Bart Brooks is currently in his second year as head coach at Belmont University. In his inaugural season, he guided the Bruins to a 31-4 record, a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance, and he was the WBCA’s Spalding Maggie Dixon Coach of the Year.
A University of Wyoming graduate, Brooks began his coaching career at Barry University in Florida, where he also earned a master’s degree in sports management. He spent 11 seasons at DePaul as an assistant coach for Doug Bruno, during which time he helped coach six WNBA draft picks. The Blue Demons made an NCAA appearance every year Brooks was there.
Wife Charlene is a former professional basketball player, and together they have two sons, Trey and Tyler.
For you, basketball does indeed seem to be life. How did you come to love the sport, and how did you begin coaching women?
I think I started loving it when I was really young, first grade. We would see basketball on TV, watching the UNLV Running Rebels, and I fell in love with the game. I loved watching it. As a player I had a knack for making baskets. As I grew older, I also loved football and rodeo.
I played at an NAIA school for two years – Dickinson State University – and when I tore my ACL in the spring of my sophomore year, it changed my track a little bit. There was a six-month period where I wanted to be a physical therapist instead of a coach, and I transferred to Wyoming to finish my college years. One day I went into the men’s basketball office and asked if they needed help, and they said they had plenty of staff. So I went across the hall to the women’s basketball office and asked the same thing. (Coach) Joe Legerski had just been hired, and they welcomed me with open arms. I’ve been coaching women ever since.
Coaches have different philosophies about how the game should be played. How do you approach it?
I think basketball is the ultimate team game in that all five players have value and have a role on the floor. I think the best teams and the best basketball to watch is when everyone shares the ball, open people shoot the ball, when you’re guarded, you pass. It’s more fun to play that way. There’s an element that I want my players to have, and that’s freedom. I’m not trying to handcuff them into a certain style of play; I want them to play to their strengths. It’s interesting in taking over a program where they were really good when I got here, but in a different way. They had been in a program where everything was set and everything was called. Learning how to play to their strengths was a challenge for some of them.
You took over the Belmont program last year and guided the team through a winning season. How did that come together for all of you?
Coach Cam Newbauer put that team together and did an incredible job of fitting everyone well together. I put them in positions to do what they do well, so that eventually I could sit back and watch the show. I never felt like this was easy. I’ve been playing against coaches who have been doing this for along time, and now I have a new respect for everyone who’s who has years in the game. I’ve been bringing in some new stuff, they’re sharing the ball, and they want to play fast and free. But the strength of our team was that we were better if we played five on five instead of playing slower than we like.
What are some of the key concepts that you learned from Doug Bruno during your years at DePaul?
One thing is confidence, and coach Bruno has always made his players feel like they were even better than they were. We’d be in warmups looking at the other team wondering how we’d make a basket, and then we’d go out and beat them by 30 because we played with confidence and swag. Practice was hard, but he gave them an unbelievable amount of freedom. I hope my players are as confident as his.
At what point did you feel ready to take on a head coaching position?
I’m still not sure if I’m ready. I had always wanted to be a head coach, but I was very happy at DePaul. Coach Bruno called me from the Final Four in Dallas to tell me the Belmont job was open. I had never thought about that. My wife had graduated from DePaul and played for Bruno. I did research on Belmont and decided that I could win there, and that I wouldn’t have to sacrifice recruiting the right kinds of kids. It was the right thing for me and my family. I thought, this could be my shot, so I went for it.
Your wife played professional basketball for a while. How much basketball do you talk about at home?
She played for five years in Turkey and Spain, and she is an unbelievable benefit to me. She doesn’t talk X’s and O’s with me; what she does is offer a player’s perspective, because she lived and died as a player. I’ll come home sometimes and my hair will be on fire fro practice, and she’ll talk me down from a ledge. She keeps me centered, and she helps me realize what these young ladies are going through.
You and Charlene named your son Trey, in reference to the three-point shot. Have you introduced him to basketball yet? Other sports?
He is all about basketball; he loves it, every part. He is so dialed in with basketball that he pushes it on us.
I usually do the “fun” question last, but what do you and your family do for fun, i.e. is it basketball-related?
In season it is. If the men are playing we’ll go watch a game, and our little guys love it. But if we have a day off we go to the park go to the zoo. We love getting outside with our little guys.
What do you want the experience to be for your student-athletes when they come to play for you?
Nothing short of life-changing. I really want our student-athletes to be challenged in four areas: basketball, academics, social interactions with the community and city, and spiritually. We went on a mission trip in Rio, and there was no basketball. There’s so much that goes into our program that’s outside of basketball, and my job as a coach is to squeeze out every ounce of talent in all of those areas. These young ladies are so talented, and it’s amazing how many come in and don’t maximize their talent as much as they could.
What are your short and long-term goals for Belmont? And for your career?
When I look at what our program is, we have an unbelievable campus and facility, in the vibrant city of Nashville, at our fingertips. It’s everything you could want in a college location. When I’m dreaming, I’m not dreaming little stuff. I get that we need to win an NCAA Tournament game, but from what this program can be, we’re fearless about who we recruit, and we recruit against Power 5 schools. We want to be relevant every year. I have to be unabashed about who we recruit and who we schedule. We have a better schedule than last year. Gonzaga is a good example of a model school to follow.
I love Belmont and I am so happy coaching the kids I get to coach everyday. I love my team, I’m happy to coach them, and I’m really really happy here. I don’t know what else is in store.
If you could tell your younger self anything, knowing what you do now, what would it be?
I would say, pay more attention to everything that happens in practice with coach Bruno. What did he used to do? There’s so much more to know, so I’d say, write stuff down and don’t assume you’ll remember.
What do you want your legacy to be?
That’s a hard one. I’ve never thought about my legacy. I’d like everyone who’s played for me to look back and know that I cared about them and know that I love them, even though playing for me wasn’t always easy. Hopefully they would know they were better for it. I want our program to be known as the best of both worlds, that we do it on and off the floor. I strive to meet that balance.