RAMSEUR — Davonte Brooks has always had elite basketball talent. Big, strong and full of athleticism, the Eastern Randolph High School senior only needed someone to dig down and bring to the surface what had been there all along.
Enter new ER head coach Johnny Thomas. As with all his players, Thomas has been able to coach them to heights never before seen. And Brooks is taking full advantage.
Saturday night’s third round playoff victory over Robbinsville put the Wildcats in unfamiliar territory. Brooks led the way with 28 points, paving a path for a first-ever ER fourth-round playoff game Tuesday against South Stokes.
But then, Brooks has helped pave the way all year for ER’s success, averaging 24.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game. Throw in an average of nearly three steals, three assists and two blocks per game and you have one of the most well-rounded players in the area.
“For me, it’s been a heck of a year,” Brooks said after a recent playoff win. “Coach really cares about us. I don’t think we’ve had a coach who puts this much work in with us since I don’t know how long. He believes in us and he’s working us hard.”
Thomas said he realizes what he had to start with in Brooks.
“He’s not only a basketball player, he’s a brother, a family member to us, he’s my kid,” Thomas said. “He comes out here every single day and I don’t care if he had a horrible day in school, he’s out here smiling and he’s laughing, lifting up his teammates.
“He’s the guy that every coach needs on a team. I just got blessed with a guy like that who has sheer natural ability.”
The Wildcats have had a record year. After losing the opening game, ER rolled up 19 straight victories. It was early in that run when Thomas had the players convinced they could be a special unit.
“Our confidence built and built every day, but we had to stay humble,” Brooks said. “About six or seven games in, we realized if we all worked together, no one could stop us. I never thought we’d have someone like him (Thomas) here. This has always been a football school.”
Thomas said he realized there was plenty of talent, but getting that talent to gel was going to take a lot of work. Work that Brooks and the team were prepared to do.
“The best part is I keep him hungry,” Thomas said of Brooks, a monster on the boards with solid dribbling skills as well. “I always tell him we need more. OK, we’re in the third round, but I want to get to the fourth round. You always want more.
“He needs a coach who is going to get put there and work on his shooting, continue to work on his post moves, someone who is going to help him grow. He is willing to do the little things to make sure the team succeeds. He’s very coachable and I feel blessed to have him.”
This year, the Wildcats, who hadn’t had a winning season since the 2015-2016 campaign, have won a Christmas tournament title, the Piedmont Athletic Conference regular season championship, a PAC Tournament title and have now advanced into the fourth round of the state 1-A playoffs. It’s been quite a year.
“I want to make a mark before I leave,” Brooks said.
That mark has certainly been made.