points, 2.5 assists, and 7 rebounds per game with an astounding 48.3 % field goal percentage.
Playing at Georgetown during an early February Saturday morning game, Marshon scored 43 points on 17-28 shooting from the field as the Hoyas escaped on the last possession with an 83-81 win. It was incredible, Georgetown did everything they could to stop Brooks throwing two defenders on him at times and having a big-man close on him as he approached the basket, but he would still find a way to score. Although this was my favorite, it wasn't even his best performance. This happened eighteen days later when he dropped 52 points on 20-28 shooting against Notre Dame in Providence. This was a game where the Friars were down by sixteen points with sixteen minutes to play and he brought them back only to lose 94-93. It was devastating, amazing, and historic all in one. If you're a Boston Red Sox fan, I think you finally might understand the Pedro Martinez analogy.
David Stern just said it! Marshon Brooks is coming to Boston! I think to myself not only how awesome it is that he will be coming to play for my hometown team, but how the Celtics got an absolute steal with the 25th pick.
My friends and I repeatedly jump up in the air celebrating as two of them are wearing Providence jerseys, I have a Celtics shirt on, and my other friend has a Nets jersey on. Suddenly, I look down at my phone to see over twenty text messages waiting to be read. Before I can open the first text, I pick up an incoming call from my brother Adam.
Adam: "That's awful huh?"
Me:"Marshon is coming to the Celtics! Woooo. Wait, awful?"
Adam: "They traded him to New Jersey for the 27th pick"
Me: "Shut up."
Adam: "You were just on ESPN too."
I take to twitter on my phone to find out the news because I cannot believe him. He was right. I tell my three friends, all New Jersey Nets fans. They explode into a celebration all at once as I sit, sulk, and finally look at my text messages which tell me about my appearance on ESPN, Marshon to the Celtics, and finally Marson to the Nets. Wow.
The Celtics would take thin, but very skilled and talented Purdue power forward JaJuan Johnson with the 27th pick and actually take his college teammate, combo guard E'Twaun Moore, in the second round. Both of these rookies had their moments this past year in Boston for a coach who plays rookies sparingly. Each of them look to see their minutes increase this coming season as there will be some pressure on JaJuan to make "the jump." JaJuan Johnson can block shots standing at 6'11 with great instincts, knock down the mid-range shot very consistently for a big man, and run the floor. The question with him is whether he can put on enough weight to rebound and defend in a league filled with bruisers. Ainge may have made the right decision drafting Johnson, but it only took a few games of seeing Marshon in the NBA to question it.
Marshon was an outside rookie of the year candidate early this past season behind Kyrie Irving and Ricky Rubio as he took the minutes he got and ran with them. He got his first start against the Celtics in Boston during only his seventh game and scored 17 points, but hurt his ankle later in the game. Any Celtic fan watching this game wondered whether they had made a mistake passing him up in the draft as he showed he could truly score in this league, sometimes at will.
The second half of the season was nothing to brag about for Marshon as he struggled with efficiency. His season-ending game against Toronto where he went 4 for 17 from the field summed up his less than stellar ending. He had been struggling with his outside shot, turning the ball over more frequently, and showing the world that maybe the Celtics made the right move trading him to the Nets. From my perspective, he began playing the way he had during his junior season at Providence.
What will the future hold for Marshon Brooks? Will he get his career together the way he did during his senior season at Providence? Will he have a letdown like his junior season and late this year for the Nets? The sky is the limit for Marshon Brooks. Unfortunately for Nets fans, below sea-level is a possibility as well. Most Celtics fans will hope for the latter, but I'll take the sky. With that said, JaJuan Johnson better do his best Kevin Garnett impression over the coming years or I will truly feel let down by my 2011 NBA Draft experience.