Miles Brookins (above) has been a pleasant surprise for the La Salle coaching staff as he preps for his freshman season. (Photo courtesy Sideline Athletics)
Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of our 2017-18 season coverage, which will run for the six weeks preceding the first official games of the year on Nov. 10. To access all of our high school and college preview content for this season,click here.)
Miles Brookins was supposed to be getting his feet wet this season.
At least that’s what La Salle coach John Giannini told Brookins when the Southern California native committed to the Explorers in October 2016.
The plan was for Brookins to back up seniors Tony Washington and Demetrius Henry during his first season before competing for a starting spot as a sophomore. That’s the way it worked for most of Giannini’s bigs in the past. It took a year for players like Steve Zack to get ready for the college game.
However, when Brookins arrived on campus this summer, the 6-10, 207-pound freshman was even better than expected. With Henry leaving the program to pursue a professional career, Brookins is poised to play a big role for Explorers a year earlier than expected.
“I’m shocked at how ready he is to play and how fundamentally sound he is,” said Giannini, whose team is coming off a 15-15 season. “He plays like a senior right now. I’m absolutely stunned. I in no way, shape or form expected this.”
Brookins played his high school ball at Mater Dei High School for legendary coach Gary McKnight.
While Mater Dei played a difficult schedule, and Brookins played against some talented opponents, most of his development likely came from practice, where the young big man had a 7-2, 220-pound workout partner every day.
Bol Bol, the son of former NBA player Manute Bol and a consensus top five-recruit for the 2018 class, played with Brookins at Mater Dei.
“It helped me a lot,” Brookins said. “It helped me how to get off shots, how to guard people bigger than me. And just how to be quicker on the court because he was pretty quick and athletic and stuff. It taught me how to play against more athletic people.”
Brookins is easy to spot on the floor in his rec specs. Giannini said anyone who stops by La Salle’s practices this fall might mistake him for a senior.
He raved about Brookins’ maturity, describing him as a 30-year old on-and-off the court.
“Not in a boring way,” the 13th-year head coach said. “But in terms of making good decisions and seeming to be experienced in life and college basketball.”
Brookins’ maturity for a freshman, both physically and mentally, has left an impression on teammates as well.
Washington wasn’t ready to play as a freshman. He redshirted his first season at La Salle and saw limited action as a redshirt-freshman before developing into a reliable big man for the Explorers, starting 37 of the 59 games he appeared in as a redshirt-sophomore and redshirt-junior.
Brookins’ advanced physical size and mental understanding stood out to Washington early in workouts and practices.
“I think he’s definitely a little more advanced and head focused than most freshman that I have seen,” Washington said.
Brookins once again has a worthy adversary in practices going up against Washington, who is listed at 6-foot-10 inches and 230 pounds. As a redshirt-senior, Washington is five years removed from high school and has logged close to 1,300 career minutes for the Explorers.
He averaged 7.7 ppg and 7.4 rpg in 2015-16 and 5 ppg and 4 rpg last season.
The veteran big man is hoping the competition between the two, along with Cian Sullivan, a 7-foot-2-inch redshirt-freshman enter, can help the group get better throughout the season.
“That’ll definitely help him a lot, help us a lot,” Washington said. “Me going against him, him going against me and Cian as well. I think that will help a lot to prepare for the bigs we’re going to face in the A-10.”
La Salle averaged 2.1 blocks per game last season, which ranked 317th in Division I. The Explorers also ranked 228th with a minus 0.8 rebounding margin.
With Henry gone, La Salle will rely on Brookins and Washington to improve those statistics in 2017-18. Both will see time as the lone big man on the court, and the two may even share the floor at times with Washington at the five and Brookins at the four.
While he is currently well ahead of schedule in Giannini’s eyes, Brookins key role this year means he will have to get even better before he starts his college career.
“I feel like I still have a lot of stuff to work on, I need to figure out still,” Brookins said. “But I have a lot of teammates that have been helping me out through the whole process during the summer and now, so I think it’ll be pretty good.”