By Mark Gregory
That is all that separates Plainfield South senior Jaianna Brooks from being the first female in Cougar history to reach the 1,000 point mark for her career.
Unfortunately for Brooks, her career ended 14 points shy of that mark as her season came to an end when she severely sprained her ankle in practice leading up to South’s Jan. 13 game with Joliet West.
She finished her illustrious career with 986 points, the most ever by a South female, passing Tyler Everett’s 915 points scored from 2012-15.
Her point total is fifth-best all time in District 202.
“The first week it was rough especially because I had so many goals and now I had deal with the fact that the season is over – physically, not mentally,” Brooks said. “I know that I have to be here for my team and make sure that they are energized, that is something I feel strongly about.”
First-year South coach Lincoln DePaula said Brooks’ role has simply changed within the team.
“She is like the third coach on the bench,” he said. “It is one thing to play the game, but to be able to sit back and see things from a coach’s perspective will only make her a better player and I think that will help her out in her college career.”
While it is not the role she wanted to see her career end with, Brooks is embracing it.
“Sitting on the sideline was rough because you can’t go out there and help the team, but it is opening me up to a lot of things I didn’t see before,” she said. “At first I thought a lot about it and I thought about the setbacks and what I was going to do about it, but once I got past that, I thought it would just make me stronger and I knew I had to get ready for college and make sure that I work hard over the summer and use this as a drive.”
Drive was never an issue for Brooks, according to Leah Carter, South’s coach for Brooks’ first three years on varsity.
“She always has a game face on, no matter if we were up by 10 or down by 20, her expression never changed and I love to see that in athletes. She took it seriously – it was a job to her,” Carter said. “When she was brought up as a freshman, she got ate alive a little bit, she cried some games and I threw her right back in with the wolves because I knew she would grow as a player from those experiences. In the summer before her sophomore year, she spent countless hours in the gym and played AAU and really worked hard.”
It wasn’t only drive that landed Brooks on the varsity all four years – it was her talent as well.
“I coached basketball for 25 years and she is the best athlete I have ever coached by far,” Carter said. “I say that because she is not only a gamer, she is a practice player too. She is a ‘yes coach’ kind of a kid and we don’t find those a lot anymore.”
During her freshman year, Brooks was not expecting to land a starting job on the varsity team.
“Freshman year I would be on JV and some on varsity and then I ended up starting and it was like, ‘woah.’ At that point, I just wanted to get my teammates the ball and run the plays and I maybe scored one or two points every couple games, so it was rough,” Brooks said. “Sophomore year was my breakout year. I found my shot and found my confidence. I went into my junior year with the same mindset and started strong and fell off again with the heart murmur. That was a setback, but I came back from that and made sure I was running the team right.
“Heading into my senior year, I sprained my left ankle and couldn’t train as hard, but I came into the year knowing I wanted to play hard and leave a lasting impression on this season. Even if it was just teaching the younger kids that they have to have the same confidence and be passionate about working on their skills. I still have to leave that lasting impression with them – if it is not physically, I know I have to make sure they know they have to work hard.”
Her injury may have ended Brooks’ career at Plainfield South – but not her basketball career. She is being recruited by college programs and is in the process of making a decision.
“Someone will be very lucky to have her,” DePaula said.