To a fan, a statistician or even a sportswriter, sophomore Henry Brooks looks like a train with broken brakes, moving too fast and too aggressively for his own good.
To coach Jerome Allen, his teammates and definitely in his own eyes, Brooks should look to be more aggressive as he works back from his knee injury.
Such is the enigma that is Brooks. Is he an undersized big man who tries a little too hard, or is he the balanced forward the Quakers need to compete in the Ivy League on both ends of the floor?
Wednesday night’s performance against Temple was one of the better ones for Brooks, a clear sign of his potential. He put up 10 points on 5-for-9 shooting and was called for a foul only once, allowing him to play 31 minutes.
Yet, so often, the signs this year have pointed the other way.
Brooks leads the Ivy League in personal fouls and has far too often found himself riding the pine late in the first half when the Quakers often allow games to get away. Penn has been outscored in the first half 611-537 thus far this season.
While Brooks’ critics see both that correlation and his league-leading four disqualifications for fouling out as damning, his coach thinks Brooks’ foul trouble comes with the territory.
“Some may have it as him having a bunch of fouls,” Allen said. “But I respect his aggressiveness, how hard he plays. I’m okay with him picking up a foul trying to help on ‘D.’ He plays hard.”
As for Brooks, he understands where the criticism comes from but isn’t actively trying to assuage the problem.
“Sometimes the critics may be right, sometimes they may be wrong,” Brooks said. “I just listen to my coaches and my teammates. Sometimes I ask the ref about what I’m doing, but I don’t let it take away my aggressiveness.”
Brooks’ goal is to regain his mobility so he can be that much more active on both ends of the floor.
“I like playing aggressively,” Brooks said. “Being all over the place, because last year, I know that was hard to do with my knee. I just want to get my rhythm back.”
Regardless of fouls, Brooks’ play has been much improved since junior forward Fran Dougherty went down before the Wagner game in late December with mono.
In the first nine games of the season, Brooks averaged just four points per contest. In the last eight games, though, he has averaged eight points a night.
Brooks is also seeing more of the floor than he had at the start of the season. For the first nine games of the year, he played only 15 minutes per game. Since Dougherty’s absence, though, his playing time has increased to an average of 25 minutes.
Still, Brooks is fouling at pretty much the same rate. In the first nine games of the season, he accumulated 32 personal fouls. In the last eight contests, he’s heard the whistle blown on him another 27 times.
Surely, Dougherty’s absence has led to an increase in minutes for Brooks, but the true reason for the increase in minutes is that he is simply playing better.
That’s why the fouls don’t matter to Allen.
In two Big 5 games this season, Drexel in November and La Salle earlier this month, Brooks fouled out. Against Drexel, he only played 14 minutes. At La Salle, he saw almost two times that.
The difference was that Brooks played well against La Salle, putting up eight points, four rebounds and two steals. Conversely, he was a non-entity against Drexel.
When Allen sees Brooks compete at a high level, the sophomore stays in and plays. When Brooks doesn’t, he rides the pine.
Whether the criticism of Brooks’ foul troubles is grounded in fact or misguided ultimately misses the point. It’s not about fouls. Allen knows it, and so does Brooks.
Really, it’s about consistency. And everyone involved — fan, coach or teammate — can at least agree on one thing:
He’s picked the right time to start heating up.