Coppin's bonus return

College basketball:Kiesha Brooks couldn't be happier with the news that Derek Brown will be back as the Eagles' women's coach. She has had four college coaches in four years.

February 16, 2000|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

The Coppin State women's basketball player happiest with Derek Brown returning as coach next year might be the one who can give him the hardest time.

Kiesha Brooks averages 20.9 points and 10.5 rebounds when the games are on. But when they're off, the 5-10 junior wing forward from Olney occasionally questions orders and cheats on drills, working Brown's boundaries between endearment and infuriation.

"She reminds me a lot of Terquin Mott," Brown said, referring to the former Coppin men's star who was Mid-Eastern Athletic Conferenceplayer of the year in 1997. "She knows what she'll get in trouble for and what will get her smacked in the hand."

But Brooks, a preseason all-MEAC selection, finds relief in Brown's impending return. The coach's learning curve with regard to his star player is flattening -- "I'll take a player like that on my team anytime." And the team is playing well, with a 10-5 record in the MEAC, 12-12 overall.

Most importantly, however, it means that for the first time since high school, her coach at the end of this year should be the same as when the year started.

"Four head coaches in four years," she says, as if she can't believe the situation she's been in. "It comes to a point where you simply have to work for yourself. I don't know many players who have gone through something like that and still played well."

In 1996, she started with Jeff Thatcher at American University in Washington. Personality conflicts with Thatcher and a wish for smaller class sizes led her to Britt King, who had just taken the Coppin State job in 1997.

Brooks sat out that season; less than six months away from the opportunity to play for King, the coach took a job at Fresno State. With Jennie Hall taking over in 1998, she still averaged a double double and earned all-MEAC honors.

Then Hall -- piqued with athletic director Fang Mitchell for suspending her -- quit in December, thus introducing Brooks to coach No. 4 for her college career.

"He's a good guy," she says of Brown. "He's trying to learn the players, especially me. I get emotional. I don't think there's a guy who plays with as much emotion as me."

The miracle of it all is that lots of her shots still fall into the basket, and a lot of the missed shots of others fall into her arms.

As teammate Javonti Jones says: "She has it in her head that she's going to get a double double. This season, maybe twice it hasn't happened."

It happened again recently, albeit during a 74-69 setback to MEAC power Howard. The first half saw Brooks post up on smaller guards for mid-range jump shots -- "I'm a big guard. I love to take a girl on the post who's smaller than me."

After scoring 12 first-half points, Brooks missed all but one of her final 14 shots. She finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, but had to hand over the scoring duties to Liesha Mitchell (averaging 18 points, 7.1 rebounds) in the end.

Howard coach Sanya Tyler was pleased at that turn of events, glad that Brooks' shooting hand was too cold to give Coppin any positive effect.

"She's a monster," Tyler said. "The tighter it gets, the more an opposing coach fears that she's going to take over."

After the game, Brooks is in good spirits despite the outcome, answering all the questions about her cold shooting in the second half (glad to have found Mitchell, who finished with 21 points), the way the season has gone (expected more leadership out of herself) and the coaching change ("We just had to go with the flow.").

As the Coppin men's players and coaches move up the stairs, she shouts encouraging words, having formed what she considers to be kinship with the members of that team, now in the awkward position of being a MEAC also-ran.

"I know how hard it is for them," she says of the perennial league champ that now sits in fifth place. "They're not used to this. to them, it's like they're at the bottom of the conference."

Next come a few of the Howard women's players, those Brooks thought her team could beat.

It would have been a big win, would have put the Eagles in second place. They'd challenged the Bison before, losing by seven points in Baltimore, and Brooks believed that Coppin would pull through the second time around.

"She's a floor leader," Jones said. "If her attitude is bad, then the whole team has a bad attitude. This afternoon, she made us believe that we could win this game."

Brooks is certain that her team can win the MEAC tournament and qualify for the NCAA tournament. Despite the turmoil Coppin has endured, she points out, who in the league hasn't?

Let's see, Howard's women's program was under NCAA investigation. The players at Florida A&M, the league's champion last season, went on a boycott -- "How do you get from first place to last place in one season?"

Brooks thinks that Coppin has handled the coaching change.

"Everyone's having problems, some teams suffer from it. It's just a matter of overcoming and making it happen," Brooks said. "This is the season to do it. If there's a time to do it, this is it."

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