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Alvin Brooks’ one-of-a-kind coaching journey comes home

The next Lamar coach is set for another homecoming, this one with happier initial memories.

NCAA Basketball: Lamar at Houston Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Alvin Brooks is no stranger to sequels in his long college coaching career. As the Houston Chronicle detailed 2010, when Brooks joined James Dickey’s staff at Houston as an assistant that same year, he was going back to a place he’d promised to himself he’d never return.

That made sense, since Brooks was back at a program where he had floundered early in his career. In 1993, the then-33-year old was named head coach of a Cougars team that wasn’t yet a decade removed from its Phi Slama Jama heyday, and ultimately went 54-84 in five seasons in charge. But Brooks came back as an assistant under Dickey, and eventually transitioned onto Kelvin Sampson’s staff in 2014, from there becoming a big part of the Cougars’ resurgence.

Brooks is in the sequel business again, and this time it’s a homecoming with warmer memories. Last week he was named head coach at Lamar, adding the next chapter to one of college basketball’s most interesting coaching careers — and one that landed in the national spotlight over the past week as he coached against his son, a Baylor assistant, in the Final Four.

The elder Brooks played for the Cardinals from 1979-81, and then served as an assistant from 1981-86, and the sentiment tied to that history was not lost on him in a video made available by the school announcing his hire.

“I’m excited about returning home,” Brooks said. “Lamar is my home, that’s where I played, that’s where I got my start as a coach. It’s not like I’m coming to an unfamiliar place. I’m excited about coming home and being a part of the Lamar family again.”

The new Lamar coach takes over a program at a critical time.

The Cardinals will join the WAC in July and, at least from a basketball perspective, feel a bit like the hanger-on among the quartet of Southland schools making that move. Abilene Christian’s brand is white hot after their upset of Texas and along with fellow mover Stephen F. Austin, have combined to grab the Southland’s last three NCAA Tournament bids.

Those two add plenty of juice to their soon-to-be-home. As does Sam Houston State, which was in the thick of the Southland race this year, and is just two years removed from a 16-2 league campaign. Lamar, which finished with a sub-300 KenPom ranking, seems like the outlier, but that really wouldn’t be fair considering former coach Tic Price posted three consecutive winning league records from 2017-19.

Regardless, Brooks has seen winning at Lamar. As a player, he was a big part of two NCAA Tournament teams at Lamar, including the one that made a Sweet 16 run in 1981. In total, Brooks has been a part of half (three out six) of the program’s NCAA Tournament appearances as either a player or coach. His homecoming, and long awaited second chance at a head gig, will seek to invigorate a program as it tries to compete in a revamped WAC brimming with potential.

There’s seemingly no reason the Cardinals can’t be a part of the starry-eyed vision of New Mexico State and Grand Canyon tangling with ACU, SFA, SHSU and reigning Big Sky regular season champion Southern Utah, which will join the league in 2022. The Cardinals are within shouting distance of Houston, have a sizable enrollment and a 10,800-seat arena in the Montagne Center that’ll slot in toward the top of the capacity list in their new conference.

As would be expected, Lamar’s most recent competitive run was underpinned by Texas players like Josh Nzeakor, Colton Weisbrod and Nick Garth. Brooks’ recruiting ties would seemingly run deep in the Lone Star state, as he’s spent all but three seasons — a stint on staff at Kentucky — of his 40-year career within Texas. Lamar Director of Athletics Marco Born mentioned just that in a release.

“Today is a very special day for the LU men’s basketball program,” said Born. “The name Alvin Brooks is synonymous with success on the basketball court both as a coach and player. He has left a paper trail of success throughout his career. It is rare that you have the opportunity to hire a coach with as much experience – as both a head coach and an assistant – as Coach Brooks, one who has recruiting ties to the state of Texas and the Western Athletic Conference, and one who is already a member of your Hall of Honor. We were able to get all of that with the hiring of Alvin Brooks. He is the right man to guide this program into the WAC.”

That experience includes being on staff as Billy Gillespie jumpstarted a moribund Texas A&M program in the early 2000s, as well as there with Sampson from day one as he injected life into the sleeping giant Cougars. That Gillespie, now at Tarleton State, is soon to be a conference rival is just another layer to Brooks’ fascinating journey through the sport.

He reflected on what went wrong during that initial stint in the head chair at Houston with the Houston Chronicle.

“I can remember thinking, ‘Man, I couldn’t have worked any harder or worked any longer hours,” Brooks said. “But working smart and working hard and long is two different things. The key words are: Not are you ready, but are you prepared? That’s the key.

Nearly two decades later he gets a second chance at a familiar place as it heads into a new future.