Schenley graduate has life back in order, Slippery Rock eyeing PSAC basketball title
Gerald Brooks had to slim down fast. He had to grow up faster.
It's all been part of the basketball odyssey for Brooks, a Schenley graduate who hopes his final destination is a trip to the NCAA Division II Tournament with Slippery Rock.
“His self-will and self-determination to take advantage of his second chance in college is really something he should be proud of, and I'm proud of him,” Rock coach Kevin Reynolds said.
Brooks, a 24-year-old senior forward, already has endured what seems like a lifetime's worth of ups and downs. He spent his first three college years at Indiana (Pa.), where he earned all-conference honors every season. But a series of team violations led to a suspension during the first semester of his senior season, and he was kicked out of school after being charged with rape in 2009 (he later pleaded guilty to indecent assault and was sentenced to two years' probation, court records show).
Shortly thereafter, his father died, leaving Brooks without the man who raised him. Brooks was left to take care of his younger sister, and a year later, Brooks and his girlfriend had a baby girl, Amaiyah.
“I had to turn into a man in a day,” said Brooks, who drove trucks to provide for his family. “It was really, really hard. Then to have a daughter, having people depend on you, it's definitely something that will mature you really fast. You don't have any choice.”
Brooks said he tried to stay positive during the dark times, but basketball wasn't far from his mind.
“People always say you don't know how bad you want it until you lose it,” he said.
As Brooks started planning his comeback, he faced a huge obstacle: He had ballooned to 301 pounds. At the time, he could barely run.
The workouts started, and little by little the weight came off. He was accepted into Slippery Rock and started taking classes in January 2012. After becoming academically eligible, he joined the team for practice last fall. By then, he had shed 80 pounds.
“When you're losing that much weight, you have to take baby steps,” he said. “You set 10-pound goals and get to the goals. I lost 10, and I could run again. The next 10, I could touch the net again. You just get motivated.”
At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Brooks is no lightweight. He's averaging 8.8 rebounds — fourth in the PSAC — to go with 12.1 points. And he's doing it in a reserve role.
“Gerald is just a dog,” teammate Daivon Jackson said. “He plays hard from start to finish. He takes all his energy onto the court. You don't find that in a lot of people.”
Slippery Rock opens PSAC Tournament play Saturday or Tuesday, and a title gives it an automatic bid to the NCAAs. That serves as ample motivation, but for Brooks, there's a broader picture.
“(What I've been through) makes me appreciate everything. I lose sight of it sometimes, but I get reminded every time I call (my daughter) at night,” he said of Amaiyah, who's now 2 1⁄2 and living with her mother in Philadelphia. “It makes me appreciate life more. I've changed 100 percent.”