They say there’s something special about hoopers from New Jersey. They put their heads down and go to work, stacking up stat sheets like it’s nothing. Gritty, tough and automatic. Meet the Garden State’s latest star: Zoe Brooks.
Standing at 5-10, the senior guard has gone on a meteoric rise through the class of 2023 rankings. Originally from Plainville, NJ, but playing at Saint John Vianney in Holmdel, Brooks is now ranked No. 9 overall in her class and has proven that she is without a doubt one of the best point guards you’ll find across America.
“I think I can do it all,” Brooks tells SLAM. “I can pass, I can shoot, but I think my specialty is getting in the lane—to either create a shot for myself or for one of my teammates.”
A true point guard, her game is one that’s “smooth, unselfish and creative.” She can shoot from distance, take you off the dribble and doesn’t shy away on defense. As a scarily consistent scoring threat, she knows just how to draw the defense and find the open player.
As a junior last season, she averaged 18.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 3.8 spg for SJV, helping them bring home a state championship in a 72-52 win over Rutgers Prep in the 2022 NJSIAA Girls Basketball Tournament of Champions final.
Zoe’s journey started when she was about 5 or 6. She picked up that leather ball and, like most of us reading these pages, ultimately fell in love with the game. By sixth grade, she knew she could really do something with her talent, so she did what she always does—put her head down and went to work. Inspired by her older brother, Zoe has become one of the nation’s best players, but it hasn’t always been recognized. At the beginning of this past summer, ESPN had her ranked No. 33 overall.
“I never really paid attention to rankings,” Brooks reflects. “When I wasn’t ranked before, I never really paid attention to it. I knew what I was capable of, and I’ve been doing me for years, so it’s nice to get the recognition now, but I still have the same mindset—kill everybody.”
We saw that killer mentality on display in the summer when she laced up to play in the League’s new version of the Skills Challenge. In this new format, WNBA superstars were paired with high school stars to compete in the contest. Since she’s a native of the Tri-State area, she was paired with New York Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu. It wasn’t even a competition by the end of it—the duo took home the trophy in a landslide.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Zoe laughs. “I was nervous, I’m not gonna lie. I didn’t realize it was gonna be that big and on TV. But it was a lot of fun. She was a cool person and if I had the chance, I’d do it again.”
Drawing interest from top DI programs including USC, NC State and Rutgers, Brooks understands what’s at stake. “It can be overwhelming at times,” she says. “I’ve been recruited by college coaches since I was in the seventh grade. I just had to take it one school at a time and be open to different types of schools. I definitely thought about everything and took my notes and decided on schools that way.”
Ultimately, she decided to commit to Wes Moore’s NC State Wolfpack. It’s a program that’s seen a ton of recent success in the NCAA tournament, reaching last season’s Final Four.
“The coach really sold me in,” she says. “I like him as a person, I think that’s really important, not just basketball-wise, but I loved him as a person. I liked the school and I really just liked everything.”
Zoe will join a familiar face in the backcourt, teaming up with Philly native Diamond Johnson. “She can score,” Zoe says with excitement. “That’s music to a point guard’s ears. I’m looking forward to playing with her.”
There’s a lot of synergy in these two East Coast guards coming together, as Johnson was under-celebrated most of her high school career, too. But that didn’t stop her from making some of the biggest plays during March Madness last season, and without a doubt we can expect the same thing from her new teammate.
With Zoe’s ability to create and her pure hunger to win, it’s safe to say that we’ll be seeing NC State playing deep into March for years to come. And the latest star from Jersey will be in the middle of it all.
Portraits by Marcus Stevens.
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