Father vs. son: Coaches Brooks square off against each other in Final Four

Jeff Eisenberg
·8 min read

Moments after the unveiling of this year’s men’s NCAA tournament bracket, Alvin Brooks II violated college basketball’s oldest coaching adage.

He scanned the bracket to see how deep Houston would have to advance to set up a potential meeting with his son’s Baylor team.

“I would not be honest if I told you I didn’t look ahead,” Brooks admitted. “I saw that if they won their region and we won our region, then we would meet in the semifinals. I was like, ‘Wow, that would be crazy.’ ”

What seemed crazy just over two weeks ago has now become reality. The Final Four’s first national semifinal will pit father against son.

On Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Brooks family plans to don special T-shirts celebrating their family pride and divided loyalties. One side of the shirts will be red for Alvin Brooks II, a Houston assistant coach. The other side of the shirts will be green for Alvin Brooks III, who holds the same position at Baylor.

While it’s common to find family members on the same college basketball team, the sight of a father and son on opposite benches is rare. And this particular pairing is even more unexpected given how they both felt about the coaching profession.

For years, Alvin Brooks III had no intention of following his father into coaching. And for years, Alvin Brooks II had no desire to change his mind.

‘Man, I don’t want to be a coach’

Alvin Brooks III’s introduction to the life of a coach came as a stranded high school kid.

He dreaded attending his father’s games in the mid-1990s because he didn’t have a car of his own. He’d have to wait for a ride home after losses until his father, then the head coach at Houston, finished watching the game film and dissecting all the mistakes his team had made.

“We lived maybe 30, 40 minutes away, so sometimes we were getting home at 3 in the morning,” the younger Brooks said. “I was like, ‘Man, I don’t want to be a coach because I don’t want to be in the office after a loss every night.’ ”

The elder Brooks lost a lot more games than he won during his five seasons as Houston’s head coach. Not only was he unprepared for the opportunity as a 33-year-old with no head coaching experience, he also walked into a scenario in which he was set up to fail.

While Houston’s fans still had high expectations from the Cougars’ five Final Four appearances during the Guy Lewis era, the cash-strapped school’s facilities were laughably outdated and its athletic department was in a state of disarray. The elder Brooks worked for three different athletic directors and university presidents from 1993-98. Houston also changed conferences during that era, trading the tradition of the venerable Southwest Conference for the obscurity of the newly formed Conference USA.

“I can even recall the UH faculty senate voting to do away with athletics,” the elder Brooks said. “I went through a lot of things.”

On March 1, 1998, Houston fired Alvin Brooks II after a 9-20 season dropped his career record to 54-84 overall. The elder Brooks was so emotionally spent that he briefly got out of coaching and went to work in the oil and gas business.

At that time, the younger Brooks was 18. Given what his dad had endured, pursuing coaching was the furthest thing from his mind.

After playing basketball for Idaho State and earning degrees in finance and athletic administration, the younger Brooks moved to Seattle, where his longtime friend Rashard Lewis played for the Sonics. Brooks took a job in the finance industry and set a goal of getting rich by managing athletes’ money.

That dream lasted all of two months.

“I was miserable,” the younger Brooks said. “I was chasing money, to be honest with you.”

Around that same time, Brooks attended some of Lewis’ practices and games. The more he watched Nate McMillan and Dwane Casey, the more he thought, “I could do this.”

In 2004, he summoned his courage and called his father.

“Dad,” he said, “I want to be a coach.”

Alvin Brooks III, left, and his father, Alvin Brooks II, will face each other in the Final Four when Baylor takes on Houston. (Courtesy of Baylor and Houston)
Alvin Brooks III, left, and his father, Alvin Brooks II, will face each other in the Final Four when Baylor takes on Houston. (Courtesy of Baylor and Houston)

‘Call me back in two weeks’

Alvin Brooks II wanted better for his son than 16-hour days wooing recruits, preparing scouting reports and poring over game film.

So when his son told him he wanted to go into coaching, the elder Brooks replied, “Call me back in two weeks.”

His son remained insistent, so the elder Brooks agreed to help. A friend at a Division I program offered to hire Brooks’ son. The elder Brooks told him no. He wanted his son to start at the junior college level, where he’d have to learn all aspects of the job and his drive for coaching would be tested daily.

Alvin Brooks III began his coaching career as an assistant at Arkansas Fort-Smith, where he did everything from game plan, to recruit, to sweep the gym floors, to walk the players to and from class every morning.

“Didn’t you have to open up the rec center at 5 in the morning every day, Al?” the elder Brooks asked Tuesday.

Four in the morning,” his son corrected him.

When Arkansas Fort-Smith informed the younger Brooks that it couldn’t pay him for his first couple weeks on the job, his father laughed to himself and thought, “Surely he’s not going to want to do this anymore.” Then he called his son a few weeks later and asked how he liked the job so far.

“I love it,” the younger Brooks responded.

That’s when the elder Brooks knew his son was destined to coach.

Over the next 15 years, father and son both enjoyed success in their mutual profession.

After winning back-to-back junior college national championships at Arkansas Fort-Smith and Midland College, the younger Brooks broke into the Division I ranks. He coached at Bradley, Sam Houston State and Kansas State before Scott Drew brought him to Baylor in 2016.

The elder Brooks served as an assistant coach at five different programs before returning to Houston in 2010. Kelvin Sampson retained him when he arrived in 2014 because of Brooks’ knack for developing talent and his longstanding relationships with donors and with Houston area high school and club coaches.

As Houston and Baylor both evolved into national powers the past few years, father and son promised they would attend one another’s games if either the Cougars or Bears advanced to the Final Four.

Little did they know they would do it the same year — and against each other.

'It's something we'll cherish forever'

On Monday morning, the elder and younger Brooks awoke in Indianapolis knowing they were each one win away from setting up a high-stakes family showdown.

Up first was Houston’s matchup with Oregon State. The Cougars held on to clinch their first Final Four since their Phi Slama Jama heyday of the early 1980s. Alvin Brooks II celebrated with the team, snipped down a piece of net and then turned his attention to rooting on his son.

Baylor raced to an early 18-point lead, but when Arkansas trimmed it to four in the second half, the elder Brooks could scarcely watch anymore. The anxiety was so great that he had to walk away from a hotel TV for a few minutes to collect himself.

“It’s a lot easier being part of a close game ourselves than watching him,” Brooks II said.

Alvin Brooks III video-called his father from the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium after Baylor recovered to finish off an 81-72 victory. Then the elder Brooks rushed to Baylor’s team hotel to meet his son coming off the Bears' team bus.

“That will be a lifetime memory to see him walking up with a Final Four hat on and me having a Final Four hat on,” Alvin Brooks III said.

“Normally we give manly hugs, to where it’s a half-hug, but last night we embraced each other and I think we squeezed each other tighter than we have our whole life. It was definitely a special moment for both of us. It’s something we’ll cherish forever.”

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Officially, this will be the third meeting between father and son. Houston defeated Sam Houston State twice when Alvin Brooks III was there. The elder Brooks also got the win in October 2017 when Houston and Baylor staged an exhibition game to raise money for Hurricane Harvey victims.

Father and son normally talk basketball every day but say they’ll cease communications this week starting Wednesday. Before that, they have to scramble to find as many tickets as possible for friends and relatives.

A subject of debate in the Brooks family is who mom Richelle will root for Saturday night.

“I think she’ll be wearing red,” the younger Brooks said.

Countered his father, “Because Al’s the beloved son, he always gets preferential treatment.”

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