GWINNETT COUNTY - MarShon Brooks was a star basketball player at Tucker High School, helping lead the team to a state championship in 2007. He was a standout at Providence College, and played five NBA seasons. He's seen it all on the court, but he's never seen a season quite like this one.
"At the time I was supposed to come home for 10-12 days, two weeks," said Brooks. "I haven't been back since."
Brooks plays for the Guangdong Southern Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association. In mid-January, he was getting ready to go on a birthday trip with a teammate during a scheduled break in league play. Brooks says the team was warned about coronavirus before the break, even though they played in a city about 600 miles from Wuhan where the COVID-19 outbreak got started.
Soon after, Brooks says the team told him to head back home to the U.S. as the virus was spreading further.
"Initially when I got back, my friend picked me up from the airport," said Brooks. "He had no clue. I was like, 'listen. This disease ... it's on its way over here. It'll be here any minute.'"
Brooks now calls Gwinnett County home. He says the biggest benefit of the unexpected time away from the court is spending more time with his son. He says he's taking plenty of precautions, and largely staying at home, as he watches the United States deal with the virus he saw take hold in China.
"I will say this, I don't think the Americans seriously enough," said Brooks. "Chinese people took it a lot more serious than the Americans did."
Brooks is, however, eager to get back to China. His Southern Tigers have the league's best record, posting a 28-2 mark when play was suspended. Brooks is averaging 28.3 points and 5.3 assists per game.
"He isn't just in the league, he's one of the main guys in the league!" said Tucker High School basketball coach James Hartry. "This guy's getting 35, 40 [points] a night. I'm proud of him. Good, level-headed guy, knows how to stay home, discipline himself. A grounded guy."
Brooks helped the Southern Tigers win a championship last season, and in basketball-crazy China, hopes to help them do it again. The CBA clearly wants to get back on the court, too. League officials reached out to American players a few months ago, telling them to return to China, and that play would resume soon. Some players traveled back, before the government restricted entry into the country and put basketball back on hold.
"Honestly, I was about to leave right before they shut the borders down," said Brooks.
The former first round pick by the Nets enjoys playing overseas, and says the chemistry on the Southern Tigers is excellent. Brooks says having teammates who all speak English makes things easy for himself and former Arkansas star Sonny Weems, who is also on the team.
Brooks hopes to add another title to his lengthy basketball resume, but is keeping perspective amid an unprecendented time in the sports world.
"Everybody misses the game, everybody's losing money from top to bottom, no matter who you are," said Brooks. "I think safety and health is most important in a time like this. Until we figure out some type of plan, I think it's best we stay away from sports, but who knows?"