As tipoff for the UCLA women’s basketball game against Utah approached, the lights shut off and Pauley Pavilion went dark. Then, as a deep bass note sounded, a light from the video screen broke the gloom. The camera panned across the UCLA women’s basketball team as each player gave the crowd her most intimidating glare. As the music crescendoed and the introduction video concluded, the words “All in” appeared on the screen. The team’s slogan perfectly describes walk-on sophomore guard Madeline Brooks.
Coach Cori Close preaches a team-first attitude to her players and believes no one embodies that idea more than Brooks, whose constant energy on the bench helps fuel the team.
“At the bottom of coach Wooden’s pyramid, team spirit is such a big thing and enthusiasm and friendship. That’s the foundational building of competitive greatness,” Close said.
“People like Madeline value that so much. Not only does she model it, but she inspires other people to pursue those things.”
While Brooks’ walk-on status puts her at the bottom of UCLA’s minutes-played category, she is one of the team’s leaders in hard work. This combination has had a powerful impact on her teammates.
“I think the other players, when another player broadens their vision outside of themselves and you have that constant reminder of someone else that’s working just as hard as you for half the rewards, it’s inspiring and it makes you want to be your best,” Close said.
For all the benefits she gives her team, Brooks getting the opportunity to join the team nearly didn’t happen. Traditionally, Close has not wanted walk-ons on her teams, but Brooks was able to convince her to make an exception.
“She pretty much had a list of why I would be a fool to pass her up. She said, ‘I’ll be a leader behind closed doors when the coaches aren’t there, I’ll do whatever it takes, I’ll be on the scout team, I’ll be your hardest worker, I don’t care if I never get rewarded.’ It was just all the attitude things that you know are so essential for a team to really gel,” Close said.
Taking on this role quickly earned Brooks her teammates’ respect.
“When you know someone is going to be a walk-on, the sacrifices of that role … that’s almost automatic respect. No one wants to do that type of stuff willingly, but when you know you’re going to be put in that role, you’re going to respect someone for having a good attitude about it,” said junior guard Thea Lemberger.
While her attitude impresses her teammates, maintaining positivity can be difficult for Brooks at times.
“It’s tough, but if I have the mindset to keep my team before myself, I can sacrifice that feeling,” Brooks said.
That sacrifice has a huge influence on keeping her teammates’ energy and motivation up through difficult times.
“Here you have a tough day, and here’s Maddie doing extra running on the side and then she’s on the scout team and she gets half as many reps as everyone else and she’s more enthusiastic than everyone else. I mean, how do you argue with that?” Close said.
Brooks’ lack of reps in practice mirrors her limited playing time in games. She rarely gets a chance to play, except in the final minutes of blowout wins. In fact, she has played just 21 minutes all season in UCLA’s 23 games.
“Of course I’m a competitor and I want to play and I want to win, but at the same time I’m blessed with the opportunity to be where I am and the team I’m on and that’s the role I’m playing and that’s what I need to be content in,” Brooks said.
“So whether I’m playing 40 minutes or whether I’m playing none … I’m just doing the best I can with what I’ve been given.”
With 6:01 left in the game against Utah and the Bruins up 29, Brooks stepped to the scorer’s table and entered the game, a smile working its way across her face. But the moment the whistle blew and play resumed, the smile was gone, replaced by stony seriousness.
“She’s got this great balance of joy and energy and fun, spirit and then drive and work ethic and seriousness,” Close said.
That demeanor has allowed her to handle the challenges that come with her role on the team.
“It’s not an easy role. It’s not always a fun role, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else,” Brooks said.
And neither would the Bruins.
“There would be an incredible void if Madeline Brooks wasn’t on our team,” Close said.
“In every sense of the word, she’s a Bruin. There’s no second-class Bruins. When you put that jersey on across that chest that reads UCLA, there’s something special to it and she’s earned every single letter.”
Contact Kevin Bowman at [email protected]