When Keion Brooks Jr. walked into the gym for No. 1 La Lumiere’s practice to prep for the GEICO Nationals in two weeks, his coach Pat Holmes asked Brooks a question about Kentucky’s matchup with Abilene Christian later on that night.
“Hey Kei, is Kentucky going to lose tonight,” Holmes asked with a pinch of sarcasm and a smile.
“F*** no,” Brooks said, leading to a laugh from Holmes.
(I know. You like him already, don’t you, Big Blue Nation? Here’s another reason to like him: he wants Indiana back on the schedule in large part because good friends and Mr. Indiana Basketball candidates Trayce Jackson-Davis and Armaan Franklin are both heading to Bloomington next season. “I’ll be in Coach Cal’s ear about that one a little bit,” Brooks said with a big smile.)
The newest Kentucky commit was correct, as the blue Wildcats steamrolled the purple Wildcats 79-44 in the NCAA Tournament opener for both teams in Jacksonville.
Brooks has plenty left to accomplish in his prep career in La Porte, but his future will lead him to Lexington next year. His decision to join John Calipari’s NBA product factory during their SEC Tournament semifinal victory over Alabama last Friday night gave Calipari, his staff and the rest of the BBN a nice jolt in the arm.
“It’s been great,” Brooks said on the whole recruiting experience. “Being able to do it in front of my friends and family back home was great. I was grateful that Coach Pat let me go home and be able to make the decision there.”
According to Holmes, there were roughly 200 people in the gym at St. Paul’s in Fort Wayne, Ind. where Brooks’ rise to potential NBA prospect began when he was younger.
In the end, Brooks says the relationship with Calipari is what convinced him to become a member of the Kentucky family.
“The last time I spoke to him, I just felt very comfortable that he was gonna do what aligned with my goals and my dreams,” Brooks said. “He’s going to try and help me reach everything I want to, as long I come in and work hard. That last conversation really swayed me in that direction.”
It didn’t hurt Kentucky’s case when they beat up then-No. 1 Tennessee 86-69 on Feb. 16 when Brooks was in a packed Rupp Arena visiting.
“I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t,” Brooks said with a smile about the potential to play in a big-game atmosphere like Rupp can provide.
“Just being able to picture myself on a stage like this in front of so many people cheering for you and just going out and playing the game I love, it really helped my decision, too.”
On top of his relationship with Calipari and that February visit, there was a giant family photo on La Lumiere’s “Senior Night” that went viral among Kentucky fans when Brooks’ cousin K.J. was wearing a jersey with “KENTUCKY” across the chest in the top row.
Senior night was great with family and friends I’m so proud of @KeionB_12 on giving up his starting spot for his teammate on senior night. God has big things planned for you keep him in charge and the rest is history. pic.twitter.com/x3c1Pxgv9w— Keion Brooks (@keion_brooks) February 19, 2019
From that point on, it started to feel like a possibility that Brooks was coming to Lexington.
But, when did he know for sure?
“I probably knew maybe two days before I made my decision,” Brooks said, noting the long journey took for him to feel comfortable with committing. “My cousin (K.J.) has always been a huge Kentucky fan and he’s always tried to push me there a little bit. We’re really close.”
Two other contributing factors in Brooks’ commitment to Kentucky were two future Cats themselves: Tyrese Maxey and Kahlil Whitney.
“Tyrese was really on me the whole way, even before he committed, he was pulling me in that direction,” Brooks said. “He was really on me and then with Kahlil, we were talking about making each other better and playing with each other on the wing to make life hard on our opponents. Those two really helped me in my decision, too.”
After Brooks made his decision to attend Kentucky, it didn’t take long for his mentions to fill up with non-Kentucky fans criticizing his decision in a not-so-friendly manner. One Louisville fan specifically hoped that Brooks would tear his ACL in a since-deleted tweet.
“I’m gonna be completely honest with you, it is hilarious,” Brooks said on the doubters and fans of other schools crowding his social media mentions. “The audacity of some of these adults to bash a decision that I made for me and my family and my life, it’s hilarious to me. A lot of people tell me, ‘Dude, don’t look at it’, and I’m like, ‘I need a good laugh once in a while.’ I just look at it and crack up.”
On the flip side of the coin, Brooks says the Big Blue Nation have been great towards him and plenty have said they can’t wait to see him suit up for next year’s squad.
“Kentucky fans have been great. They’ve been telling how much they can’t wait until I get there,” Brooks said. “And with the haters, I don’t even have to check anybody because they’re doing it themselves. It’s been great. They’ve really embraced me already and I can’t wait to get there to get started.”
He’s also a big fan of Calipari’s game and thought him being ranked No. 41 among NCAA Tournament actually playing on the hardwood before the tourney started Thursday was too low.
“Obviously I’m not old enough to see a lot of them play, but from what I saw, he had game,” Brooks said. “It looked low to me. I would’ve had him higher.”