DALLAS -- The past week has featured many milestones for the Virginia Tech Hokies, who advanced to the women's basketball program's first Elite Eight on Saturday, clinched their first ticket to the Final Four on Monday and have received a surge of newfound local and national attention.
Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks says he has 300-some unread texts from people congratulating him, but no messages have been as surreal as shoutouts from two of the sports idols he admires most: Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.
Johnson tweeted his congratulations to Brooks after the Hokies beat Ohio State in the Elite Eight last week.
Congratulations to Virginia Tech Women's Basketball Coach Kenny Brooks and the entire @HokiesWBB team on advancing to the Final Four for the first time in program history!— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) March 28, 2023
"I'm not really a fan boy and I have people that I like," Brooks said of the tweet. "[But] that was a really cool moment."
Roberts later sent Brooks a personalized video, which meant a lot to him since he was raised a huge Dodgers fan -- something passed down to him from his grandfather, who grew up watching Jackie Robinson "and everything that he accomplished breaking down barriers," Brooks said.
Roberts said in the video that he'd been watching Virginia Tech's games and that the Hokies' culture resonated through the TV, according to Brooks.
"He said, 'Go Dodgers and go Hokies,'" Brooks said. "That's two of my favorite teams. That's all I needed right there. So it was a special moment for me and for him to reach out because he's somebody that I try to emulate his persona and the way that he goes about his business."
If all goes to plan, this won't be the last time Brooks interacts with Roberts, either.
"He said, 'Hope to see you at a game,'" Brooks said. "I took that as an invitation, so I'm going to take him up on that."
Virginia Tech is one of two No. 1 seeds -- along with defending national champion South Carolina -- remaining in the NCAA tournament. The Gamecocks are appearing in their third consecutive Final Four, while fellow national semifinalists LSU (2004-08) and Iowa (1993) hadn't made it to this round in recent years. Virginia Tech will play LSU Friday at 7:30 ET on ESPN.
Virginia Tech, however, had never made it past the Sweet 16 until this season, and the last time they had advanced to the second weekend of the tournament at all was in 1999 under head coach Bonnie Henrickson.
Brooks took over at Virginia Tech ahead of the 2016-17 season after a successful tenure at his alma mater, James Madison, taking over a program that hadn't competed in the NCAA tournament since 2006. Brooks is now the third Black male head coach to make the Final Four, following Syracuse's Quentin Hillsman and Cheyney's Winthrop "Windy" McGriff.
"It was a blind vision because we didn't have anything to say," Brooks said of how he sold players on joining him in Blacksburg. "I told [the program's former all-time leading scorer] Aisha Sheppard, 'I'm going to get players in here like you, I'm going to get people in here like you, and together we're going to build this and we're going to build it to where we're winning ACC championships.' She took a blind leap of faith. Elizabeth Kitley took a blind leap of faith. Georgia Amoore took a blind leap of faith and trusted in me that if they did the things I told them to do, that everything would come to fruition. For me it's exciting to watch them experience it."
The Hokies enter the Final Four on a 15-game win streak, last losing Jan. 26 to Duke. In that span, they won the ACC tournament title, their first conference tournament championship since 1999, when they were part of the Atlantic-10. Brooks' squad took down Chattanooga, South Dakota State, Tennessee and Ohio State in the NCAA tournament to advance to Dallas.
"Just the places that he's taken it compared to where it was at when he inherited it is just insane," said Kitley, a two-time ACC Player of the Year who's in her fourth year with the program. "I'm just so happy to be a part of that and to be able to witness all the hard work that he puts into us and the coaching staff and everything. He just has crafted everything and stuck by his vision and what he wanted no matter what other people had to say or whatever. I think that's so valuable in a leader, and we wouldn't be where we are without that mindset from him."