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Kenny Brooks’ vision carries Virginia Tech to first Final Four

Kenny Brooks has led Virginia Tech to the first Final Four in school history. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Reaching the first Final Four in school history required buy-in at Virginia Tech. With a coach like Kenny Brooks, that wasn’t a hard sell.

“It means everything. It’s exactly what I came for, honestly,” senior guard Kayana Traylor said after Monday’s Elite Eight win over Ohio State. “We just really bought into what Coach Brooks was already building here, to be honest, as far as culture and everything like that and just led us here.”

Senior forward D’Asia Gregg echoed those sentiments, saying that she “wanted to be a part of something that’s big.”

“I saw what he was building. I just bought into the program,” Gregg said, noting that while she didn’t play her first year, she didn’t let that deter her. “I just kept my head down, just kept working, didn’t let that discourage me. It just pushed me to go harder and to play for my teammates.”

Brooks came to Virginia Tech in 2016. In his seventh season, he has turned the program into a powerhouse.

“The places that he’s taken [the program] compared to where it was at when he inherited it is just insane,” star senior center Elizabeth Kitley said. “I’m just so happy to be a part of that and to be able to witness all the hard work that he puts into us and the coaching staff and everything.

“He just has crafted everything and stuck by his vision and what he wanted no matter what other people had to say or whatever and I think that’s so valuable in a leader and we wouldn’t be where we are without that mindset from him.”

The decision to leave James Madison, Brooks’ alma mater and the team he coached from 2003 to 2016, was difficult. But he knew he needed to see what he could do “against the best,” he said.

And in the seven seasons since he arrived in Blacksburg, Brooks has brought the Hokies to new heights.

The love that fans and players have for the coach is palpable, as evidenced by the cheers for Brooks as he cut down the net. He’s also received support from fellow coaches, including Dawn Staley, as one of the few Black men coaching in the women’s game.

“When Dawn said that, it was everything. It meant everything because there’s some rhetoric out there that men don’t belong,” Brooks said. “I think we fought so hard to get to this point where we’re not talking about race, we’re not talking about gender, and when people won’t give you an opportunity because of your race, I don’t think that we’ve gotten where we need to get to.

“So I did hear that and when I heard it, I mean, I wanted to stand up and applaud her because she is the face of women’s basketball right now. For her to be able to say that, it gives me credence, it gives me credibility that I can echo the same sentiment because I do think — and eventually what we want to get to in a women’s game is to get the best people.”