Jon Brockman

Washington Star Is Going Places After Staying Home

The New York Times

Saturday, March 7, 2009


SEATTLE — Two hours after the game, Jon Brockman, the endearing engine of an unlikely champion, was among the few still in the arena, as usual. He had yet to take his ritual ice bath because two preschool boys still wanted his autograph, which they received with high-​​fives.

Brockman’s University of Washington basketball team had just come from behind to beat Arizona, clinching at least a share of the Pacific-​​10 Conference championship with U.C.L.A. The height-​​challenged Huskies, ranked 16th, are not known for their defense or outside shooting. But if they beat Washington State on Saturday, they will win the Pac-​​10 title outright for the first time since 1953.

Two of Brockman’s older siblings, Kirsten and Adam, were waiting with their parents, Gordy and Becky, school principals who attend every home game and most of his road games.

This night, the Brockmans were celebrating Kirsten’s engagement to Jon’s best friend’s cousin. Kirsten, 25, also played for the Huskies but said she never pressured her brother to pick Washington over his other suitors, U.C.L.A. and Duke. When Jon chose his uniform number, he chose hers, No. 40.

This was exactly the way Jon hoped and expected everything would turn out — his family all around him, a championship season — when he made the decision to attend college near home on his way back from a visit to Duke.

“Flying home, it hit me,” said Brockman, 21, a 6-​​foot-​​7 senior forward who grew up in the town of Snohomish, one county north of Seattle. “My parents have been there every game for all my life. If I go to Duke, my parents are not going to be able to see me play. Being able to share all this with my family and friends is the biggest joy for me.”

Brockman started all but one game as a freshman, the last time the Huskies went to the N.C.A.A. tournament.

“With that group, I felt like I was kind of along for the ride,” he said of the 2005 – 6 team that reached the Round of 16. “With this group it feels different, leading them, being the center of the team.”

This season, Coach Lorenzo Romar’s Huskies (23−7, 13 – 4) routinely sell out home games and are 14 – 1 in Seattle. Students sleep in a line outside Bank of America Arena to get the best seats.

Recent Washington teams were led by Spencer Hawes, Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson, players headed for the N.B.A. But as a small forward without a reliable outside shot, Brockman is not guaranteed a professional career. He is a niche player, a rebounding marvel who may appeal to a team with a particular need.

“Jon epitomizes leadership,” Romar said. “He makes it easy for coaches.”

He added, “That’s why I think he’ll play in the N.B.A.”

Washington’s career leader in rebounds, Brockman averages 11.3 a game for a team that leads the Pac-​​10 in offensive rebounds. The second chances have allowed the Huskies to be the conference’s highest-​​scoring team despite their 46.3 percent shooting from the floor.

Brockman, an architecture and construction management major, says he wants to play professionally, in the N.B.A. or overseas, but he knows he alone cannot control his future.

“These guys are the best team I could imagine being a part of,” he said. “What a way to be able to end your career.”

Brockman’s style has changed little, said his brother Paul, 23, who was his teammate at Snohomish High School.

“You wouldn’t think his game would correlate well in college, but it did,” said Paul, who played for a local junior college. “He was the same back then. It fits his personality. He likes to be behind the scenes.”

Brockman lives a few minutes from campus with his teammates Artem Wallace and Joe Wolfinger, who are reserves. The disparity in their playing time is occasionally the subject of gentle joking. They have an easy chemistry from watching “SportsCenter” and playing H-​​O-​​R-​​S-​​E and the video game “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.”

Brockman is the same on the court as he is off it, Wallace said.

“It’s his intensity and his heart,” Wallace, a senior center, said. “He dives for every loose ball. It’s not the stuff that makes good highlights, but that’s who he is.”

The Huskies are a throwback team whose star players do not necessarily leave early to turn pro. Brockman and guard Justin Dentmon have played four seasons. One possible exception is the freshman guard Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 15.7 points a game.

Four Huskies average 11 or more points, including Brockman (15.0), Dentmon (15.4) and the junior forward Quincy Pondexter (11.5). They are not extraordinarily gifted or big, and only Brockman is indispensable.

“We’re versatile enough and team enough to find a way to win,” Romar said.

That often means turning weaknesses into strengths by doing the little things well: chasing loose balls, manufacturing offensive rebounds and making free throws.

“This team is maniacal; they’re always attacking,” said Jim Marsh, Brockman’s longtime A.A.U. coach. “This team is stamped markedly and profoundly with Jon’s personality.”