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Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Cleveland's Jasen Brooks dribbles as Howard's Jaden Jenkins defends during a January game in Cleveland, Tenn.

Deanna Brooks didn't grow up in sports, so she never pictured herself sitting on hard bleachers and watching basketball games in adulthood — but here she is.

There was a time when AAU competition didn't feel like the primary pathway to a college basketball scholarship. There was also a time when college coaches would show up at high school games to evaluate potential players, but that's becoming less and less common as those same coaches have now decided they can better evaluate talent in those AAU settings.

As for what has Brooks on the bleachers at the same games?

It's her son Jasen, a 6-foot-2 guard who will be a senior at Cleveland High School this year and is ranked by one publication as the No. 8 prospect in the state of Tennessee. He has aspirations of playing in college, so now his mother — like so many others — is trying to do whatever she can to make that happen.

"Honestly, I don't think AAU is fair to the players," Deanna said. "But I get it and you have to learn how to play the game, but you can still get screwed over."

The pressure to follow the pack comes from the dearth of opportunities for prep basketball players, who are finding themselves further off the radar of college coaches than ever before due to the limited number of scholarships available. The coronavirus pandemic led to the NCAA issuing a blanket waiver extending the eligibility of college athletes, and rule changes allowing transfers to play right away have made recruiting established players easier than weighing the potential of prep standouts.

So while those younger athletes and their families find themselves having to be more patient than ever, that doesn't mean they cannot give themselves every opportunity. That's why the Brooks family found itself in Atlanta and Cartersville, Georgia, during the April recruiting period. This week when the July recruiting live period tips off — meaning NCAA Division I coaches can be in attendance — Brooks' Pro One team (which is primarily based out of Alabama but has a subset of teams located in Knoxville) will be in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

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Cleveland basketball standout Jasen Brooks

It's Brooks' third AAU program in high school. For years, he played for Fast Break, an area program currently coached by Reggie Tucker. When Tucker took over as Cleveland's head coach prior to the 2019-20 season, Brooks received to an opportunity to play for Bobby Maze AAU out of Knoxville, where he played last summer.

The biggest challenge this year? Probably the cost. Most of the Fast Break expenses were shared by the families and were softened due to fundraising. There were no expenses with the B-Maze program, which was part of the Under Armour circuit. That hasn't been the case this season with Pro One, which charges $1,350 just to be a member of the team.

Pro One has played tournaments in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee — with all of those leading to travel expenses for the Brooks — and still had the Rock Hill trip, a second weekend in Gatlinburg and the following week back in Rock Hill for another NCAA live period. When adding up hotel expenses, gas, meals, plus admission into the tournament as well as parking in some cases, each weekend's fees reach around $1,000.

The Brooks' story is no different than so many athletes and families in the Chattanooga area searching for that college opportunity. The belief is that one has to get to the places where he or she can be seen, and those who are priced out finding getting noticed exponentially harder.

So why do this?

"His dream is to get to college and play basketball," said Deanna, who works for the Tennessee Department of Children's Services. "If this is what is going to allow my child to do this, then I'm going to do that. I could send him and I wouldn't have to pay necessarily out of my pocket, because there is a way for me to be able to send him and not do that, but as a mother I feel like it's my job to be there to support my child, for him to have that support.

"So I'm going to spend that money. I'm going to work that overtime. I'm going to do what I need to do, because if you have no support, then how are you going to really going to feel like the child has a chance? That's not the life that Jasen's ever lived, so I'm going to do what it takes."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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