Friday, March 18, 2011

JMU's Kenny and Dawn: Two of a kind

Player-coach. Coach-player. They can butt heads. They can smile at each other one day and yell at each other the next. They can learn from one another and they can become friends. Great friends. Lifelong friends.

In his nine years as head coach at James Madison, Kenny Brooks has had to bid farewell as many of the most storied players in school history have graduated and moved on to the next level. Meredith Alexis. Tamera Young. Now Dawn Evans is a senior, and the clock is ticking down on what is a brilliant college career.

He knew from the first moment he saw her that he wanted her as his point guard. What he didn't know was the impact she would have on him as a coach, as a person, as a parent.

Dawn: I remember seeing his face the first time. The (coaches) came around with the big JMU shirts. You always notice those. I came to Harrisonburg. I had already decided I was going to go to UTC (Tennessee-Chattanooga), but I fell in love with the coaching staff.

At the beginning of my freshman year, we didn't have a really good relationship. That freshman year thing and  it being harder than you expected, I didn't have a really good relationship with him. We had so many conversations that it eventually developed.

The first time I felt like I wanted to go home, I was feeling like college ball wasn't for me -- I think everybody goes through that stage -- I went into his office to talk to him about it, and during the conversation we had,  I realized he was a truly genuine person. It wasn't just about basketball. He really wanted to establish a personal relationship with his players. That meant a lot to me.

Kenny: I always tell them I want kids who want to be here. She was going through a rough patch and it's hard because the day she walked on campus, I gave her the ball. With that comes responsibility. I probably barked and yelled at her multiple times, and the fact that she played my position, made it even more tumultuous.

Dawn: A lot of people don't think he's a yeller. But he yells and has fits some times that we all have to step back, but I guess every good coach is like that.

Kenny: I haven't yelled as much this year. A lot of it has to do with, she knows me really well. I get right to that point and she'll say, 'C'mon, guys. Huddle up.' I don't know if she's doing it for their benefit or mine, but it works. I haven't had to yell as much.

The conversations we had then, the conversations we had afterward, they're more than just point guard and coach. We talk about everything. As a matter of fact, she has helped me become a better coach because of her honesty. Regardless of how bad the situation may seem, she'll tell me the honest truth. From that very moment, I knew I could trust her with everything I had.  She'll come in and tell me things that make me blush, but I've got to be that father figure for her -- not only with her, with everyone. I tell my family all the time my daughters don't have a chance. I'm going to know everything.

I talked to her father about it. I talked to her about it. It has molded me into a better father because I want to have that same relationship with my daughters I have with her and that she has with her father. The responsibility that her father and mother gave me ... they said, 'Coach, handle it.' They trusted me.

Dawn: Anything you can think of, I think I've spoken to him about. You're away from home and I'm really close to my family. I've told people that there's nothing about me that my parents don't know. I'm used to having that adult figure around. I was a little suspect coming in because I know basketball is a business, and people want good players on their team so the team can do well. At times when I questioned how he really felt about me, I'd talk to my parents, and they're really good judges of character. My parents tell me they can tell that he loves me and I can definitely tell.

Kenny's wife, Chrissy, loves to cook Dawn's favorites: fried chicken, mac cheese and collard greens. Then Dawn will escape to the Wii with the Brooks girls -- Chloe, Gabrielle and Kendyl -- for what usually turns into some type of dancing game. (Dawn is in the groove with MJ, Kendyl says). The kids rave about Dawn's dancing. She rolls her eyes.

Dawn: I can't beat them. ...It's always good food at the Brooks house. I love his children. They're like my little sisters. I can feel they love me back. I get to bring that little kid side out and just have fun with them:

Kenny: It's funny. I come home and they don't even tell me that she's coming over. I come home, and I'm like, 'What the occasion? We got chicken. All this good stuff.' And then they're all like, 'Dawn's coming over! Dawn's coming over! I don't even get that special treatment. That's the way it is that she feels comfortable enough that she can come over whenever. When she comes over I don't have to entertain her.

Dawn: I don't even see you.

Kenny: No, we don't always see each other until I'll steal her away and say, 'Duke's playing such and such,' and we'll watch the end of a game. But everything in the room  is a Dawn Evans enshrinement. They've got every t-shirts, everything. My daughter makes me, not that I wouldn't anyway, but she makes me vote for Dawn every morning before she goes to school (for Lowe's Senior Class award).  She's a great role model for them. At Halloween, they didn't want to go as basketball players; they wanted to go as Dawn Evans.

They aspire to be good basketball players. So they only thing I have to say is, 'Dawn was always outside when she was your age,' and they go right outside. So I need to say, 'Dawn probably cleaned up her room' to make that do that, too.

Dawn: I don't know what's going to happen after March, but he's going to be my guiding light for that. And wherever I go, I owe a lot to him so he'll keep me updated and continue to be my guiding light.

Kenny: No question.

It's not going to be the same. It's not. People ask me, 'What are you going to do?' I just quickly respond I don't want to think about that for a long time.

She's definitely touched me in a special way. I can see us having a relationship until the day I die. That's how special she is to me. In this wonderful world of Twitter and everything else, Skype, she'll definitely be in my thoughts, even if she's not wearing purple and gold.

We've been through so much. I call her my 'mini me.' We think alike. I call her the female version of Kenny Brooks. We think so much alike. Our relationship has grown where I can say, 'Be truthful. Don't bounce around. Be truthful.' That's the way it has gone.

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