Jordan Brooks is about to embark on his seventh season coaching at the college level. The former Hampton player is starting his second year at Old Dominion.
Before heading to Norfolk, Va., he spent one season at Xavier, where he helped lead the Musketeers to an NIT title. Prior to that, he spent two years at each Southeastern Louisiana and Howard.
The son of a coach, Brooks began his coaching career at the AAU level in the Washington, D.C., area.
He recently spoke with Mid-Major Madness’ Ian Sacks. Below is their conversation:
Ian Sacks: How did you get into the coaching profession?
Jordan Brooks: I kind of got into coaching right out of college. I went to Hampton University, and then right after Hampton, I went and got my master’s degree, and I always knew that I wanted to get into coaching. My dad was a coach, so I was always around the game growing up.
Once I graduated and got my master’s degree, I moved back to the D.C. area and started coaching AAU, an AAU program that I played for DC Assault. I grew up playing with Nolan Smith, Michael Beasley and all those guys. I wanted to kind of give back to the program that kind of helped me get to where I was.
So, I came back, started coaching with them. I had started coaching inner city kids in the sixth grade. I was coaching a 16-and-under team and came up with those kids and helped start Team Durant on the EYBL (Nike Elite Youth Basketball League), started my own AAU program that was on the Adidas Circuit and helped build a very strong relationship with New World AAU, which is currently on the Adidas Circuit.
From there, my former college coach Kevin Nickelberry, who was the head coach at Howard University at the time. He kind of saw what I was doing in coaching AAU basketball and gave me an opportunity to get in the business. He brought me in when I was, I want to say 26 years old as an assistant coach at Howard University to get my foot in the door.
And that’s kind of how I got into college coaching.
IS: Having that familiarity first with the AAU program that you played for and then coaching under your college coach in your first college coaching job, how much did the familiarity with his style and with the AAU program help in that transition as you started your own career?
JB: With me going from AAU to college, it was a really, really good transition. I think I did AAU for what, four or five years before I got into college coaching and recruited at a really, really high level. A lot of the players that I coached went on to a lot of high-level, high-major schools and mid-major schools.
I had to recruit against a lot of other programs in the D.C. area and Virginia and Pennsylvania. So, I think that’s kind of what helped me early on in my career in college and just being able to build relationships with a lot of other different AAU programs and families and kids. I feel like that kind of molded me early on in my career.
IS: What was that transition like going from coaching 16-and-under players and now you’re coaching 18- to 22-year-olds?
JB: It wasn’t really a big transition, but being a former DI college player and growing up playing basketball, being a son of a coach, in regards to the X’s and O’s and things like that.
Basketball is basketball, but the biggest thing was just learning different terminologies from the different programs that I’ve been at, although they all correlated. The transition from me going from AAU high school basketball to college, I don’t think it was that big of a jump, just on a larger scale.
IS: What brought you to Old Dominion as you enter your second season there?
JB: I’ve had a relationship with Coach Jones for a while now. I mentioned that my father was a coach. Coach Jones had known my dad for a long time, and throughout my career, from AAU to each spot that I’ve been coaching in college, we’ve stayed in touch and maintained a good relationship.
Coach Jones reached out to me and asked me if I would have interest in joining his staff at ODU. He told me he’d been following me throughout my career and seen the work that I’ve been doing at each school I’ve been at and wanted to bring me to ODU with him. I always wanted to learn under a great coach like him who’s had success in the business. So, I thought it was a no-brainer opportunity.
IS: You spent some time at Xavier, was on the team that won the NIT. What lessons you did take from seeing basketball at the Power-6 level in the Big East and playing on the big stage? What do you take from that as you coach now at the mid-major level at Old Dominion?
JB: I learned a ton during my time at Xavier. I think one of the biggest things that I would take from being at Xavier was how important organizational skills help in being successful. We were very organized and sharp in everything that we did from recruiting, to on the court in practice, to player development, gameplans, just everything. I think that’s probably one of the biggest things that I learned from being there. The other thing would be how important it is to be able to recruit and get high level players. I think every coach in the country wants GOOD players.
IS: Growing up in the Washington, D.C., area and now back there coaching. You have so many connections there. How does that help with recruiting prospective players?
JB: Before I was at Xavier, I was at Southeastern Louisiana University for two years. When I was in Louisiana, I was 14 hours away from home. When I went to Xavier, I was about seven or eight hours away from home. So, now that I’m in Virginia, I’m only about two hours, two and a half hours away, so it’s been helping a whole lot. It’s a car ride away. I can get there quite frequently so it helps a lot. Especially being able to see and recruit kids on a consistent basis.
It really helps being able to get back and forth between the DMV and here at the Old Dominion a lot. The relationships that I have with all the high schools and the AAU programs with us being right here, it’s a lot easier to get guys to come visit campus.
IS: I can definitely imagine that. You mentioned how your father was a coach and that you were all around the game growing up. And then you also mentioned how you played for Coach Nickelberry and then coached under him. What impact has each of them had on your basketball career?
JB: My father spent time coaching at UMBC, and he also coached a lot of AAU basketball while I was growing up. So obviously learning from all the things that he’s done coaching wise, I feel like that’s molded me into who I am and just following him.
As far as Coach Nickelberry, he’s been in the business for a really, really long time. And so, being able to work under a guy like him, introducing me to the college basketball business, he was great. Coach Nickelberry’s been known for his recruiting, so being able to come under a coach like him in my first job was huge for me in helping become who I am as a coach today. Having a guy who was tough on me and pushed me everyday coming into the business because he saw something in me; I always thank him to this day.
IS: How would you describe the life of an assistant coach?
JB: You go a lot of nights where you don’t really sleep, man. I mean, you’re doing everything.
One, you’re mentoring young student-athletes. Obviously, you’re working with them on the court, you’re developing them. You’re spending time with them in the gym, but you’re also caring for them in their lives off the court to make sure that they’re serving the community the right way. For whatever they’re going on in their personal life, you just want to be there and serving in that mentorship role for them.
But at the same time, you still can’t forget about the guys who you’re recruiting. So, you’re spending a lot of time talking to them on the phone, going to see them. So really man, it’s nonstop for me. It’s nonstop as an assistant coach.
IS: You talked a lot there about the mentoring aspect of coaching. What are some lessons that you try to instill in your players?
JB: The main thing is life after basketball and treating people the right way.
Obviously, everybody wants to have the chance to go on and be a pro. So, I try to kind of instill in them to have a plan after basketball because one day it’s going to stop, and you got to kind of figure out what you might want to do when it does stop and having an idea for what you want to do in life because everybody has those dreams of making the NBA. It’s that 1% that actually make it. So just talking to guys about that and figuring out what they want to do after basketball.
IS: Turning now to the ODU program. You’re coming off a season where you won 19 games and finished 11-7 in the conference. As you now gear up for the regular season, just a couple of weeks away, what’s been the biggest focus for you guys this offseason?
JB: This season, I think we have eight or nine guys. So, this offseason we’ve just spent a ton of time trying to build that chemistry with our guys on the court, getting them to understand who we are as a program, how we want to play offensively, who we are defensively, how we want to play defensively. But the biggest thing is just getting guys to buy into what Coach Jones wants from them.
It’s just building that chemistry with a bunch of different guys coming from different schools, different program and different high schools and just trying to get them on one page.
IS: What’s the outlook for the team this season?
JB: I think we have a lot of talent, and I think we have the potential to win this year. But like I said we have to get all the guys to come together. I think we’re going to try to play fast. We’ve got a lot of really, really good athletes who can run the floor. Defensively, we’re going to have to be tough and stay disciplined. So like I said, the potential is there.
IS: You’ve given me a lot on so many different subjects. Anything else you could think of that we haven’t really touched on yet?
JB: I’m excited about Chaunce Jenkins. We’re expecting big things from him. He was Third Team all-conference last year. We’re looking for him to have a really, really good year.
We have a freshman in Vasean Allette. He’s a top-100 high school player coming out of Canada. We’re expecting big things from him.
We got a transfer named Ty Williams from the University of Oregon. We have a transfer from Dayton in RJ Blakney. These are some guys who we’re kind of expecting to have really good years. As well as Dericko Williams, who’s a returning five-man for us. So, we’re just excited.
IS: I’m glad that you mentioned Chaunce. How have you seen his game grow this offseason coming off of that third team recognition last year as he prepares for the next season?
JB: Chaunce’s a great kid. He’s a gym rat. And I think that’s why he had success last year. He’s a guy who is in the gym in the middle of the night. He’s in the gym in the morning.
He’s the first guy in a gym getting shots up before practice. So, I think he’s going to have a really, really good year. He can shoot the ball really well. He’s really, really athletic. He’s got a really tight, sharp handle. He can get to all his spots. He works at it, so I feel like this year he’s going to be rewarded for that.