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Exclusive: “Baby Kobe” returns, reflects on time with Nets

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Our Bryan Fonseca caught up with MarShon Brooks ahead of Friday’s duel between his Grizzlies and your Nets. The Brooklyn Original returned to the NBA in March after spending three years overseas. He is the last player in the league from the infamous trade with Boston five years ago.

NBA: New York Knicks at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Once upon a time, MarShon Brooks was Caris LeVert.

In 2011, Brooks was a late first-round pick at a time when the Nets had been out of the playoffs for four straight years, hadn’t won more than 34 games over that stretch, and were one year removed from the lowly 12-70 season to close out last decade.

It was a time when a trade with the Boston Celtics – which is how the Nets acquired Brooks, the 25th pick of the 2011 draft – didn’t mean mortgaging your future. The Nets won that deal.

Then, the Nets were transitioning from New Jersey to Brooklyn, coming off a 22-44 record in the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season. Brooks resembled hope, youth and a building block for the organization as change was on the horizon. Kobe Bryant’s trainer told ESPN’s Chad Ford that his style was reminiscent of the Laker great.

He, along with Brook Lopez – by default, Jarrett Allen-ish in this equation – were accompanied by Deron Williams and a collection of talent ready to challenge in the Eastern Conference. And after Brooks’ 12.6 points per game in his first year, landing him on the All-Rookie Second Team, everything changed for the Providence scoring savant.

It all began when the Nets acquired Joe Johnson.

“I thought I was going to build on that, honestly,” Brooks recalled to NetsDaily seated at his locker in the visitor’s den. “I was on a bad team at the time and I had a lot more room for error my rookie season, so when we moved to Brooklyn, they went out and got Joe Johnson in my position, so it totally changed my role. I went from playing 29 minutes a game to like 15 (laughs) …

“It wasn’t easy at that time. I think it helped me. I think I grew from that. It was unrealistic my first year, everything came really easy to me, that’s not how things come in this league. You’ve gotta work for things. I’m more prepared now.”

It wasn’t weird being back. The 6’5 shooting guard joke that, being in China he didn’t know whether or not he’d be back without buying a ticket.

Now with the Memphis Grizzlies, Brooks made his return to Barclays five years after being a minor piece the Boston Celtics in that trade. Brooks spent his 2013-14 with the Celtics, Warriors and Lakers before playing in Italy and in China, where he found his footing, and ultimately, his way back into the NBA on a 10-day contract with Memphis in March.

He averaged 20.1 points in seven games for the Grizzlies last spring, so they brought him back.

On Friday, Brooks recalled those early days of Brooklyn and what he was able to take from Iso Joe and others.

“Professionalism, the way they handled themselves, the way they moved from game to game,” he said. “I remember that, especially when I first got into the league, a bad game could sometimes carry over into the next week because you’re just trying to string and put pressure on yourself when you do have a bad game. In this league, you’ve gotta have amnesia. Get over missed shots, get over bad games and get to the next.”

While he admittedly hasn’t kept close tabs on the Nets since – and why would he? – he has taken note of their generaldirection. A growing number in this league have, even though the team is struggling to find success, much like Brooks’ first team.

“I think they’re headed in the right direction. They’ve got some good players, some good young players and I wish them the best for sure, because they took the chance on me,” he offered.

Brooks’ path is rather unique, but he insists he wouldn’t change it … even if it would’ve been nice for some to see through what could’ve been as a Net. Others who have found their way overseas have since reached out to Brooks, seeking advice for getting back into the NBA, which he jokes, he doesn’t have the answers to.

“I just tell them to handle their business, somebody is always watching, that’s my main thing,” he said.

“I needed that everything that I’ve been through,” he later added, regarding his ‘secrets.’ “I think it made me stronger, it made me a better player for sure. It made me stronger mentally. It’s need as easy to take me off my groove because I’ve been through a lot more. Just mentally stronger individual. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Although Brooks’ career turn would’ve been unfathomable at a time, many Net fans seemed to be glad it worked out … he was a fan favorite. He didn’t get a big cheer when he entered the game, but he contributed. In 11 minutes Friday, Brooks netted five points and is averaging close to seven for the season. Not bad for a comeback.

The Nets will get a second look at Brooks and the Grizzlies on January 4 in Memphis.