Along with Brandon Robinson, one of the pieces Carolina was counting on to be a big part of the 2019-20 team, was junior forward Garrison Brooks. Brooks had earned the reputation as being the team’s best defender, as Roy Williams had often mentioned it during his first two seasons in Chapel Hill. With Armando Bacot joining him in the starting lineup, Brooks would still be able to do all the little things necessary to help the team find success, while Bacot would carry the load offensively. After an injury to Cole Anthony, and Bacot having a hard time adjusting to the college game, Brooks was forced to change the way he played. The result? We got to see a player, we never thought we’d see while in a Tar Heel uniform.
In the season opening win against Notre Dame, Brooks put together the type of performance he was being asked to do at that specific juncture. The junior from Lafayette, Alabama recorded 10 points on 4-7 shooting, while grabbing 9 rebounds and anchoring the defense. That production was thought of to be a formula for success, as the team found it’s identity after an off-season with endless turnover. In the next game, Brooks recorded his first of many double doubles, pouring in 18 points and hauling down 12 rebounds. When the team landed in the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis, Brooks put together his best performance to date as a Tar Heel against Alabama. The Crimson Tide simply had no answer for him, tying a career high with 20 points. Carolina would finish third in the prestigious holiday tournament, and Brooks finished the month of November averaging 12.8 points, and 8.2 rebounds.
In the month of December, where the season began its downward spiral, Brooks was a bright spot in a rough month. In an upset loss to Wofford, Garrison compiled 17 points & 12 rebounds. It was the first time all season the offense ran primarily through him, as injuries had depleted the back court. The thing that stood out was that Brooks looked comfortable being the primary option, and it appeared he was more than capable of sharing the scoring responsibilities. The Wofford game began a streak of 12 straight games in double figures scoring for Brooks, who despite the team losing 4 straight games was flourishing individually. As December came to a close his averages were 12.3 points & 9.6 rebounds.
When the calendar turned to 2020, Carolina had a great opportunity to build some momentum in ACC play, with 3 straight home games. Unfortunately they squandered that opportunity, losing all three in somewhat embarrassing fashion. Against Georgia Tech, Garrison Brooks scored a career best 35 points, almost willingly leading the team to a near comeback. Carolina lost 5 straight games to start the new year, despite Brooks’ recording monster double doubles in each contest. They ended a disastrous month with consecutive wins, the biggest at NC State, where Brooks joined a list of Tar Heels who’ve owned the Wolfpack. In a hostile PNC Arena, Brooks recorded 25 & 11, as the team had new life entering an important February.
Carolina started the month of January with 5 consecutive losses, and began the month of February with 7 straight defeats. Over the course of the losing streak, Garrison only recorded one double double, as he struggled adjusting to the return of Cole Anthony. Mired in the losing, Brooks had multiple games where he missed every free throw he attempted, that ultimately hindered the team from winning. To close out another frustrating month, Brooks 30 & 9 to once again doom the Wolfpack. He followed that up with 26 & 14 in a win at Syracuse.
March was looking up for the Tar Heels, who behind Brooks were easily playing their best basketball of the season. He scored 25 on Senior Night to lift the team past Wake Forest. At Duke he scored 26, in a gutsy effort. He was in the process of scoring 20 or more points in 7 straight contests, the first person to do so since Tyler Hansbrough. In Greensboro, he scored 20 points in a win over Virginia Tech. The next night he was one of the only Tar Heels’ to show up, scoring 18 points in a season ending defeat to Syracuse.
Garrison has already announced his decision to return for his senior season, where he’ll likely be an pre-season ACC and All-American candidate, after having being named the ACC's Most Improved Player. It’s hard to imagine him growing his game even more over the summer, but with him back in the fold, Carolina should return to national prominence once again.