The minutes tick off before MarShon Brooks' first home game as a professional. An hour before the tip, he bounds around a corner of the Prudential Center's service-level concourse. There actually seems to be spring in his step. He spies a familiar face, gives a quick upward nod, makes a fist and pumps it twice.
Let's go, let's go! he says, and does.
This all seems normal to Darlyn Brooks. Friends keep asking, "What's it like?" and the answer never shifts. Her son has simply progressed, from JV to varsity to the Big East to the NBA. All that changes is the jersey and the size of the crowd. She says people are coming out of the Atlanta woodwork just to say they're happy for him, that they remember her skipping social outings to drive him to games, that everyone back in Atlanta is just enjoying the moment because MarShon developed too gradually to get a big head, that he's still the same person they knew then.
This first professional season taking place in New Jersey marks something of a homecoming for MarShon, who lived in the Garden State until his mother moved them to Atlanta when he was six.(1) Though Ms. Brooks spent her formative adulthood in Atlanta, the "Jersey girl at heart" is glad to be back living the Northeast, not far from where she won a state title for Asbury Park High School. Playing alongside sister Denise -- now a WNBA and NCAA referee -- Ms. Brooks clearly had game.
"My sister and I were 1,000 point scorers in high school," she claims. "But I tell (MarShon): Back then, they didn't have a three-point line. So we would have had more than our share of points having had that back then. And he laughs."
Despite the success, Darlyn says she never forced basketball on MarShon, that he tried the more popular Southern sports of baseball and football before deciding to stick with the one he enjoyed most. She remembers him shooting threes at 7 years old, which MarShon confirms.
"It was tough to keep a basketball out of my hands," he says. "Real tough. So I always worked on my skills growing up -- my body was just late coming there."
Scoring always comes easy, but MarShon quickly learns to ready himself for mom's "steel face," one that precedes sharp questions about stats from everywhere except the points column. Darlyn Brooks pushes MarShon to improve, but knows he needs a father figure, ultimately finding one in Coach James Hartry of Tucker High School.(2)
Transferring to Tucker after his sophomore year, MarShon arrives six inches taller, but unrefined in his new frame. Darlyn gives Coach Hartry free reign to draw out success. The coach realizes he has a coachable kid, one who won't take criticisms personally, and lays into MarShon verbally any time he sees a slip in focus, big lead or small.
Darlyn Brooks recognizes the benefit: "I know when it's constructive criticism and I know what's going to get MarShon going. And I know that his coaches see something in him, when he's not doing something he needs to be told. So that's not a problem at all. Coach Hartry, he would give it to MarShon very raw, and the next play everything would be all good; MarShon would go in there and play like the player we all knew he was."
Coach Hartry also instills the seeds of NBA attainability: "Nobody can guard you," the coach says. And says. And says.
"That's when I needed confidence the most -- my first time playing varsity basketball, when I'm just this new guy in the school," MarShon says. "He put confidence in me from Day One."
Several seniors graduate and MarShon elevates his game. By December, then-Providence coach Tim Welsh comes to recruit a teammate, and MarShon catches his attention. The guard sticks out because of his natural coordination as a basketball player, despite the inexperience attributable to that late growth spurt.
"He had the skills to be a guard, and I also thought he'd put on some weight -- and then I was amazed how big his hands were, as well," says Welsh, now a college basketball analyst for SNY and ESPNU. "His hands were like twice the size of mine. Huge. The basketball fit into his hands like a tennis ball. Put all those things together, and then on top of it, he came from a good family, a good program, he was well-coached in high school, and I thought it was a no-brainer, because he had a hunger to win, and he also had a little bit of a Northeast background."
Welsh shifts focus and commissions assistant Steve DeMeo to continue recruiting MarShon. DeMeo develops a relationship with MarShon and his mother, one that proves crucial when the recruiting pool expands outside mid-majors. Five states border Georgia, and MarShon notices the only school with a persistent presence is from significantly further away.
Providence's small size (3,600 undergraduates) appeals to MarShon, who enjoys the community feel he senses while visiting, that the lack of a pro team focuses fan energy on the Friars; his mother believes the concentrated student body will prevent him from being "lost" academically among a larger populace. The family familiarity with the Northeast helps ease the looming distance, as does knowing visits to Aunt Denise and the grandparents are only a train ride away.
Initially recruited to play point guard, MarShon is shifted to the 2 more and more during practices, working with the scout team. Freed up from distribution, his scoring instincts take hold within the team concept, and the starters begin to take losses in practice. That's when it clicks; MarShon notices he can do this, and -- being confident -- discusses more playing time with Coach Welsh.
A typical freshman move, and one his mother has little patience for. They talk often about his game, and she takes the long view, siding with Coach Welsh and the plan. She reminds MarShon his time will come. It always has.
Mother knows best: MarShon begins playing significant minutes for the Friars. On March 8, 2007, after Cincinnati erases a 10-point second-half deficit. MarShon hits a game-tying, double-clutch bank shot with two seconds remaining to bail out Providence. In overtime, he scores four points and blocks a shot to seal the victory.
"He showed his talent for us at the end of the year," Welsh says. "There's a learning curve for anybody, coming into the Big East, but he showed great strides, and I was very happy that he was in our program because I thought he had great potential. I really did."
Welsh won't get the chance to develop MarShon further. At season's end, Providence Athletic Director Bob Driscoll issues a statement that "it was in the best interest of Providence College and the program to make a change in leadership." He replaces Welsh with Keno Davis, fresh off a 2008 National Coach of the Year campaign at Drake.
Davis analyzes his roster, and realizes not only is MarShon Brooks a talented player, but a coachable one. He decides to build on the position switch Welsh initiated, attempting to take advantage of MarShon's length and ball skills at the 2, playing the lanky guard more than 20 minutes a game off the bench as the team's sixth man.
MarShon averages 10.4 points per game, stretching that to 14.2 in a starting role (26.6 MPG) as a junior, ranking third on the team behind Brooklyn native Jamine "Greedy" Peterson (19.6 PPG) and senior Shauraud Curry (15.5). In the offseason, Peterson is dismissed for violating team rules; Curry graduates; MarShon hangs with Aunt Denise in New Jersey all summer, working out with Larry Marshall at Real Gymm in Keyport.
"I worked really, really hard on the beach, did a lot of work, came into my senior year in the best condition of my life, and it all paid off," MarShon says. "My jump shot, my body was at an all-time high; I was nice and strong, and I think that was the biggest step for me, was just getting my body right and having the confidence."
Conversations with Coach Davis ensue, in which they discuss expectations. The roster beyond MarShon is unproven offensively. He will be expected to score, and to do it efficiently despite the attention of opposing defenses. He will be expected to lead. He will be expected to succeed.
"Nobody can guard you," Davis seems to be saying. MarShon believes. He has heard this before.
It takes three games for MarShon to lead the Friars in scoring; he does so in 26 of the final 30 games. He first cracks 30 points against Brown on Dec. 6, 2010, then scores at least 20 points 11 consecutive times. That's the warmup. Playing No. 13 Georgetown on February 5, MarShon drops 43 (17-28 FGs, 7-10 FTs, 10 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, BLK) and stays above 25 for the next three games.
And then 52 happens. Against No. 9 Notre Dame, MarShon scores 26 times his jersey number, setting a Big East record and an individual high for the NCAA's 2010-11 season. In 40 minutes, he shoots 20-of-28 from the floor, 6-of-10 from long range and 6-of-10 from the line. MarShon pulls down five rebounds and dishes six assists. He turns the ball over once. The Friars lose by a point.
The season concludes with a loss to Marquette in the Big East Tournament. MarShon finishes his collegiate career a Third Team AP All-America (First Team All-Big East) averaging 24.6 points, 7.0 rebounds. 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks; he shoots .483 from the field and .340 from three-point range.
"When you look at his college career, and when you look at his senior year, and you look at MarShon as a player, you look at somebody that can put a lot of points on the board," says Davis, now head coach at Central Michigan. "But there are a lot of guys that can put points up -- (MarShon) does so while shooting a great percentage. And his senior year, when he was able to perfect his skill at scoring the ball, the reason that we'd go to him as much as we did wasn't because he was able to score, but because each and every night he seemed to be shooting 50 percent or better.
"At an off-guard position, when you're a perimeter player shooting 3s, those numbers were pretty amazing, especially when he was going up against Big East talent that was focusing completely on him as our main -- if not our only -- scoring threat each and every night."
That talent for scoring is, oddly enough, not the reason Welsh and Davis believe MarShon has elevated himself to NBA player; instead, they focus on the developments yet to come: strength, playmaking, defense. MarShon can add weight, learn to create offense for others, use that 7-foot-2 wingspan to obstruct his man instead of reaching for steals in the backcourt. Welsh sees MarShon's coachability and drive as the key to further growth; Davis, the unfilled frame and delayed start to high-level achievement.
They witness MarShon's draft night journey, when the Pacers pass despite a strong workout and he drops through the lottery. The Nets trade up to acquire him. Boston drafts MarShon with the No. 25 pick, sending him to the Nets for No. 27 JaJuan Johnson and a 2014 second-rounder.
"I thought that a team would get somebody who was still a young man that was still improving and was going to do so in the next few years," Davis says.
"Somebody was going to get a steal in the draft no matter where they selected him."
Welsh, who covered that year's draft for SNY and talked to MarShon several times that night, says: "He was excited that he was going to go to the Nets because they really wanted him, and that's all you want. You want to go to a place that wants you. It doesn't matter where you're picked. No one remembers where you're picked -- it's where you finish, and how do you keep growing and developing, and I think he's had that attitude right from the get-go."
MarShon says it was great just to be there, that he doesn't mind being overlooked, that it's given him that chip to carry: "It was definitely good. I remember talking to Coach Johnson on Draft night. I didn't even work out for the team and they traded up to get me, so that showed that they really had been watching me during the combine. That's exactly what they told me on that night. And I just wanted to prove to them that they made the right decision."
Against the Knicks, in just one of four tune-ups MarShon has to prepare for this first season, he takes off with the ball on the break, two defenders between him and the basket. MarShon beats the first off the dribble and applies a lesson: In college, he learned to jump "through" a taller player, trying to make the shot while drawing contact and -- theoretically -- a foul.
The taller players in Division I were not Amar'e Stoudemire.
At 6-foot-11, the Knicks' forward towers over Brooks (6-foot-5). At 260 pounds, Stoudemire carries more than a quarter of the rook's body weight in additional size, most of it sculpted muscle. Jumping "through" him doesn't work.
"Man," Brooks says, shaking his head as he relives the moment. "He. Put. Me. On. My. (Butt).
"I'm just falling by the cheerleaders, just falling on my tailbone sooooo hard. And you know -- obviously thinking I'm going to get the call -- I look up, and they're running down the court. I'm like 'Oh, (snap).'"
MarShon manages to hang through the throbbing for a few plays before -- in typical rookie fashion -- he reacts too slowly to make a defensive rotation. Tyson Chandler, the Knicks' 7-foot-1, 240-pound center, rises to dunk and MarShon gets it in his head to contest. His leg is still hurting, and going chest-to-chest with Tyson Chandler only results in a reintroduction of his tailbone to the hardwood.
"For that whole next week, I just remember being in that trainer's room with Timmy (Walsh) trying to get myself right for the rest of the season," Brooks says, and laughs. "Them first couple falls, those first two falls on my tailbone, that was like, 'You know what? I'm here now.'"
MarShon, he's a confident kid. And for some reason, this doesn't bother anybody, that this … rookie feels he can score on anybody, feels he belongs here, feels he should be getting these ISOs and more. They all seem to like -- even encourage -- this behavior.
Where it comes from, MarShon's not entirely sure. He winds through "I don't know" and Atlanta being a basketball city to his friends before settling on underdog status: being the skinny 5-foot-9 JV sophomore who shot up five inches, earned a Big East scholarship when Providence scouted a teammate and then didn't break out in college until senior year.
"I'm just going out there and playing with my chip on my shoulder, feeling like I've got to prove something every night," MarShon says. "I feel like that's my biggest, best attribute."
A sense of humor helps him undercut that edge. MarShon tries not to step on anyone's toes and respect his elders, from the coaching staff to veteran players. After a January game against the Warriors, Deron Williams calls that confidence -- "borderline cocky" -- a good thing for a basketball player, something the rookie can build upon.
In an afterthought, MarShon says it probably helps that the shots go in.
MarShon watches tape of himself playing poorly. The highlights are more fun, but the mistakes contain the coverages, the things he didn't see coming the first time. Or, perhaps more accurately, the first time the league made adjustments.
He keeps returning to a game against Boston. It's January, Brooks' best scoring month (14.7 PPG in 13 games). It's the Nets' seventh game, and his first playing in front of a Providence-area crowd. He has friends in attendance.
It comes easy in the first half. MarShon scores 15 points, shooting 7-of-13. Midway through the second quarter, he scores seven straight Nets points. They lead at halftime, 35-34.
And then the Doc (Rivers) operates.
Boston begins "spotting" when MarShon has the ball, bringing a weakside defender across the lane to discourage him from driving. It's not a zone so much as an advance deposit on help D. The rookie hasn't fully adjusted to the tighter shot clock and quicker NBA rotations; he jab steps repeatedly, plays around to create space and doesn't leave enough options when he realizes the second defender is already there.
MarShon takes only three more shots, exiting the game with a sprained ankle and a two-point second half. He hits the tape. Tries to find where the opening was, where the help came from, where he could've been decisive instead of decid-ing.
The discussion broadens to players, and you start to realize MarShon might have Celtics on the brain. He grew up emulating Kobe -- flip a Black Mamba highlight reel and check that 52-point performance again -- but in his DVD player now is point guard Rajon Rondo.
This is baffling. Rondo, he of the league-high 11.7 assists, pretty much defines "pass-first." The veteran guard has worked hard on his jumper -- right around the league average from 16-23 feet last season, according to the Web site Hoopdata-- and is still allowed unfathomable amounts of space.
But Rondo can drive. Hoopdata's system reveals the Celtic averaged 5.0 attempts at the rim in 2011-12, making him one of only seven guards to do so, joining Tyreke Evans (7.0), Dwyane Wade (6.7), Derrick Rose (6.1), Russell Westbrook (6.1), John Wall (5.8) and Kyrie Irving (5.5). MarShon noticed Rondo wrong-footing his layups during the 2012 NBA Playoffs, and began taking notes on ways to incorporate those intentionally awkward finishes in sophomore season attempts to fluster defenders.
"I don't look at it as my job," MarShon says. "You understand, I watch film just 'cause I entertain myself. Obviously, I want to get better and learn a couple things about myself, but when I watch film, usually it's fun. I've gotta be watching basketball. It's almost scary."
MarShon isn't kidding. He'll try to convince you that NBATV and ESPN are the only channels on his television. That is a fiction in theory, though not necessarily in practice. You start to think about how whenever you've brought up league news, he's already past details and on to opinions.
After a hot start, the grind sets in. MarShon struggles to find the motivation when he wakes up sore and there's yet another game to play. He rips through two college seasons (66 games) in four months, against NBA competition, after going without official action from March to December. The "rookie wall" seems pliable in February, when the shooting percentages drop and turnovers rise, but hardens in March, when the minutes, points, rebounds and assists all take a dive.
The adjustments begin to be made. MarShon keeps plugging, keeps listening to Coach Avery in his ear, takes advantage when the staff finds ways to get the ball in his hands. They attempt to draw the lessons out of game action. In April, MarShon bounces back. He increases the fallen stats and percentages rise, pulling the final line up to 12.6 points, 3.6 boards and 2.3 assists. MarShon shoots .428 (.313 3P%, .764 FT%) in 29.4 minutes per game. He makes the All-Rookie Second Team.
General Manager Billy King is ready for him to cash in on the same potential for growth Welsh and Davis so readily espouse: "MarShon started out scoring great but I think he realized that people are scouting him and learned how to guard him; they were a little more physical with him. Certainly he has to work on things to improve. We'll push him. The great thing about rookies is it is up to them how much they want to improve. You find out in their second year how badly they really want it."
MarShon exhales slowly and tells you he wants it: "Real bad, man. Real bad." He reels all the things he's supposed to say about improving, about adding strength, about working on defense. MarShon is so locked in on everything except scoring, he plays uncharacteristically fast in his debut at the AirTran Airways Orlando Pro Summer League -- an opportunity denied as a rookie due to the work stoppage -- and bricks all 10 of his field goals, only getting on the board with free throws in the final minutes, committing four turnovers in the process.
Is it still foreshadowing when the outcome is this obvious?
The next game, MarShon paces himself, doesn't let the defense speed him up and shoots 5-of-11 -- no three-point attempts -- to score 13 points. He commits no turnovers and dishes four assists. In the fifth and final game of the week, MarShon torches the Pacers' squad for 34 points, tying the Orlando Summer League record. He shoots 13-of-27 (3-8 3Ps, 5-7 FTs), adding six assists -- against three turnovers -- and two steals. Afterward, he jokes: "You're only as good as your last game."
Two months later, MarShon and several other Nets stage informal workouts at the PNY Center. After an offseason makeover, the players need to become familiar. Astoundingly, MarShon is the team's fourth-most tenured member, behind only Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries and Deron Williams. Billy King has often discussed his vision for building a team, a true collection of complementary players that fill roles; MarShon's old one, starting shooting guard, will feature six-time All-Star Joe Johnson, acquired from the Hawks in a blockbuster trade during the free agency period.
And yet MarShon isn't discouraged. He knows that it's time to just do what does: score and create plays, the focus no longer on the former.
"I think we've got so many weapons this year, there's gonna be nights where D-Will goes off or Joe goes off," MarShon says. "We've got so many different players that could go off, it's just focus on the little things that I can help, like rebounding and assists. As long as I don't focus on scoring, I think everything will be all right, because scoring comes easy for me."
Nine years after the initial announcement, Barclays Center opens for NBA basketball on November 1. The Nets host the Knicks. MarShon will be ready.
"I can't wait," he says. "That's going to be crazy. That really is going to be nuts. There's going to be a lot of energy in the building -- you know Brooklyn. The whole city's excited."
He says this, and you can imagine him bounding out of the locker room, seeing a familiar face and pumping his fist.
Let's go, let's go! he'll say.
And he will.
For more on MarShon (including baby pics!), check out our photo gallery.
1. MarShon's father, Freddy Woods, still lives in New Jersey, where MarShon often spent summers with his grandparents and visited his dad; they maintain a relationship and get along well.
2. Coach Hartry could not be reached for comment.