For LadySwish purposes, Kenny Brooks is sticking around.
We're gonna love seeing what the state's best coach, hands down, one of the most underrated coaches in the nation, is going to do with a big-time budget at a big time school.
Get ready to get in line for tickets at Cassell Coliseum, Hokie fans. James Madison's Kenny Brooks is the new head coach at Virginia Tech announced Monday by athletic director Whit Babcock.
We thought Brooks might be a lifer at JMU, and if he had chosen that route, we wouldn't have blamed him. JMU is his school and one of the reasons we think he and his staff are so successful is that every one of them knows what it's like to walk to the Quad to class on a snowy day in Harrisonburg. Each of his assistants are JMU graduates -- one of two staffs in the nation along with Montana that can brag about that.
The winningest coach in JMU history has 337 wins under his belt. Under Brooks' direction, the Dukes have been to six NCAA tournaments and five WNITs. The Dukes were 27-6 this season despite losing the CAA preseason player of the year, Precious Hall, to an ACL tear before the first ball was bounced.
But somewhere along the line, we've wondered if Brooks maxed out at JMU given the dismissive attitude non-Power 5 schools not named UConn are treated when it comes to schedules and seeding. It's been difficult to lure top opponents to Harrisonburg given how strong of a program JMU has been under Brooks. Like counterparts Jim Crowley (St. Bonaventure) and Jim Jabir (Dayton), lining up quality nonconference foes at home means dialing a lot of numbers, as the Power 5 do not want to risk a loss.
Even with marks of 29-6 two years ago and 29-4 last year, the Dukes were seeded 11 and 12, respectively. A hiccup in the ACC and the NCAA committee shrugs its shoulders. A hiccup in the CAA and your team doesn't get an invite to the national tournament without the automatic bid.
Here's what else distinguishes Brooks: The man is a master at player development. We're not sure that too many Division I coaches would have given a hard look to Kirby Burkholder and Nikki Newman. Under Brooks, they flourished into two of the best players in the history of the program, two of the best in the CAA. We remember others kids, too -- Meredith Alexis, Andrea Benvenuto, Dawn Evans -- players who Brooks turned into top-tier talent by the time they were done.
Remember Tamera Young? Drafted in 2008, Young continues to shine in the WNBA.
Brooks' system at JMU stemmed from finding players that fit into his program. Most waited their turn to be part of his starting lineup, so when their number was called, they were ready to play Division I basketball at a high level. His program has been the best in this state for years, so much so that it stunned us when he didn't get a look the last time the Tech job opened. No knock on Dennis Wolff personally, but he didn't know women's basketball enough to be handed a head coaching job, let alone one at an ACC school. Tech's results, and until just recently, recruiting reflected that.
The trimmings are now in place for Tech to be a factor in the ACC and beyond. They've got a new athletic director with a vision for this program. They've got a state-of-the-art facility and a hungry fan base ready to embrace winning as they did when Bonnie Henrickson took the program to the Sweet 16 in 1999. They've got moldable talent, too, particularly in Chanette Hicks, Kelly Koshuta and Rachel Camp.
Most of all, now they have Brooks. Sentimentalists that we are, in many ways, we hate to see him leave his school. We kind of liked seeing him in purple. But we're also excited to see what he will bring as architect to a Tech program with so much potential. We have a feeling he's going to do some great things in Blacksburg.