The day after Jon Brockman committed to the Washington Huskies, I read an article hyping his signing to an unfair degree. Brockman, out of Snohomish High School, was supposed to be The Next Big Thing. He was going to take a blossoming Washington ballclub to the next level. He would immediately step in, team up with the likes of Brandon Roy, Bobby Jones, Mike Jensen, and Jamaal Williams — a core group of seniors — and help lead the Dawgs deep into the NCAA Tournament. Brockman was the local prodigy who spurned Duke, a 6’7″ beast of a young man who would not only meet the lofty expectations placed on his bulky shoulders, but exceed them.
In his first year, the spotlight on Brockman shone brightly. The freshman took his fair share of scrutiny, however. He made the starting lineup, but he wasn’t a scorer. He didn’t put up double-digits the way he did at Snohomish, he wasn’t displaying the hops that got him into the McDonald’s All-American Slam Dunk Contest, he wasn’t superhuman, he was just another guy. Brockman appeared content to defer to the veterans around him. By midseason he was a role player, a solid contributor on a team laden with superstars. He chipped him and help the Dawgs reach the Sweet 16, where they lost in the final minute to a powerful Connecticut team.
The expectations reemerged for Brockman’s sophomore campaign. His freshman year was good, but not great. Jon Brockman was supposed to be great, they said. He was the kid who turned down Mike Krzyzewski, after all, a five-star recruit, The Next Big Thing. But again, in his second year, he wasn’t the main attraction. This time, #40 took a back seat to his close friend, freshman Spencer Hawes. Hawes was The Next Next Big Thing, a one-and-done who would get a year of practice under his belt at UW before heading off to greener pastures in the NBA. Surely Brockman and Hawes, buddies who teamed up in the AAU ranks, could lead this team to a National Championship. For a second consecutive year, however, Brockman’s Dawgs proved fallable. They failed to make the postseason, let alone the NCAA Tournament. Brockman improved, but he still wasn’t quite there. The expectations were threatening to go unmet. Fans murmured, experts questioned, and doubts arose. Would Brockman ever be THE guy?
And then he was all alone. Following Brockman’s freshman year, four key seniors had graduated. Following his sophomore season, the one-and-done Hawes had found his way into the NBA Draft Lottery. Suddenly, this was Jon Brockman’s team. He was the face of the program, and the expectations had all but disappeared. The national spotlight had dimmed. No one talked about Jon Brockman. No one talked about the Washington Huskies. This was a middle-of-the-road Pac-10 ballclub with an outside chance at the postseason. Amidst the Tyler Hansbroughs and Kevin Loves of the world, Brockman and his team were an afterthought, on no one’s radar.
And then the real Jon Brockman stood up. In his junior year, Brockman averaged a double-double. Recording 17.8 PPG to go along with 11.6 RPG, the third-year Husky became the unquestioned leader of a pack he was destined to lead. But as one of only two double-figures scorers on a mediocre ballclub, #40 couldn’t lead his team to the promised land. Trying his damndest, Brockman managed to lug his Dawgs into the inaugural College Basketball Invitational, a brand new postseason tournament that took a back seat to the more renowed NIT and NCAA Tourneys. There, the 1-seed Huskies fell to a less-talented 8-seed Valparaiso team. A disappointing end to a disappointing season.
Though 2007-2008 ended in forgettable fashion, 2008-2009 was a brand new year. Met with tepid optimism, the Dawgs were projected to be average. Not bad, but not great either. There were questions about their durability, their free-throw shooting, their ability to play on the road. The only definite was Jon Brockman. The fourth-year power forward was the Huskies. He had a supporting cast, but ultimately Washington went as Brockman went. Not surprisingly, Jon Brockman went a long way. And so did his Huskies.
The veteran, who had come so far since a quiet freshman season, loudly enforced his will on the rest of the Pac-10. He scored when he needed to, deferred to a backcourt of scorers when it seemed right, and grabbed rebounds like a machine. With each passing game, Jon Brockman was the rock that took to the floor no matter the circumstance. He led his ballclub all the way to their first outright Pac-10 championship in 56 years, far exceeding the preseason prognostications. He led them into the Big Dance for the second time in his career, to a #4 seed, to nearby Portland for first- and second-round games. He led them to victory over a Mississippi State team that was supposed to dominate on the interior, thanks in large part to the great and powerful Jarvis Varnado, the best forward in college basketball that no one talked about….that is, besides Jon Brockman. He led them into battle against a gritty Purdue team, and then unexpectedly, surprisingly, sadly, it was over.
The Huskies lost to Purdue. Jon Brockman’s Huskies were no longer. Jon Brockman was officially an alumni of the University of Washington basketball program. And it was a shock. He used to be the next big thing. He was at one time the kid who politely declined the advances of Duke University. He was going to take us to a National Championship.
Jon Brockman never lived up to the impossible expectations placed upon him because they were just that, impossible. He wasn’t superhuman, he was human. His teams ran into roadblocks, they peaked at the wrong times, they dipped at the wrong times, but through it all one thing remained steady: Jon Brockman. Even when his team was down, Brockman still stood tall. He left his heart on the court, played every game like it was his last, and gave 100% of himself to the name on the front of his jersey. Jon Brockman wasn’t all the labels that people placed upon him, but he was Jon Brockman. And in the end, that’s all we really needed.