Izaiah Brockington is ready to follow in his father’s footsteps at the NCAA tournament
Twenty-five years ago, Antoine Brockington starred for underdog Coppin State. Now, his son is an Iowa State standout.
As a kid, Izaiah Brockington would occasionally seek out his dad’s CD booklet, methodically sifting through the expansive, mostly music collection. He’d flip through sleeve after sleeve until finally reaching the treasure in the back of the booklet: the DVDs containing his father’s college basketball games.
Brockington’s favorite DVD was Coppin State’s upset of No. 2 seed South Carolina in the 1997 NCAA tournament. His dad, Antoine Brockington, scored 20 points in that game as Coppin won as a No. 15 seed in one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history. (That Coppin State team is featured in the recently released On & Coppin documentary currently streaming on ESPN+.)
This week Brockington, a self-proclaimed “daddy’s boy,” gets his opportunity to duplicate the role his daddy played in March Madness 25 years ago. The No. 11 seed Iowa State Cyclones open NCAA tournament play Friday in a first-round matchup with No. 6 seed LSU.
Despite a 72-41 drubbing by No. 14 Texas Tech in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament, the Cyclones earned their trip to the NCAA tournament by completing the biggest single-season turnaround in school and Big 12 history, going from two wins a year ago to 20 wins this season. A main reason for the turnaround has been Brockington, who averaged 17.2 points and 7.1 rebounds on the way to being named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and All-Big 12 first team.
“He’s a prolific scorer and does it in a lot of ways,” said T.J. Otzelberger, in his first year as head coach at Iowa State. “People talk about his midrange shots, and he’s certainly an outlier how he does that. But he has the ability to take over a game.”
That mindset to dominate games offensively comes straight from his father, Antoine, who followed that magical 1997 season as a junior at Coppin with a 20.3 points per game average as a senior on the way to being named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
“I watched some Coppin clips from that NCAA tournament game, and his father was a stone-cold bucket-getter,” Otzelberger said. “Just irrational confidence that I say they both exhibit. His dad, innately, seemed to always have it and Izaiah seems to have acquired it this year.”
That irrational confidence was on full display during a Feb. 23 game in Ames, Iowa, when Brockington scored a career-high 35 points — including a go-ahead basket with 22.6 seconds left in the game after stealing an inbound pass — during a thrilling 84-81 come-from-behind win against West Virginia.
“Just one of those games where I got hot,” Brockington said of his actions against West Virginia. “One of those days where the rim seemed so big that I felt like I couldn’t miss.”
That’s the mentality that Antoine Brockington, who described his role as being “a hired assassin,” always had when he took the court.
“If I was on your team, you already knew I was taking 15 to 20 shots a night and I wasn’t playing any defense,” Antoine Brockington said, laughing. “I taught him to be a point guard, and to be unselfish. Don’t be like me. But when it was time to take over games, I’d say, ‘It’s time, you can go be like your dad right now.’ ”
Brockington witnessed a lot of his dad’s exploits while tagging along to league and pickup games throughout the Philadelphia area.
“My love for the game really came from watching him play, and how he played,” Brockington said. “Whether it was a league game or he was coaching somewhere, wherever he went, I went. I was the kid at his games with a headband, because he wore a headband.”
Offensively — from the solid midrange game to the exceptional elevation when attacking the rim — there are similarities between father and son.
“I’m bigger than he was as a player,” said Brockington, who is 6-foot-4 and listed at 196 pounds — two inches taller and six pounds heavier than his father during his Coppin career. “But in terms of being explosive and having that competitive drive on offense, we’re the same.”
That’s on offense. On defense, the difference between father and son is more expansive.
Son is a solid on-ball defender; dad spent defensive possessions thinking about what he was going to do on offense.
Son led the Cyclones in rebounding this season at 7.1 per game; dad’s career-best at Coppin was 3.5 rebounds per game.
“My defense: I played the passing lanes, and when guys got by, I’d hope our bigs would get a block,” Antoine Brockington said, laughing. “I taught him to rebound because that was something that I never did. Everybody can score, but having the ability to rebound would separate him from other guys who played the position.”
Izaiah Brockington’s desire to separate himself from the pack has been a goal since his freshman year at St. Bonaventure when he was a backup guard. As a No. 11 seed, that team beat UCLA in a 2018 First Four NCAA tournament game before losing to Florida in the next round.
There were signs of promise during that 2017-18 season: Brockington had five double-digit scoring games during the first 15 games, including a 20-point game against TCU in the Emerald Coast Classic, where he was named to the all-tournament team. But by season’s end, his playing time was spotty, leading him to enter the transfer portal.
“He went from making the all-tournament team playing against Maryland to TCU to not playing at all,” Antoine Brockington said. “That’s something we just never understood.”
Brockington transferred to Penn State, where he started in 24 of the 56 games he played in two seasons and finished the 2020-21 season as the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.6 points per game.
The lack of coaching stability (Penn State is playing under its third coach in three seasons) led Brockington to seek a new start. With several major programs coveting his services, the opportunity at Iowa State — despite two wins the previous season — surfaced as the best fit.
“I didn’t really let the the past really scare me away from here because in the years prior [Ames] has been an amazing place to play,” Brockington said. “As a personal goal, I wanted to make an impact and bring this team back to prominence in the conference and on a national level.”
There’s a difference in a desire to be the guy, and putting in the work to be declared the guy. And what impressed the Iowa State coaching staff was Brockington’s willingness to make the effort to earn his accolades.
“When we first visited with Izaiah and he talked about the opportunity he was looking for, I asked him, ‘How hard are you going to work for that?’ ” Otzelberger said. “I remember him specifically saying, ‘I’ll be the hardest-working guy every day.’ And he’s honored that. He’s stepped up not just in the games, but every single day in practice to be that guy for us.”
Now Brockington gets the opportunity to step up on the NCAA tournament stage on which his father shined in 1997.
“We are all so proud of him,” said Antoine Brockington, who sat behind the Iowa State bench alongside his ex-wife, Jennifer St. Jean, and her husband, Noisette St. Jean, for the opening game of the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Missouri. “It’s been a long journey of no respect for him, and I’m just happy that — for all the work he’s put in — he’s finally getting noticed.”