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Gunning, Grades Take Don Brotz to Big Ten Team

April 02, 1987|DICK WAGNER | Times Staff Writer

The driveway is in Los Altos, but could be anywhere. The time is now, but could be the 1950s or '60s. Atop the garage is a backboard whose hoop is being bent farther down by the dunk shots of a tall short-haired youth just home from school.

And because Don Brotz can shoot from afar too--from the driveway next door or the shade where the sidewalk bisects his front lawn--he is winning a game of H-O-R-S-E with a friend.

The bouncing and rattling disturb the 3 p.m. peace, but no neighbors peek from windows. They would be used to these sounds and would know that that Brotz boy, who they saw grow taller year by year, was out there again, playing the game he loves.

Brotz does not have much time left on his driveway court. His success as a basketball player and student at Wilson High School in Long Beach have earned him a scholarship to Northwestern University.

"He can shoot, can't he," Northwestern Coach Bill Foster said by telephone from Evanston, Ill. "That's what originally caught our eye."

Player of the Year Second Time

Brotz, 6-feet-5 and 190 pounds, was a three-year starting forward at Wilson. He averaged 21 points a game this season and for the second straight time was named the Moore League Player of the Year. He also has a 3.5 grade-point average.

"He comes straight home from school and hits the books," said Brotz's older sister, Tracey. "No one's ever had to push him."

Brotz's GPA was as eye-catching as his jump shot to Foster because Northwestern, academically renowned, has strict admission standards that premiere athletes often cannot meet.

It was that emphasis on academics--100% of the Northwestern basketball players graduate--that helped tip the balance when Brotz made his selection from the many colleges and universities that had sought him. He had received letters from about 150 colleges. In his scrapbook, along with snapshots of him dunking in the driveway through the years, is a photo of the recruiting letters almost covering his living room floor.

Wanted a Big Ten School

"I wanted to play for a Big Ten school," Brotz said. "They have a lot of good players, and I want to play against the best."

It came down to Northwestern and another Big Ten school, Purdue.

Northwestern "came in talking academics mostly," said Brotz, who scrutinized the universities he was most considering. "I get, 'Why are you going to Northwestern?' a lot," Brotz said. "Or, 'You could have gone to Purdue, they go to the NCAA Tournament.' "

Brotz, who signed with Northwestern in November, had made a chart on which he listed pluses and minuses for each school. The categories included academics, climate, coach, players, freshman playing time, facilities and tutoring. Northwestern scored the best in most of the categories. The only negative was the climate, but Brotz said that was offset by the beauty of the Lake Michigan campus.

Foster also was a factor.

"He seemed like a nice guy, someone you'd want to play for," Brotz said. "And he impressed my mom a lot."

No Second Thoughts About Choice

Brotz's mother, Gloria, is a nurse. His father left the family when Brotz was 5.

"I think (Foster) was honest," Gloria said of the coach. "I didn't think some of them were sincere. He cares about the boys and not just about basketball."

Brotz, who will study communications at Northwestern, has no second thoughts about his decision.

"I think some guys make the wrong choice," he said. "They choose a school just because of the (recruiting) trip. They don't sit down and decide what's best for them. They don't look at the future. You're not going to develop sitting on the bench for two years."

Foster said Brotz will have a chance to contribute immediately, probably as a guard.

"We can use that shooting," he said, pointing out that how much Brotz plays "will depend on his defense and ball handling. Brotz believes he must improve in both categories.

'He Can Dominate a Game'

It is with a trace of sadness that Wilson Coach Jim Ferguson discusses Brotz.

"I don't think it will sink in (that Brotz is gone) until we have to take the court next year without him," Ferguson said. "He's one of the top 10 players in California, no coach will argue with that. When he has everything going, he can dominate a game."

Brotz's devotion to the sport is unquestioned.

"He loves the game, works extra hard at it and is still hungry to improve," Ferguson said. "You call his home at night and he's out playing basketball."

Last season, before a playoff game, Brotz spent three hours playing pickup games in a gym, which didn't please Ferguson. "I was just playing," Brotz said. "I wasn't thinking that I could hurt myself."

Injury Kept Him From Setting Record

Brotz finished his high school career as the second-leading scorer in Wilson history with 1,074 points. Had he not missed five games this season because of injury, he likely would have passed John Sagehorn, who scored 1,095.

Brotz is aware that he is not going to a basketball power, "but with work we can build it up."

In the last 25 seasons, Northwestern has a 231-407 record. But Foster, in his second season with the Wildcats, successfully rebuilt programs at Utah, Rutgers, Duke and South Carolina. Brotz is his first recruiting prize.

"You need three-point shooters," Foster said. "We think he can develop into a fine, all-around player. We're delighted. He's a nice young man."

And so Brotz continues to prepare, although there seems to be a question of whether the garage basket can survive.

"I've broken about four of them," Brotz said, a 17-year-old for all driveways and eras. And he dunked again.

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