Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography, SIU Ahtletics, and Richard Svaleson
ESPN analyst and former “Fab-Five” member Jalen Rose has a theory. Rose believes the proper fit for a college basketball player entering the NBA is just as important as the player’s skill set. Even the best players don’t reach their full-potential because the environment doesn’t help the player grow. Talent is everywhere, but the most important question becomes: Does the player and the program mesh, professionally or collegiately?
Junior Brooke LeMar has always been a star. In high school at Canyon Country, Calif., in the Northwest region of Los Angeles County, LeMar was brilliant. Her senior year, she was named the Foothills League MVP, named to several all-region teams and led Canyon to their first league championship in 36 years.
The accolades continued when ESPN Hoopgurlz ranked LeMar one of the Top-100 guards in America. Southern Illinois agreed, offering LeMar a scholarship her senior year.
A season prior to LeMar’s arrival to Carbondale, the Salukis finished 8th in the Missouri Valley Conference, with only four conference wins and in dire need of a leader.
The day LeMar stepped foot on campus, she began to leave her mark on the basketball program. In LeMar’s freshmen season, she started all but two games, leading the team in minutes played and assists with 135, good enough to ink her name into eighth place on the all-time single-season assists list at SIU.
The team saw minimal improvement in the win column, but the fit was perfect for both LeMar and SIU. The team named LeMar the lone captain entering her sophomore season, but by time the following January came around, the promising fit began to give way.
As her minutes and production dropped, LeMar lost her captainship and was in need of a change of scenery only a year and a half into her college career. LeMar left the Salukis’ program following her sophomore season and became the college equivalent of a free-agent in the summer of 2012.
“At the time, I was at home in California sending out my release from there, because I had no idea where I was going,” LeMar said. “My dad – I don’t know why he thought of North Dakota State, but he did, so he sent them my highlight film.”
The Bison basketball program was in a unique situation. With juniors Katie Birkel, Dani DeGagne and Hannah Linz entering their final season, the Bison needed a successor at the guard position. That’s when they saw LeMar for the first time.
“We watched anywhere from 100-200 clips of Brooke and we decided ‘Okay, we need to go right now on this kid,’” head coach Carolyn DeHoff said.
From there, DeHoff contacted LeMar and invited her to visit the Fargo during a basketball camp, and that’s where LeMar hit it off with her future teammates.
“It felt like I’ve known them forever,” LeMar said. “I was just so comfortable around them and they were just really easy to get along with.”
Just like that, the talented LeMar had found the fit that would allow her to reboot her hopeful career. Sitting out her NCAA required transfer year, LeMar got the opportunity to perfect her skills and got the opportunity to learn from one of the greatest point guards in Bison history.
“I guess she’s certainly meeting what we felt we needed from that position after the graduation of Katie Birkel,” DeHoff explained. “…Your point position is your quarterback, putting those kids in that position, so that’s probably the greatest thing. She has exceeded what expectations she had at this point of the season.”
With the perfect fit finally found at NDSU, the gifted LeMar is playing the best basketball of her career and is focused on her mission of leading the young Bison team to a possible Cinderella story this March.
As far as Rose’s theory goes, LeMar will refuse to let herself become the unfortunate talent that never found her fit.
More on LeMar…
Coach DeHoff Assessment:
Brooke LeMar’s impact on the team…
- “Katie Birkel was fast. Brooke LeMar is FAST…She is definitely going to force us to be faster.”
- “She’s really tight with her handles and is a really good decision maker, too.”
- “I think a far greater thing is they (the team) saw the work ethic Brooke LeMar had, not just in practice, but outside of practice.”
- “I don’t think there was a day, and if there was, it’s because she was in home in California or off visiting friends, that she wasn’t in the gym, shooting.”
Brooke LeMar’s effect on recruiting…
- “If you’re doing what you’re doing and showing the success that she is having and then the success of the players around her are having, then the number speak for themselves.”
- “We have been able to fit her in our system around what she is able to do and we have certainly been selling that.”
- Coached LeMar at Canyon High School and FBC (Finest Basketball Club)
- Currently an assistant coach at Mt. San Antonio College (Walnut, Calif.)
What kind of player do you remember LeMar being?
“She was always a transition, push-the-tempo style of guard. More because of her quickness and her ability to get in the gaps, she found people if they were open. Because her quickness she was able to exploit people’s weakness.”
What kind of advice have you given LeMar when she talked to you about coaching down the road?
“I told her we all played, but one thing you want to do is, you want to get better at understanding the game fully because when it comes to being a player you look at the game differently than being a coach. …When you understand the game outside of being a player that’s when you become more knowledgeable of the game. She has taken into that. And I think she will be a very, very good coach because she has a fiery spirit, a lot of passion for the game and at the same time, it’s calm enough to express it and teach it and I think that’s where she will be successful.”