When the opportunity arose, he jumped at it.
LaGrange High graduate Bernard Brooks received word during the spring that a basketball team in El Salvador was looking to add an American player to its roster.
A teammate of Brooks’ from his time playing basketball at New York Tech was the one who let him know about it.
“My friend from college he called and said do you want to go play overseas?,” Brooks said. “I was like, yeah.”
Brooks provided a highlight video to the team in El Salvador, and they were impressed enough to offer him a spot on the team.
“I sent them a highlight tape, so they liked what they saw, and they sent me the contract over email,” Brooks said.
Brooks didn’t hesitate.
“It was easy,” Brooks said of the decision. “It was something I always wanted to do. It was one of my dreams to play ball internationally.”
So early in April, Brooks boarded a plane for South America to begin his journey.
It was a two-month season, and Brooks excelled, averaging 12 points and seven rebounds per game.
The team will play another short season beginning in September, and Brooks is hoping to have the chance to go back.
“(The coach) asked me if I wanted to come back. He’s going to stay in touch with me. He told me to stay ready,” Brooks said. “There’s a good possibility I’m coming back.”
The few months spent in El Salvador was part of a basketball journey for Brooks that has gone from LaGrange, to Nebraska, to New York, to Columbus where he played for a club team, and then to South America.
He began his college career at Southeast Community College in Nebraska, and he transferred to New York Tech for his final two seasons of college basketball.
After earning his bachelor’s degree from New York Tech, Brooks returned home, and he was able to keep playing basketball with the Road Runners, a club team based in Columbus.
Brooks kept working hard, kept trying to improve his game, all with the hope that he’d get the chance to play pro basketball.
That opportunity came, and Brooks was ready for it, at least the basketball part of it anyway.
There were obviously some adjustments to make in other areas.
He was in a part of the world he’d never been to, and the people spoke a language he was unfamiliar with.
Brooks couldn’t even talk to his coach, although that didn’t turn out to be too much of an issue.
“My coach didn’t speak English,” Brooks said. “Some of my teammates spoke English a little bit. A lot of time my coach would say something, and I’d be like, what did he say? They would say, just do this, or don’t worry about it. A lot of times I’d be on the court just playing how I wanted to play. He basically gave me the green light to do whatever I wanted to do.”
Brooks said it didn’t take him too long to feel comfortable in his new home, and it probably helped since he was able to get a cheeseburger whenever he wanted.
“They had McDonald’s, Burger King, all of the basic restaurants they have here,” Brooks said.
He also enjoyed the fact that the basketball players in his community were extremely popular.
“I took pictures with so many people,” Brooks said. “They just come up to me after the game. They’ll ask me for an autograph, or for a photo. It was great.”
Brooks got to enjoy a lot of success on the court.
One of the best moments came when Brooks’ team beat the squad that has dominated the league over the years.
“My team was the only one to beat the number one team,” Brooks said. “The team we beat, they won the championship seven years straight. We beat them in the regular season, but they won the championship again.”
Brooks’ performance helped him earn a spot on an all-star team made up of players in the El Salvador league from different countries.
The team played the national teams from El Salvador, Colombia and Cuba.
“It was a good experience,” Brooks said.
Mark Veal, an assistant coach at LaGrange High, has kept close tabs on Brooks over the years.
Veal said everything hasn’t always gone smoothly for Brooks, but he has always hung in there and made the best of his situations.
“Bernard, he’s gone through wins, losses, not playing a lot,” Veal said. “He went through some spells where he wasn’t playing, where he got frustrated. A lot of times, kids will just quit. But there’s no guarantee you’ll get that opportunity again. He’s stuck it out. He got his degree.”
Veal has coached hundreds of players over the years, and he’s happy to see Brooks do so well.
“He is by far one of the greatest success stories we’ve had come through here,” Veal said.