Women's Basketball
Video: Kenny Brooks Introductory Press Conference

Video: Kenny Brooks Introductory Press Conference

MARCH 28, 2024

CAMI MOORE: Thank you all so much for joining us today for the introductory press conference for Coach Kenny Brooks. We will get started with a brief opening statement from Mitch Barnhart.

MITCH BARNHART: Thank you, Cami, appreciate it. Thank you everyone for coming today and is a great day to be a Wildcat. It’s wonderful.

It’s great to have everyone here and I would like to thank a couple of people who sort of assisted in the search and walked us through all this journey that has led us to today. Rachel Baker and Tiffany Massey, thank you so much for all you guys did and as we began the search, Rachel walked into the office one day and said “If I can have one person lead our program, it would be this guy.” And she shows me a video of a press conference where he describes the beauty of the game of women’s basketball very vividly after one of their games. It caught my attention about the way he spoke of his players. About the way he spoke of the game. And what it meant to him. His demeanor, same on the sidelines as it was in the press conference. Passionate, loving, care for something he deeply adored. The game of basketball. And he has done that remarkably well over an amazing career and I’m going to chronicle a few things that is just impressive as heck as you begin to look at his resume and most of you have read this.

He is our ninth women’s basketball coach at Kentucky. Over 500 career wins as a head basketball coach at James Madison, where he is the winningest coach in the history the school. 180 wins at Virginia Tech. 11 regular season and tournament conference championships. 10 NCAA appearances and one final four. 6 WNBA draft picks since 2015, 7 total picks. 18 20-win seasons in 22 total seasons as a head coach. Includes 18 20+ winning seasons in the last 19 seasons as a head coach so the only exception being the COVID year. Guided players to 7 conference player of the honors. In the last 2 seasons combined, Brooks went 2-0 against Tennessee and 3-0 against Louisville.

Four-time CAA coach of the year. Known best for developing players. If you watched any of his teams, he has taken young women from stage to stage to stage in the development of the game to the spot where they succeed in an incredibly high elite level in women’s basketball.

Graduate of James Madison in 1992. Played four years under Lefty Driesell. His family, beautiful wife Chrissy. And Kendall who is not here. I think she is Face Timing, I don’t know what she’s got going here. She was trying to Face time earlier. We have Chloe, Hunter, son-in-law, Gabby, Kinsley is the granddaughter. Kinsley, raise your hand. There we are right there. And we are so thrilled to have all of them here.

It is an incredible honor to introduce our ninth women’s basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, Kenny Brooks.

CAMI MOORE: Thank you, Mitch Barnhart. We will move now from an opening statement from head coach Kenny Brooks.

KENNY BROOKS: Wow, thank you. It is a pleasure to be here. But it’s an honor to be the head women’s basketball coach here at Kentucky. And it sounds surreal, but when you think about Kentucky, you think about basketball. And for me, when I was approached about a situation that could possibly be with Kentucky Basketball, I wasn’t looking. I wasn’t looking. We had a wonderful thing going. What we did at Virginia Tech was very, very special. What we did, created a buzz for women’s basketball that is much needed and much deserved. I was extremely proud about that. Our fight, you know through those years, we needed to win basketball games. But we needed to bring awareness to women’s basketball. And I’m looking forward to that challenge here. I know Big Blue Nation is very passionate about their Wildcats. And I need each and every one of you and your efforts, your support, in many, many ways to make this happen here at Kentucky.

When I got to Virginia Tech, you know, I felt like it was a sleeping giant. And as I continued to research everything about Kentucky, I know the academics here are wonderful. I know that the fan base is very passionate. I know that resources will allow you to get to a level to where you can compete with anyone. I know it is in the rich history of the SEC and the SEC’s leadership and where it’s going, you want to be aligned with that to try to create something very, very special.

When I added all of that up, what I came up with is it’s going to be a sleeping giant that needs to be awakened. I am here and I’m going to come in here and we are going to work. As Mitch said, we are going to fight. We are going to develop. We are going to put a product out there that you are going to be very, very proud of. And I’m not just saying you are going to be proud of them in Memorial. But if you see them at Target. We have Target, right? Ok. If you see them at Kroger, wherever you see them. You’re going to be able to approach them and be very, very proud that they represent the University of Kentucky. And that is how you build a program. That is how you build awareness for women’s basketball that these young ladies need and deserve. And when we are able to get to that point, we are going to capitalize on it. I’m extremely excited to get to work. I cannot wait. I can see the young ladies in the second row and I’m looking forward to meeting each and every one of them to share our philosophies. Our philosophies is we are going to be a team. In this day and age, there are sometimes where there is a lot of individualism going on. But if you want to continue and you want to compete for championships. You need to be a great team. That starts with you, the fan, the support, each and every young lady that we bring in. They are going to have to be willing and able for sacrifices for each other. Celebrating each other’s successes. And to me, those are recipes for success. Those are things that we have done throughout my career. Going to James Madison, building that program. Going to Virginia Tech, building that program. We haven’t done it with one player or two players here and there. We have done it with team concept and that’s something we will definitely endorse here at Kentucky. In my opinion, it’s the only way to get it done in this day and age because it’s very, very competitive. The SEC is the best women’s basketball league in the country. It just got stronger with the additions that we just brought in.

I’m very, very excited to be with the leadership. I thank Mitch for this opportunity. He made it easy for me. Just being with him a short time, I felt the connection. I felt his passion for women’s sports in general, and for the women’s basketball program and where he wanted it to go. And I thought our philosophies aligned and it was something that had to be very, very special to me. President Capilouto, the opportunity for this is just magnificent. I really appreciate it. Rachel, I thank you for bringing in the video to get this ball rolling.

But I’m excited. A lot of people want to ask what is your philosophy going to be. Year to year we are going to be a team, we are going to be a team that you can be proud of. The style of play changes year to year with what type players that you have. What’s going to be your strengths and weaknesses, what are you going to work towards. We will evolve every year so that we can stay competitive and go out there and win.

We will have a winning attitude. And our expectations are to win. Obviously, I’m not going to disrespect the SEC and how powerful it is and we know that we have to do a lot of work to get to that point. You can’t just sprinkle magic dust on it and say hey, we are going to win a national championship. A lot of work has to go into it and we are willing to do that. And so, I would not be here if I did not think it was a wonderful opportunity and this is an extremely wonderful opportunity not only for the program, but for me and my family. We are looking very forward to just being embraced by the community. I am a family man. It is very, very important to me that my family is good and my family is okay because that is what we are going to spread throughout the program is family. We are going to make sure and go out and we represent extremely well.

This is an honor for me. I’m extremely excited about the new possibilities and what we are going to be able to do. And we are up for the challenge. We are up for the challenge. We know it’s not going to be easy. We need you. We need you. Big Blue nation. We need your support. Your passion. In each and every way. I would ask for your opinions, but I’m sure you got a lot. You can send them to Mitch. And I’m sure it will get to me somehow.

You are a big part of what we are going to do and we look forward to embracing you and I am very, very excited about this opportunity. Thank you very much. Come out and yell and please try to reach out to us. I think we are going to make you proud. You are going to be proud to be a Wildcat.

CAMI MOORE: Thanks, Coach Brooks. We will open it up to Q&A. If you don’t mind to raise your hand and we will bring a mic to you and please speak into that mic and speak your name and your outlet and we will go ahead and start with Larry – and then we will go to Caroline next.

Q: Coach, when you come to a situation like this. And you talk about construction. Does it start evaluating who you’ve got and talk to players about where you have been and talk to players and the players -, kind of walk me through how the process of putting your roster together.

KENNY BROOKS: I don’t know if there is a blueprint for today’s roster construction, or reconstruction or whatever you want to call it. I’m looking forward to sitting down with the young ladies and just talk about a lot of different things. The expectations. What they are looking for. Just getting to know them. I know a few of them and I recruited a couple of them and competed against a couple of them. We played Kentucky last year in the Bahamas. I’m very familiar with what they do. And so just really trying to align and see what their situations are. I’m looking forward to that. I know there is a lot of potential there. And obviously this day and age right now, there is a lot of movement going on. So I think it’s very, very important that I sit in front of them and be able to talk to them very soon.

Q: Coach, Caroline with the Lexington Hearld Leader. I am curious to hear your perspective on NIL and how you’re going to work with it and utilize it with the conversations you’ve had with administration in order to remain competitive in a league that has the past two national championships.

KENNY BROOKS: You said we only had 30 minutes to talk. Obviously, NIL is something that’s very, very important. I’ve had discussions, preliminary discussions and been able to express the importance of NIL. Obviously, this league is abundant with some teams with their NIL opportunities. I think if you are going to be competitive, you have to be in that category. You have to be in the ballpark. I don’t know if you have to be a leader in the ballpark, but you have to be in the ballpark and I think that is something that is very, very important. It has burst onto the scene and is kind of grown in the last couple of years. Trying to wrap your head around it. I think we are going to have multiple discussions about that situation. But I think it’s a necessity, I really do to be able to compete in the best league in the country. That’s where we are going to need a lot of people’s support in a lot of different ways. And I think that as we continue to educate ourselves on NIL and what it actually is and not what it was perceived to be a few years ago. I think it’s changed and I think the importance of it is well-documented now and is a necessity for you to be able to compete. I’m looking forward to those conversations, but it is something that is a high priority on our list.

Q: Hello coach, your former AD, the Virginia Tech AD had some very high praise on you about your player development. I was just wondering what set you apart for your player development.

KENNY BROOKS: When I was talking to Mitch early in the process, I told him I will go out and kiss babies and shake hands and do whatever you need me to do. Where I want to be is here. That is the most enjoyment that I get out of this is to be in the gym with our young ladies. And it has been the cornerstone of every program that I’ve had and everywhere we’ve been, we’ve been able to bring in young ladies who are willing and able to meet me halfway. You know, go above and beyond. And if so, you’re going to be able to reach your goals through hard work. I’ve never coached a McDonald’s All-American and this past year we had two AP all Americans on our team this year and it was through lots of hard work. We had the three-time ACC player of the year and I don’t know if she was the top 50 recruitment and it’s because of the hard work she put in and that has been the cornerstone of our program is development. Every coaching staff that I’ve had, we work tirelessly. I don’t think any time a kid has asked to come into the gym and work we haven’t been there. That comes from the top. That’s not my assistance that do it, I’m there. When I’m able to get out there with the kids and work, I know I’m older now and can only do half-court stuff. I can’t get up and down the floor. But I think I’m a pretty good teacher of individual skills and development. I’m down here with them and it’s not just a matter of, hey, I’ve have an assistant coach out there doing the work. I’m there with them and that helps build relationships. It helps build relationships and I get to know them each and every day. You know if you have kids, the longer you are around your children they will tell you anything they want to know. I think that really strengthens our relationships and our bond and trust and therefore when our kids go out they play really hard. That has been a staple and that won’t change. I think that is the way we can go out and compete. Also with the brand of Kentucky. I think you will be able to recruit a higher-level kid and to be able to take that and still build on it and I think it’s a recipe for success.

Q: Coach, John Huang, Nolan Media, welcome to Lexington. First of all, how would you like us to address you?

KENNY BROOKS: King. No – however you would like. I mean, I’ve been known as, if you say Coach Brooks I will turn around really, really quick and if you say Kenny, it might take me a couple of times to get me to go, whatever you like.

Q: Coach, Dawn Staley, has said on several occasions that Kentucky was a wonderful landing spot, great facilities, support, fan base, tradition. And yet it hasn’t had a whole lot of success to be measured in terms of Final Fours and championships. Why do you think that is the case?

KENNY BROOKS: You know, I don’t know. I don’t know. I know there have been several coaches before me. Kyra, I have the utmost respect for her and the job she did. She is a terrific person and I always supported her, she’s always supported me. Matthew Mitchell, I coached one game in Memorial and it was against Kentucky in the WNIT and I know they had success back then. And I just know what it can be. And I agree with Dawn. I’m really looking forward to seeing the city because everything that I hear it’s a wonderful city. Passionate fans. And you know, with all of the resources waiting to burst where you can capitalize on it. Now it is a very tough league. A very tough league. I understand that. I think if we get in and put in the work the skies the limit. Nobody thought we would go to the Final Four with Virginia Tech. The first year I was there we were preseason 14th in the ACC and I kind of stuck my foot in my mouth I thought and said you know, if Syracuse can go to the Final Four, why can’t we. The whole place erupted and I was like oh. But we got there. We got there with a lot of hard work. Countless hours in the gym. When people counted us out. I think this is a sleeping giant. It’s a great opportunity. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be here. I’m looking forward to getting in and hard work and I’m going to be knocking on everybody’s door. Just to make sure that we get the support that we need. Because if so, I think this can be a tremendous – tremendous opportunity.

Q: Coach, Oscar Woodall from Haywood Media and Radio Lex. You said you weren’t looking for a job – what was appealing? To take this job with the competition in the SEC?

KENNY BROOKS: There were a number of reasons. Obviously, at Virginia Tech’s – very, very comfortable just coming off of a Final Four appearance and ACC Championship and we won the ACC regular-season championship this year. I think we had eight or nine sellouts in a 9000 seat arena. You know, that’s living pretty well in women’s basketball. And the situation came and to be honest with you, the landscape of college athletics is changing. With the leadership of the SEC and where it’s going alongside with the Big Ten. You know, you kind of want to align yourself to be able to compete at the highest level year in and year out. I looked into all of those factors and just everything that it presented, the resources to be able to go out and compete consistently. And I just thought it was in my gut the right move. You know, I talked to my wife extensively about the situation. My family. Because they are most important to me and they were on board. And so I just thought it was a great opportunity. It is going to take something and it’s going to be something extremely special for me to move and I thought this was a great opportunity.

Q: Dylan Ballard, Sea of Blue. Coach Brooks, we saw Coach Calipari posted that he met you in the hallway earlier. How was that conversation with him and you talked about needing support from people and he said he would give you his in that area and how was that conversation and have you heard from other coaches around the athletic department yet?

KENNY BROOKS: Just briefly, I think I’ve met everybody and no one and I have not been able to keep it all in yet and I’m looking forward to coming around for round two. So I can meet everyone in depth. But obviously, Coach Cal, that’s the first time I ever met Coach Cal. I used to be an assistant coach on the men’s side for 10 years and so I know Bruiser Flint, Orlando Antigua and those guys and it’s good catching up with them. The interaction with Cal, I’m going to lean on him. And we do have newspapers everywhere, I know there’s been a lot going on with Coach Cal and his situation but he’s one of the best, one of the best in the country and I’m looking forward to picking his brain. Anything and everything about Kentucky Basketball. Because when we talk Kentucky basketball, it’s an umbrella that you want to be under. It’s a brand and I’m looking forward to capitalizing on it. Any sport that we are successful in here at Kentucky, you want to piggyback off of that. Because just great exposure. I’m looking forward to that. Coach Cal, it was a brief discussion introduction and I’m looking forward to picking his brain more.

Q: Coach, Tonia Witt, Rise Up Sports Media. You built a really strong fan base for women’s basketball at Virginia Tech. What’s your first order of business to build a strong fan base for women’s basketball at Kentucky.

KENNY BROOKS: Obviously, constructing the rest of the roster and bringing in young ladies who believe Kentucky wildcat basketball. I think you have to understand what you are representing and representing the name on the front and when you can do that, the pride will seek out and everyone will be attracted to that. We are looking forward to that. You have to get great, great players to make a great team. But I think you have to champion for the cause. When I was at Virginia Tech every chance I got I was talking about the opportunities that they deserved. I am a father of three daughters and I’ve often said being a father of three daughters, I wonder if it’s made me a pretty good women’s basketball coach or being a women’s basketball coach has made me a pretty good father of three daughters. Either way, it goes hand-in-hand and I understand them and respect them. I want to tool them so they can be ready to take over. Because I’ve often said, I coached on the boys side and the girls side and girls are smarter. And I’ve had opportunities to go back and had overtures to go back on the men’s side and I didn’t want to because I think this game is special. And you know, for any of the Internet trolls who want to say women’s basketball is not that exciting, you are not watching the right games. I’m looking forward to continuing that here because that is a cause of mine. I want them to really have every opportunity that they can. You know just like their counterparts. And we preached it and talked it and lived it and ate it we slept it at Virginia Tech and as a result we were selling out buildings with passionate crowds and the girls were able to reap the benefits and get the things they deserve.

Q: Ryan Black – Louisville Courrier Journal. You mentioned in your opening statement that you are not locked into one style offensively or defensively and can evolve based on personnel. Have you always been that flexible or has this been forced upon you because of just the unbelievable roster movement and transfer portal.

KENNY BROOKS: I’ve always been that way. One of the very first players that I coached was named Tamera Young who was a 6-foot-2 wing who ended up being from James Madison being the seventh pick in the draft. From there I went to a young lady named Dawn Evans who was a point guard. She was a 5-foot-6 nothing but averaged 26 points a game. And I go to Virginia Tech and my first year we don’t have a center playing in the ACC, we had to play small ball and then I recruit a 6-foot-6 center who becomes an All-American so obviously we are going to throw the ball inside every chance we get. And so it just evolves. I think you have to evolve as a coach. Now I think that I will be able to select the type of player more frequently than I want and not just surprisingly get one. Then you will have more consistency. I would be a fool if I had 6-foot-6 All-American and we will still jacking up 3s the only way we were going to play or if we were playing small ball and I tried to throw the ball inside every time. It is evolution of your roster and what you’re going to do. That keeps you on your toes. But obviously, in this landscape right now with ever-changing rosters you do have to be ready and flexible to move that way.

Q: Kenny, Mark Story from the Lexington Herald-Leader, Mike Babcock told me from Virginia Tech that you were really excited about Memorial Coliseum. How excited are you and what kind of impact is that going to have on this program?

KENNY BROOKS: Not sure if I would be here if it weren’t. In this day and age it matters. It really does. It’s an arms race sometimes for facilities. You have to have something really nice to be able to lure them in. I’m a firm believer, is not necessarily the building, it’s what’s in the building. But we need to be able to track it and kind of equate it. I use the analogy, when you go to buy a home and you walk into the new home you look at every nook and cranny. Do they have crown molding. What is the hardwood, is it carpet. After a month you don’t recognize that crown molding anymore. What’s inside the building is your family. What memories are you creating. And that is something that we will always continue to stress. It’s not the building, it’s what’s in the building. We want to put in a situation where these young ladies are going to be able to come, it’s not going to be just about basketball. It’s about life. We are educators. Sometimes the business part of it makes it a little foggy. It is my responsibility to educate these student athletes so they can go on. What they are doing right now is preparing these four years. Some who have a five. For the next 40 to 50 years of their life. What they determine here and how they get their work ethic is going to carry over to have a live in the next 40 to 50 years of their life. That is the most important thing. It was important for me to have something be able to track that type of player in here.

Q: Coach, you have some great assistant over the years, to name one, Shawn Poppie, who has a new opportunity now as well. When it comes to the types of people that you look for when building your staff. Can you talk to what you prioritize?

KENNY BROOKS: I very been very fortunate I’ve had nine assistant coaches to go on to be head coaches. That something very impressive to me just because we want to recruit, when you want to go out and try to recruit players. You want people to represent your program and make you proud. Coaching is the same thing. You want to get people in that are willing to sacrifice for the team. They’ve got 10 toes down and they are not worried about hey, I’m trying to get a job, I’m going to work hard and abide by the philosophy and spread that philosophy throughout. We are going to live it. I’m not going to be around all the time so to have trustworthy assistance who are really going to share the same message. I think that’s extremely important. But it was a really cool moment on the ticker the other night. Shawn Poppy was my assistant coach for four years at Virginia Tech and headed down to the head coach at Clemson and back to back said Kenny Brooks head coach at Kentucky and the next one said Sean Poppy and head coach at Clemson. It was on the same day. That’s a cool moment. I’ve always had great people around me who share the same philosophies and spread it, the same message. That’s how we’ve had that success with people going on. I think that has trickled down to the success of our program throughout my tenure.

Q: You mentioned academics. Not only did you mention it, you mentioned it first. That guy sitting beside you feels real strongly about that. Did he make you say that?

KENNY BROOKS: No, he did not.

Q: How do you feel academics fit into the world of college basketball?

KENNY BROOKS: My wife who sits there as an educator, as a teacher so when we watch Jeopardy she kicks my butt. Unless the sports part comes on and you know. At Virginia Tech, it was something that was extremely important to me. I think the last four or five semesters the kids had an average of 3.6 GPA. And I think a lot of it has to do with when we recruit young ladies, we stress that. That is something that is going to be very important to us because again, you are equipping yourself with tools right now and you have to get your degree. And it’s not just the actual GPA. Right? We want you to really go and press yourselves so that you can be great. If you are a 2.8 student. We want you to work harder so you are a 3.3 student and therefore that’s a work ethic that you are developing. We are very, very serious about it. We talk about it and we have meetings constantly about it and no one is going to just slip by. Because I think that’s really a weapon that you are going to take with you to the world that you are developing and that is what is extremely important to us.

Q: You played for the Hall of Famer Lefty Driesell and I was wondering, is there anything about your coaching style that you have taken from the coaching abilities.

KENNY BROOKS: Almost everything except for his demeanor. He was a stomper. And I remember when I first started playing for Lefty, he would call me and say Kenny, he would do like this. And I would run over there and in front of 6000 people he would rip me for about 3 to 5 to 10 seconds or like a minute. And about midway through the year he was stomping and he would call me over and I was ignoring him. My teammates would go coach is calling you. I would go, I hear him. But I’m not going over there. But seriously, that man did so much for me. He did so much for me. Gave me my first job coaching. My interview went just like this. He said call me. Kenny, do you want to coach. He said be here Monday. That was my first interview. I got there and I learned so much about the game. The game within the game. When I played for him I thought he was crazy. I really did. I did not know what he was doing to me. And then I learned he wasn’t doing anything to me, he was doing it for me. He taught me how to be a man, a husband, a father. He taught me how you incorporate at all into a program to be successful. Because he had his wife who he loved dearly. His family was always around. As I started to become a head coach, I wanted my family around. So many people told me that you can’t have your family around as much. They are a distraction. I watched him do it and I watched him hug on his wife and kiss on his wife and bring his family into everything. That is what I have been able to take away the most from that and he was special. I love him. He passed away not too long ago. And it really hurt, but it made me recollect on what he meant to me and I would not be here today if it wasn’t for him. I would not have the style today if it weren’t for him. I owe him so much and I was able to tell him that before he passed. After we went to the Final Four he called me and was so proud. When he got inducted into the Hall of Fame he had a situation and he said he was going, he said he was killing it. He had the whole place laughing. He said I had two former players who were now head coaches and he paused. He is about to say my name. He is about to say my name on the biggest stand in basketball and he didn’t. And then I called him and called him a week or two later and congratulated him. And he said Kenny, I meant to say your name in my speech but I forgot. And I said, you know what coach, I knew who you were talking about and that’s all that it meant. I’m forever indebted to that man and what he did for me. I have two pictures in my office that I will bring here. One was a picture of me and him and one was a letter that was so simple after the Final Four where he said, great job.

Q: Coach, you talked a little bit about your philosophy about in-state recruiting. There is a pretty potent Junior class here in Kentucky right now that may be does not have Kentucky on their final list right now. How do you kind of approach in-state recruiting?

KENNY BROOKS: Like I said, when you think about Kentucky, you think about basketball. We definitely understand the importance of keeping in-state players at home. We also understand the importance of fit. We will look at all of it and make sure it’s going to be a great fit. Because sometimes situations, some kids just want to get away. We’ve encountered that in the state of Virginia where we have recruited and we want to make sure everything’s going to be a good fit. We know it is a rich country with basketball. And we definitely are aware of the young ladies. We’ve actually been recruiting some of the young ladies to the point that we had conversations. We understand the importance of it and that’s going to be a priority for us but also be very important that we make sure everything is a good fit for our program.

Thank you guys very much. I look forward to seeing you all out.

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