Kenny Brooks was a point guard for the James Madison men’s basketball team.
Brooks later served as a JMU assistant coach, first with the men and then with the women, before spending 14 years as the JMU women’s basketball head coach.
He was even married on the JMU campus.
Brooks will be back at JMU on Thursday — reluctantly.
Brooks is in his third season as the women’s basketball coach at Virginia Tech, which will visit JMU at 7 p.m. in the round of 16 of the WNIT.
“Going back so soon is not something that I particularly wanted,” Brooks said Wednesday in a phone interview. “It’s tough.
“I played there for four years, and it was always electric when we had Lefty [Driesell as the coach] there. Then to coach there on the men’s side, and be the women’s coach and build a program and build it back to where it was when [former JMU coach] Shelia Moorman had it, that’s a very fond memory.
“Having to go back in there and compete against what … you helped build … it’s always going to be tough.”
Brooks coached and/or recruited many of the current JMU players. JMU head coach Sean O’Regan spent nine years as one of Brooks’ assistants with the Dukes.
“It’s so much so soon,” Brooks said. “His starting lineup, I think I recruited all of them with the exception of one kid.
“When you love a place, when it means so much to you, it’s not natural that you want to go back and compete against it. I have a fondness for the university. I have a fondness for the program. There’s a lot of friends that I have up there. … The last thing you want to do is go back there and try to compete against it.”
O’Regan and Brooks keep in touch. They spoke on Tuesday.
“He’s always been there for me when I’ve needed him,” O’Regan said. “He’s been a great mentor for me.”
This will be the first time Brooks has faced JMU since taking the Hokies’ reins.
“The toughest part about it is everything leading up to it,” he said. “Once they tip the basketball, then we can get back to normalcy. It’s just everything leading up to it — the nostalgic moments that I’m going to have. We’re going up to the Convo [on Wednesday night] to practice. Or just being in the city [of Harrisonburg]. Coming out before pregame. That’s probably going to be the harder parts.”
The game will be held at the Convocation Center, where Brooks played and coached.
“You’ve got to play in an arena that I have so many fond memories of,” he said. “Being the opponent in that arena is going to be a little bit different.”
Brooks won 337 games with the Dukes, leading them to six NCAA tournament bids and five WNIT berths.
“We didn’t just walk into it where it was already made and we were a great program. We had to build it back up,” Brooks said. “When you leave a situation like that, there’s always going to be some emotional attachment.”
Some of Brooks’ former JMU players have texted him about Thursday’s game.
“They tell me they love me and they’ll be rooting for me but they’ll also be rooting for JMU,” Brooks said.
The Dukes (27-5), who won the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season title with a 17-1 league mark, were one of the first four teams left out of the NCAA tournament.
“I’m sure they’ll be pumped up, … not only to play against a BCS road that’s right down the road, but also I can’t help but think that the fact that I’m coming back will give them a little bit more juice,” Brooks said.
“The biggest thing is just making sure we’re locked in and ready to play in a tough environment.”