'Dwight always had that smile'

Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard, right, talks with Magic general manager Otis Smith before Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers Saturday, May 30, 2009, in Orlando. (AP Photo/Phalen M. Ebenhack)

Phalen M. Ebenhack

Pardon Courtney Brooks if he stays up late tonight and every night of the NBA Finals paying more attention than usual. Dwight Howard's high school coach has a rooting interest in the Orlando Magic.

"This is very exciting," said Brooks, a Charleston Southern assistant coach. "It's like a dad watching a child grow and blossom. This is what Dwight said he always wanted to become: a great NBA player. We sat down a couple of summers ago and he was talking about winning an NBA championship. Now he's on that platform with a great opportunity."

Brooks is a celebrity this week.

He was on ESPN's "First Take" talking about Orlando's 6-11, 265-pound "Superman" superstar. He picks up his four kids from school between interviews.

He smiles a lot.

Howard's double-double routine is toil and trouble for NBA foes.

Brooks saw it coming. He first met Howard as a 10-year-old boy while Howard's father, Dwight Sr., was running a Hoopin' For Jesus camp in Atlanta.

Dwight, the kid

"He had the same big ol' smile you see now," Brooks said. "He was the same joyful kid. He always liked to have a good time."

The big kid is only 23. Way back a few years ago, Brooks was the head coach at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, when Dwight Sr. was the athletic director and Dwight Jr. played from eighth grade to 12th grade.

Brooks, a 1994 Georgia State University graduate, led the school to two Class A state championships.

Howard went straight to the NBA as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft.

"We opened Dwight's senior year playing in a tournament in Atlanta and there were about 20 NBA scouts there to watch him play that first game," Brooks recalled. "That was pretty much how it was that whole season, always somebody watching or a lot of people watching our games, or somebody wanting to write a story or do a TV interview. We tried to manage it as best as possible but it was amazing to see the following he had."

Brooks must be starting to realize that, unless he discovers another planet, the first line in his obituary will read " ... Dwight Howard's high school coach."

But there is more to the man than basketball. He and his mother founded Prophetic World Ministries in Atlanta and Brooks is a church elder. He appreciates Howard's friendly personality as much as the ferocious basketball talent.

Kryptonite

"One of the great attributes about Dwight that sometimes gets overlooked is the fact he's a great team player, and a great guy," Brooks said. "With all his skills, that's his best attribute. He's the ultimate team guy and he believes in his teammates."

Brooks said he hopes Howard will help out with the Charleston Southern basketball camp this year or next. The competition is stiff, however. Howard's Magic teammate Anthony Johnson, the former College of Charleston and Stall High School guard, has well-established Lowcountry basketball camps, too.

Any association with "Superman" is a good thing. Head coach Barclay Radebaugh's Charleston Southern program, coming off a sour 9-20 season, plans to get better.

"We think we have a boat load of potential," Brooks said. "Guys are really working hard and trying to improve. We like what we see and we're expecting big things for next year."

A little piece of Superman's cape, boxed up and shipped directly from the NBA Finals to Courtney Brooks' office, might help.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com or 937-5593.