NEWPORT COAST — Scott Brooks said he is hardly overwhelmed by fame. The former UC Irvine basketball star who earned more television air time than Arsenio Hall last summer by coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA Finals, said he is recognized a lot more frequently these days in his offseason home of Newport Beach.
But he can still blend in.
"I can throw a hat on and throw some glasses on and I'm only 6-foot," Brooks said Tuesday afternoon at Pelican Hill Golf Club, where he held court over the second annual Scott Brooks Golf Invitational that funds scholarship for Anteaters student-athletes. "I look like just an average person. I don't stand out."
But in the annals of UCI athletics, few, if any, have produced more singular accomplishment in professional sports than Brooks. After leading the West Coast in scoring at 23.8 points per game as a senior in 1986-87, Brooks went on to play 11 seasons for six NBA teams.
Brooks, the NBA Coach of the Year in 2009-10, when he led the Thunder to the NBA Playoffs with a 27-win improvement over the previous season, signed a four-year contract with Oklahoma City in June for $4 million per season.
But meeting with a handful of media members Tuesday, it was casual candor and home-spun humility that helped the multimillionaire shine more brilliantly than any Back Bay bling.
"He's the best representative of UC Irvine ever," said tournament co-chair Otto Reyer, a former UCI administrator who last year convinced a then-reluctant Brooks to lend his increasingly famous name to this fundraiser.
Brooks interacted and took pictures with all 36 foursomes Tuesday. The self-proclaimed 12-handicapper forfeited a coveted round at the esteemed layout in order to satisfy the paying participants with schmooze. He joked that he had mingled with 144 Lakers fans, all excited about the prospect of Los Angeles dethroning Brooks' team as Western Conference champions in 2012-13.
Athletes and coaches from all 18 UCI sports were also at every hole, helping personalize the benefits bestowed upon them by willing scholarship donors.
"One of the things I like about coming back, and it's been what, 25 years since I graduated? is all the student-athletes here today," Brooks said. "Just to see them and you know you're doing something good for them, makes it worthwhile. They are all so energetic and they have so much enthusiasm and you can just see that they appreciate what we do for them and it's great."
Brooks, whom some believe is working toward coaching greatness, said he is a proud Anteater, whose 16-year-old son Chance and 12-year-old daughter Lexi indulge his passion for UCI sports with some interest of their own.
"Oh, yes, they follow," said Brooks, who sported a blue UCI cap and golf shirt Tuesday. " My son and I go on campus just about every summer and [the kids] know that I'm very proud about my school. It's a great place to go to school. It's a great place to live, and athletics is only going to get better."
Brooks said he takes every opportunity to brag with NBA players and colleagues about UCI athletic success, including three NCAA men's volleyball championships the last six years.
"I know in basketball, we've had some down years," said Brooks, who despite playing only two seasons after one-year stints at TCU and San Joaquin Delta Community College ranks No. 1 in school annals with an .859 career free-throw percentage, is fourth in career steals (123) and seventh in career three-pointers (142). "But I think [Coach] Russell [Turner] is doing a great job ... I see the program heading in the right direction."
Brooks said he looks forward to celebrating what would be UCI's first appearance in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
"Everybody will know it," Brooks said. "They tell me when we don't make it, so, hopefully soon, I'm going to rub it in their face. It will be a great day when we can be proud of an NCAA appearance."