No matter who you ask on the Spring Grove boys' basketball team — head coach James Brooks, senior guard Eli Brooks or any of his teammates — the message is the same.
If Eli can get going offensively, it'll open up everyone else, too.
It's no secret who runs the show for the Rockets. Every time Eli Brooks steps on the floor, he becomes the best player on it — for either team. He knows it. His teammates know it. The opposition knows it.
That's why, in nearly every game, the game plan for opposing coaches is similar. They have one player face guard Brooks off the ball, and as soon as he catches it, he's double teamed. It would seem like a practical tactic, except the University of Michigan commit still manages to torch defenses, to the tune of more than 27 points per game so far this season.
"It's a good test now because I'm going to see freak athletes next year," Brooks said about being the constant focus of defenses after Friday night's win over Dallastown. "I think it's a good test right now and I just have to keep in the mindset that I still have to score the ball, because if I score the ball, then other people are open."
Through the Rockets' first seven games, they were 5-2, a respectable record, but they still lacked the depth that last year's York-Adams League tournament champion team possessed. It was apparent there was a Grand Canyon-size gap between Brooks and the rest of the roster. It appeared Brooks would be good enough to carry this team to Y-A League Tournament and District 3 5-A playoff berths, but not much further.
Then, during a slate of games last week that saw Spring Grove play three times in four days against opponents that entered the week with a combined record of 21-1, something clicked.
After losing the first game of the week to unbeaten Division I foe Northeastern, the Rockets responded by holding on for a two-point win over previously undefeated Middletown and then comfortably knocking off another Division I rival in Dallastown by 11.
The most important takeaway from the three games was how Spring Grove bounced back from the loss to the Bobcats and still made it a winning week. On paper, aside from Brooks, in all three games, you could argue the Rockets were the less-talented team. That didn't matter. As long as Spring Grove has Brooks, it'll have a chance.
More than just Brooks: It was significant for the Rockets to get to 7-3 overall and stay tied for second in Division I. Even more significant, however, in the team's toughest stretch of games this season, the collective unit stepped up big time. The talent gap between Brooks and his teammates is still substantial, but that's more a testament to Brooks than a slight on the rest of the team. Brooks still got his, averaging 33.3 points per game during the week, while also averaging a double-double over the three contests. But, he got help from his teammates too, with at least one other Rocket reaching double figures in each of the three games.
"It shows that we're not a one-trick pony," Brooks said. "Everybody thinks that it's just me, but we have a lot of key players that are filled with skill."
Brooks will quickly point to the job that guys such as Austin Panter and Jon Sager do on the defensive end of the floor, contributing to things that don't make it onto the stat sheet. Then there was the emergence of Drew Gordon as a viable secondary scoring option to Brooks.
Over the last three games, Gordon averaged 11.3 points per game and showed a growing confidence. He wasn't just looking to defer to Brooks on offense, but create some of his own.
"Drew's a really smart kid and plays a lot of basketball," James Brooks said on Friday night. "It's really that he had to know that he was the second guy in the car. He thought he was just riding in the trunk with everybody else and he finally took a seat up front and that's good for us."
It's very good for Spring Grove and potentially dangerous for future opponents.
Eli Brooks will get his. He's just that good. He's proven that, no matter how many guys you try to guard him with, he'll still find a way to fill up the basket.
And if Brooks is scoring the ball, then it'll create opportunities for the rest of the Rockets.
And as the confidence of guys such as Gordon, Panter and others continues to grow, it'll make this Spring Grove team just as tough an out come playoff time as it was last year.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org