Big on the Boards
Nov. 27, 2000
Brooks Sales' freshman season was nearly half way over, The lanky 6-10 forward continued to make strides and show flashes of brilliance, but he was still waiting for that breakout game that he knew he had in him. It finally came at the First Union Center against archrival Georgetown on Jan. 30, 1999. The Wildcats were trailing in the second half, and it was Sales who ripped down rebound after rebound giving Villanova numerous second chance opportunities. Unstoppable on the boards, he helped send the game into two overtime periods, where guard Jermaine Medley won it with a 30-foot heave at the buzzer. The stat line from the game read 13 points and 17 rebounds under the name Sales, but it was the confidence that came with those numbers that helped him realize his potential.
"The Georgetown game was a big game for the team, as well as for myself," said Sales. "I finished with 17 rebounds and it made me feel really comfortable within the flow of the team. The game went into two overtimes and Jermaine (Medley) won it for us. That was a new learning experience in how long a college game can go. I would rather be drained and win, than be exhausted and lose. That game gave me confidence about what both myself, and the team, could accomplish. It helped us get to the NCAA Tournament."
A native of Bloomfield, Conn., the competition surrounding basketball in the Sales' family was a fierce one. Brooks' older sister Nykesha, a former hoops standout at Connecticut, was a tremendous player in her own right. The backyard one-on-one games between brother and sister strengthened the bond between the two and helped both individuals develop quickly.
"My sister has an unbelievable determination to win," said Sales. "We played against each other all the time when we were younger. Basketball was an everyday thing in our house. Our father never had to tell us to go out and practice. It was something we wanted to do, and we learned from each other."
"My sister distilled in me the will to win," added Sales. "My sister to me is a role mode. She is in the WNBA and right now they are in the off-season. But every time I call her or go home, she is going to work out or practice. She has taught me about hard work and determination, and that means a lot because she has already made it."
Whereas Nykeshia chose to stay nearby and attend the University of Connecticut, Brooks wanted to make a name for himself someplace further away from home. There was no shortage of takers, as Sales tore up the court for Northwest Catholic High School. As a senior, he put up 25 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks per game in helping Northwest Catholic to the Class M State title. He wound down his career as a three-time All-State performer, and was named the New Haven Register Player of the Year in 1997-98. Following a visit to the Main Line, Villanova proved to be the perfect fit for Sales.
"It wasn't tough at all. I wanted to make a name for myself," said Sales. "Connecticut wasn't really a factor. They recruited me a little, but I knew I wanted to go out of state. I wanted to go somewhere else, not too far away from home, but far enough where I was able to get back. Villanova was just the best fit."
Sales was thrust into head coach Steve Lappas' front court rotation immediately as a freshman. Inconsistency mixed with moments of solid defensive play on the court defined the early season for Sales. In his first 11 games with the Wildcats, he averaged just 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 13 minutes per game. In the next 11 games, however, Sales increased his numbers to 7.5 points and 7.3 rebounds in over 21 minutes per contest. Despite posting his first double double against Howard University in December, it wasn't until the Georgetown game in January that Sales finally introduced himself to the Big East Conference. From there on out, he displayed the confidence and rebounding skills more common in an upperclassman than a freshman.
"When I started out, I was playing against guys who had me by like 20 pounds. The college game was a more up-tempo game, and it seemed like at first everything was just flying by," said Sales. "But you just have to slow down and take hold of it. Hard work and practice are the keys."
Sales picked up right where he left off to begin his sophomore season. The first six games of the year saw him post three games of 10 points or more, and three games of 10 rebounds or more. Sales continued to improve as the season progressed, and he evolved more and more into the team's top rebounder and defensive presence.
"Coach (Lappas) tells me that I have a knack for the ball," said Sales. "There are two things that you need to do to be a good rebounder. The first is hard work. The second is understanding where the ball is going to come off the rim, and wanting to be the first one there."
Sales finished his sophomore season averaging 8.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. He became known around the Big East as one of the top rebounders and defenders that the conference had to offer. More importantly, it set the stage for even greater expectations in 2000-01 from Sales, who enters the season as a veteran on a team comprised of mostly freshmen and sophomores.
"Everything is different this season," said Sales. "I am putting more pressure on myself to produce more both offensively and defensively. I have to take more responsibility in helping the team win, and I must be more assertive out on the court. This changes things in the sense that I have to do more in order to show the younger guys what it takes to get to the tournament."
If desire is the key to success on the basketball court, than Sales and the Wildcats may be in for another big season in 2000-01. Through his first two years on the Main Line, Sales has shown that he is a big man on the boards. This season Brooks hopes to display the most important piece of knowledge that he learned from his games playing against his sister Nykeshia...the will to win.