November 26, 2021
‘She felt my feelings just as hard’: Kendyl, Chloe and Kenny Brooks have grown closer through basketball—and in retirement
As their careers come to a close, Brooks' daughters have grown closer through basketball and beyond
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A student-athlete’s fourth year of college is supposed to be the exclamation point on her career. She steadily gets better and better, then gets feted on Senior Day and helps the program reach new heights. But the path hasn’t been as straightforward for Kendyl and Chloe Brooks, both of whom played for their father Kenny at Virginia Tech. Kendyl missed her senior season in 2019-20 after hip surgery, and Chloe, now a redshirt junior, is on the Hokies’ roster but has medically retired due to a foot injury.
This season, Chloe told The Next, will be “a transition period, almost, of learning that life will be okay without basketball.”
“Sure, a lot of people like basketball as what they played and then they came home to a different life,” Chloe continues. “[But] I grew up in a basketball gym, and when I wasn’t playing it, I was still around basketball or [my dad] was at home watching film. So I feel like basketball was my entire life for a really long time.”
How does someone who grew up so deeply embedded in the game learn to live without it?
As it turns out, the answer has a lot to do with the family that brought her to the sport in the first place.
“Our daddy-daughter time was mainly in the gym,” Kenny says. “If it wasn’t buying doll babies, it was in the gym.”
In Chloe’s case, it also came by watching film with Kenny, who was the head coach at James Madison until Chloe was 16. “She would just sit on my lap, she would read the scout, she’d ask me a million questions,” Kenny says. “‘What’s this?’ And I’d say, ‘It’s a scouting report.’ And she would read it and she would listen to me talk.”
By the time Chloe reached high school, she had a coach’s mind. Kenny once brought her on a road trip to Auburn and let her listen as the coaches walked the players through the scouting report. To his surprise, during the game, he heard Chloe shouting instructions from behind the team bench that matched the scouting report.
“Her basketball IQ is through the roof,” Kenny says now. “It’s as good as anybody I’ve ever coached.”
Her basketball skills were also advanced, cultivated in part through individual workouts with Kenny and pickup games with college players. She and Kendyl, both 5’10 guards, led Spotswood High School to a state title in 2016, with Chloe facilitating the offense as the point guard and Kendyl knocking down perimeter shots.
“Kendyl is a shooter, straight shooter, can shoot it from anywhere,” Kenny says.
“Chloe is the muscle, I feel like,” Kendyl says. “… In high school, she was definitely the spark that we needed. She was the leader that we needed all the time. She was always the voice of whatever was going on. And I kind of just did my job.”
“She was more like a finesse-like guard,” Chloe adds, “and I was more of like—”
“A bully,” Kendyl interjects. Chloe agrees: “Yeah, getting in the paint. So I would just start stuff.”
A few weeks after the state championship, Kenny was hired at Virginia Tech, and Kendyl, who had always wanted to play for him, flipped her commitment from James Madison to Virginia Tech. The move also solved a dilemma for Chloe, who had wanted to play for him but hadn’t been certain about staying in Harrisonburg.
“I really wanted to not like it, just to tell my dad I told you so,” Kendyl admits, and Chloe says the same. “But as soon as I got here, I fell in love.”
Not everyone loved the Brookses, though, in their early years in Blacksburg. Some fans claimed that Kendyl was only on the team because of nepotism, and one of her teammates even asked her if she was a walk-on. During her freshman year, her older teammates picked on her at times as her father tried to change the culture of the program.
Although Kenny had taught his daughters the game for years, Kendyl and Kenny also had to adjust to their newly formalized coach-player relationship. “[The] oldest child is definitely the guinea pig,” Kendyl says, recalling several conversations with Kenny during her freshman year about how they would handle conflict. At first, Kendyl avoided stopping by Kenny’s office when she was mad at him, but eventually, she realized, “The most important part was just communicating.”
On the court, the communication looked seamless, as Kendyl averaged 22.5 minutes per game and made 62 3-pointers as a freshman. That included hitting seven threes, one shy of the program record, to lead the Hokies to a tight win over Boston College in January 2017. She ended her career with 160 made threes, which currently ranks fifth in program history in just three seasons.
Chloe joined Kendyl on campus in 2018, but the sisters never got to show their on-court chemistry because of injuries. Kendyl tore her labrum in her hip in both her sophomore and junior years, and after two offseason surgeries, she decided she couldn’t risk injuring it again and needing a hip replacement in her early twenties.
“It was definitely difficult,” Kendyl says diplomatically.
Kenny is more openly emotional about it, admitting that he sometimes wonders if he could have prevented it somehow. “When we got the news that she wasn’t going to be able to play, it was devastating,” he says. “… I remember exactly where I was. I was sitting at my dinner table, but it was an early afternoon, eating some beef stew.”
Chloe’s foot injury dates back to high school, as she developed a bone spur that impacted her range of motion near her Achilles tendon. She had surgery but soon developed tarsal tunnel syndrome, which is when a nerve that runs from the inside of the ankle into the foot is compressed. That resulted in lasting nerve damage and significant pain in her foot that led her to retire last spring after playing just 47 career minutes in a Hokies jersey.
“We had end-of-the-year meetings with [each player],” Kenny says. “… She started with a letter, and it was a ‘Dear Basketball’ letter. And she just started reading it, reading it and she talked about how basketball brought me and her together. … She thanked so many people, but she kept coming back to me and what it meant for our relationship … I’m tearing up now, but I just lost it [then].”
He adds, “It was probably the most powerful thing I’ve ever encountered, to watch your child go through so much and then express it and then make the decision to end that part of her career.”
Chloe is still contributing to this year’s team by mentoring her teammates and reinforcing the directions from the coaching staff—much like she infamously did at Auburn in high school. She sounds uncannily like Kenny when she discusses basketball, he says, but hearing the same information from a different source can make all the difference. She is also helping the younger players and transfers find their footing on campus, as the Hokies have added seven players since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
“They can come to her with ‘little sister’ questions,” Kenny says.
He adds, “Even though she’s missing [playing] terribly, she’s starting to understand that, okay, this is the best way that she can be productive for our group.”
Chloe will graduate this year, but she is uncertain about her next steps. Kenny thinks she might go to nursing school—she’s “the caretaker” in the family, always making sure everyone else is okay. She could also follow Kendyl’s path and work behind the scenes in sports.
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On Nov. 10, the night before Virginia Tech played at George Washington, Kendyl was stressed. As the Hokies’ assistant director of operations, she is responsible for the team’s meals on the road, and one to-go meal from the Cheesecake Factory was missing: Kenny’s.
“I was walking out to go back and get it. He was walking down to get his food, and I was like, ‘Look, here’s what happened … I’m so sorry,’” Kendyl says.
Kenny didn’t hold it against her. “She got it really quick. So she passed that test,” he says.
The following night, Kendyl projected a more relaxed mood, laughing and joking with the players pregame in between offering squirts of hand sanitizer. Those actions are emblematic of her wide-ranging responsibilities on the staff, both this season and as a graduate assistant last season. She handles many of the behind-the-scenes logistics for the Hokies, but she also uses her playing experience to advise current players and relate to recruits.
“I’m very, very proud of the way that she’s handling the situation because this is an opportunity that can humble you,” Kenny says. “And I had to go through it … [as a player turned part-time assistant] at James Madison. So guys that were freshmen when I was a senior who were carrying my bags, all of a sudden I had to carry their bags. All of a sudden I had to go get their meal orders. All of a sudden I had to do little things for them. And … she’s having to do the same things.”
Kendyl didn’t necessarily plan on joining her father’s staff after graduating, but she had intended to work in the sports industry. When the opportunity arose to become a graduate assistant for the Hokies, she says, “I figured, Why not? … It didn’t really make sense to go anywhere else, just because I had such a good plan here.”
Kendyl and Chloe’s continued presence at Virginia Tech has helped cement the family atmosphere and culture within the program. “I genuinely think that [Kenny] thinks that he has like 20 daughters,” says guard Aisha Sheppard.
In one example of how the Brookses have changed the Hokies’ culture, Kenny recalls when, early in his Virginia Tech tenure, one of his assistant coaches reprimanded one of his daughters for calling him “Dad” on the court. “No, he’s Coach Brooks to you,” the assistant said.
“I said, ‘No, I am Dad to her. There will never be a second in my life that I won’t be her dad,’” Kenny says. “… Never once do I want them to think that they can’t call me Dad. I’m always their dad and we’ll be professional enough and everybody else will know that that’s a situation that we can separate the two … But that’s the biggest and the best responsibility I’ll ever have in my life, and never once do I want to relinquish it.”
Several years later, teammates don’t bat an eye at Kendyl and Chloe calling Kenny “Dad,” and when they talk to Kendyl and Chloe, they refer to Kenny as “your dad” instead of “Coach Brooks.” It feels normal, Sheppard and center Elizabeth Kitley say: Kenny treats all the players the same, and the Brookses keep things professional, as Kenny promised.
During warmups at George Washington, Chloe laughed with Kendyl as they watched shots go up and corralled the occasional rebound.
“When I was little, I was obsessed with her,” Chloe says, “and literally did follow her everywhere and thought she walked on water.” There was some friction during their teenage years, but now, Kendyl says, “We’re closer than we’ve ever been.”
They have relied on each other through their injuries, which have overlapped in timing and been similarly debilitating. For Kendyl, Chloe was one of the few people she allowed to see her at her most vulnerable, keeping her company right after surgery and helping her bathe when she came home from the hospital.
“You see somebody after surgery and it’s just like, ‘Please leave me alone, stop talking to me, like, everybody just go somewhere else,’” Kendyl says. “I feel like the only person that didn’t completely annoy me to the point where I was like, ‘Please leave,’ was Chloe. …
“Chloe’s sitting here and I’m just like, ‘Okay, we’re good. Everything’s okay. Because it’s like, I can talk to Chloe about whatever and … it was like, okay, she’s listening, she’s giving me feedback, then I think we’re good.’”
Kendyl has also sat with an injured Chloe plenty of times, helping her verbalize the hard-to-describe pain in her foot and deal with what it meant for her career.
“Kendyl, I feel like, has felt all my pain,” Chloe says. “I don’t know, she feels it almost harder than I do. … [The injury] was a really hard concept for me to grasp, [but] I felt like she validated … my feelings regarding my foot. So I think that it was really helpful that she felt my feelings just as hard for me.”
“She’s like, ‘Well, it’s like pins and needles, but it hurts,’” Kendyl says, “and I’m just trying to wrap my head around the pain that she goes through every day that people don’t understand … I feel bad that I can’t do anything about it. And that makes me emotional.”
For Kenny, coaching his children had always been a dream, and although Kendyl and Chloe’s careers didn’t end the way anyone wanted, the rest of the experience left him with no regrets.
“There was a lot of joy. There’s a lot of pain during this process, but I wouldn’t change it for the world,” he says. “… I get a lot of people calling me and talking to me, coming up to me on the road in recruiting and having daughters and they’re asking me how it was … It’s been a blessing. It’s been the best thing probably in my career that’s happened, to be able to spend time with them in this capacity.”
Kenny could have one more go-round, too, if his youngest daughter Gabby follows her sisters’ lead. Currently a high school junior, Gabby is a shooter in Kendyl’s mold, Kenny says, but she is also a talented volleyball player, so Kenny may have added competition for her talents.
As Gabby inches closer to choosing a primary sport, Kendyl and Chloe are continuing to adjust to their post-playing reality. There is comfort for them in knowing that, whether they are completing basketball workouts together or organizing them from the sidelines, family is the constant. They will always be sisters, and they will always have the inside jokes, laughs, shared state championship and memories of tender moments after surgery. And their dad will always be there for them, even if that looks a little different now.
“Even though he is my basketball coach and she’s a part of staff,” Chloe says, “he’ll always be my dad and she’ll always be my sister. So once all of this ends, our family’s forever.”
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. (She also writes the "Family Rivalries" series for The Next.) Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats and FanSided.