On an atypical UNC team, Brooks making his mark on defense

Leading into matchup against Duke, work at both ends of court critical

R.L. Bynum, Triangle Sports Network
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R.L. Bynum, Correspondent

@RL_Bynum

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Garrison Brooks isn’t the prototypical North Carolina center or a dominant force inside.

But this isn’t your prototypical Tar Heels team.

Coach Roy Williams prefers two traditional post players and revolves his offense around those big men.

Have them post up, feed the ball to the post and run the offense from the inside-out.

That’s not how his current team is successful, particularly starting the 6-9 Brooks at the five spot and 6-8 Luke Maye at the four.

These Tar Heels instead depend heavily on jump shots, and why not since they have so many good perimeter shooters?

UNC has double-digit 3-pointer totals in 10 games this season, including a season-high-tying 16 on 64% shooting in Saturday’s 95-57 destruction of Wake Forest.

Defensive consistency

Brooks is giving him a consistent inside force on defense and enough of an offensive threat to keep defenses honest.

“He’s dependable,” Williams said.

“We can count on him to be in the right spot.”

Dependable works for this team, and Brooks, who is averaging 8.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, says that there’s a reason his game has improved from his freshman season.

“Confidence, poise, just how I feel when I get the ball,” said Brooks, who leads the team in field-goal percentage (55.6%) and offensive rebounds (62).

“Taking my time just making the decisions.”

Brooks’ big strength is sometimes difficult to quantify: his play on defense that opponents know all too well.

Dealing with ball screens seems to be an annual challenge for UNC, but Brooks has been one of those players who consistently closes up seams and takes away opportunities.

“It happens,” Brooks said.

“A guy can get beat, but I guess I’m just kind of like the back-line guy to try to help us.”

If he ends up defending a guard after a switch, Brooks is usually up for the task.

He says that guidance from Assistant Coach Steve Robinson has helped him become a better defender.

“Me and Coach Rob, we always talk about how good I need to be on defense for our team to be successful,” Brooks said.

“The biggest thing is always just listening to him and try to help our team … and the biggest way you can is with help defense from the post, screen on the ball.

That’s pretty much the biggest thing I do on defense.”

Finding the right spot

Brooks has won UNC’s defensive award a team-high seven times and had won it two of the last three games heading into Saturday’s victory.

The winner is the player who has the best ratio of good defensive plays to bad defensive plays for that game.

Senior guard Kenny Williams is known to be one of UNC’s best defenders, having won that defensive award 17 times in his career.

He says Brooks has earned his awards with proper positioning.

“If you get in the right spots on defense, then you’re going to grade out well,” Kenny Williams said.

“Garrison, that’s one thing he makes sure he does. He’s in the right spot. He’s just solid and I think that’s why he continues to win.”

Brooks isn’t a prolific scorer, with only eight double-digit scoring games this season, including 20 in the opener against Wofford.

But he usually scores enough for opponents to pay attention, and that can make a big difference for UNC offensively.

“When he does get scoring, it attracts attention and I think he’s done a good job of spreading the ball around when that happens,” said Cameron Johnson, who collected a career-high seven 3-pointers on his way to 27 points against the Deacons.

“He’s been pretty opportunistic,” Johnson said.

“One thing I think he’s done really good is just positioning himself. Offensive rebounds, post-ups, little feeds on the inside. And I think he’s just paying a little closer attention to detail. He’s passing the ball well, rebounding the ball well. He’s contributed points that have been pretty big for us.”

Contributing to the cause

Kenny Williams says that in many games when the Tar Heels are getting lightly contested 3-point attempts, Brooks has a lot to do with it.

“It’s huge because you give the ball to a man inside and he scores a couple of times then they start sinking, then those 3-point shots are open and his ability to see the floor is huge because you want to take advantage of what the defense gives you,” Williams said.

Backup point guard Seventh Woods says that making his mark defensively has been an emphasis for Brooks.

“I think he’s taken pride in it more. I think G works hard. He probably works the hardest to try to get his name on that board,” Woods said of the board in the dressing room that notes leaders in all categories, including defense.

“He’s just trying to make an impact.”

Wiping the glass clean

Saturday, with seven rebounds, was the fifth time he’s at least shared the team rebounding.

He had a big rebound follow shot late in the Virginia game.

But what’s uncommon for a player of his size is passing ability.

He only had two assists Saturday, but he has at least shared the team lead three times this season (all wins) with a season-high six in the home victory over N.C. State.

“He’s been a good passer for how big he is,” Maye said.

“I think he does a really good job of making the right play.”

Avoiding foul trouble

Being able to stay on the court has been a problem at times this season, though.

The Wake Forest game was the ninth time this season Brooks picked up four fouls.

He’s only fouled out once (in the loss to Texas), but those games tend to reduce his minutes.

Former UNC big man Isaiah Hicks also had that issue.

Coach Williams bemoaned a few games ago that Brooks was spending too much time sitting next to him on the bench because he sometimes fouls too much.

“I struggle with them from time to time and I just try to play through it,” Brooks said.

With multiple Duke players who have the ability to get to the rim frequently on drives, Wednesday night’s visit to Durham would be a good time to stay out of foul trouble.

Defense, obviously, will be one of many areas in which the Tar Heels will have to excel.

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