On a May evening in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Dillon Brooks enters the Bliss Carman Middle School gym to the sound of Drake’s new single, "Nice for What". The kids, who likely haven’t seen too many NBA players up close, are smiling and clapping for the Memphis Grizzlies small forward.
Brooks is hosting a basketball camp in the province’s capital, just a month after completing his rookie season.
The kids get a chance to ask Brooks questions. Some ask what it was like to guard Lebron James, while others ask if he prefers shooting or defence.
But throughout all his answers, it’s easy to see what led Brooks to score 11 points a game and starting all but eight games in his first season as a pro; heart and work ethic.
Heart and Hard Work
Brooks’ NBA season ended on a Wednesday, but instead of taking a break and going on vacation to somewhere tropical, Brooks went back to the gym. By Saturday he was working out at his alma mater, the University of Oregon.
Brooks spent three years with the Oregon Ducks and his talent and heart helped lead the team to the Final Four, but when he first showed up for practice in 2014, he wasn’t exactly in the same shape as the player who scored 36 points in the final game of the 2017-2018 NBA season.
“When we got him he was a chunky, pudgy, hard playing kid,” said Ducks assistant coach Kevin McKenna.
Brooks said he would hear it from his teammate at the time, Golden State Warriors rookie Jordan Bell.
“Everyday he would call me fat-boy,” said Brooks.
Brooks had a weakness, a classic Canadian treat.
“I would eat 20, 30 chocolate timbits. Me and my little brother, we would buy 50 chocolate timbits and eat them.”
But McKenna, who had a six-year NBA career of his own which included a championship with Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers, said by the time he was done at Oregon he was a “streamline machine.”
Brooks realized how important diet was. One summer while playing for Team Canada in Greece, Brooks gave himself a strict diet, and when he went back to university, he said people couldn’t even recognize him.
“I was so skinny, and I lost weight in my face… it made me a lot better,” said Brooks.
“My coaches always told me, you know you’re not the tallest guy, you’re not the fastest guy, but you have the most heart.”
The Turning Point
Brooks was the only rookie to play all 82 games during the season, and he started in all but eight of them.
The NBA season is a long one, and Brooks confesses that in the middle of the season he got tired. He was tired of playing basketball, and losing games.
It wasn’t the first time Brooks grew frustrated with basketball. One time when Brooks was 12 years old, his mother was driving him to a practice 45 minutes from home in the middle of a snowstorm. Brooks suggested that perhaps they turn the car around and skip the practice.
“My mom said, ‘You know if you don’t go to practice now I will probably never ever drive you to another basketball thing ever again,” said Brooks.
There, pulled over on the side of the road, Brooks made the commitment to becoming the best basketball player he could be, even if it meant driving 45 minutes in the middle of a snowstorm.
“My dream was always to be in the NBA. My mom knew that too, so she knew that giving me that little push and giving me that choice would benefit me in the long run.”
On June 22, 2017, Dillon Brooks’ dream came true.
Lead up to the draft, Brooks worked out with 15 teams. But on draft night, none of those teams picked him. Brooks was selected 45th overall by the Houston Rockets and promptly traded to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Brooks was in Toronto on draft day, surrounded by family and friends. But he was nervous. So many people had shown up to celebrate with him. What if he didn’t get picked?
“Once I seen my name got picked I was so happy,” said Brooks.
Brooks was happy to land in Memphis, but he feels that if the NBA draft was to be redone, he would be a lottery pick.
During the season, having 29 teams that didn’t pick him game him motivation.
“There was so many different rookies that had the opportunities to play, and I just wanted to crush them and show every team that they made a mistake that they didn’t pick me.”
Brooks conquered every goal he set for himself. He wanted to start. Eight games into the season, he locked down the starting spot. He wanted to be a part of All-Star Weekend. During the Rising Stars Challenge there, Brooks helped Team World beat Team USA. Brooks wanted to average double digits in scoring, and he was able to do so.
First Season Struggles
Brooks’ first season had its ups and downs. The Memphis Grizzlies were dealt some tough injuries, including star point guard Mike Conley going down with a season-ending injury.
The Grizzlies struggled, finishing with one of the worst records in the NBA.
“There was a point, I think it was after 30 or 40 games, where it was like so much basketball. We’re losing. I’d never lost this much in my life. I’d never been on 11 game, 19 game losing streaks,” said Brooks.
“Every time I would go out there I would say, why am I playing? We are losing every game.”
Brooks leaned on some of his teammates, especially Tyreke Evans, who had been in similar situations. Evans helped Brooks look past the losing, and focus on getting better.
After just 19 games, Grizzlies coach David Fizdale was fired, and assistant J. B. Bickerstaff took his place. Brooks was confused at first. He had never gone through a mid-season coaching change.
Brooks talked to some of his teammates, who told him to just keep playing basketball. After a discussion with his new coach, Bickerstaff told him he would be keeping his starting role.
It’s Brooks’ first time hosting a basketball camp in his mother’s home province of New Brunswick. While many top talents chose to host their camps in Ontario, Brooks wanted to do something different.
He hopes that by having his camp here, he can help inspire the next generation of top Canadian talent.
“I want to see in every camp, one of these kids take on the challenge of wanting to go to the NBA,” said Brooks.
As far as his next NBA season is concerned, Brooks wants to see the Grizzlies back in the NBA playoffs.
“This year we struggled with camaraderie, working as a team, playing as a team, and we know that as a group, and we’re going to work on that next season.”
As far as personal achievements, Brooks wants to stay healthy, keep that starting role, and score more than last season.
And with the work ethic and heart Brooks has displayed so far, it’s going to be hard for anyone to keep him from accomplishing those goals.