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Brooks: Baby and basketball love, heart in Sopron and the worst spectator
ZRENJANIN (Serbia) - When Jelena Brooks became a mom earlier this year, her life changed forever and the starting pistol was fired in a race to make it back to Final Round.
And, it wasn't the much loved forward who was left sweating the most in this battle against the clock.
BEATING THE CLOCK
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Most fans and observers from all quarters simply cast doubt on her prospects of missing the entire 2018-19 club season to give birth and then in the space of only a few weeks, pulling on a Serbia vest.
What everyone didn't quite count on is that Brooks, or Milovanovic as she was most widely known before getting married, was hell-bent on making it. Come what may, she was always going to be ready to provide her usual vibrant offensive firepower and leadership.
Two games in and Serbia have already made it out of the Group Phase with a pair of wins against Belarus and Russia. While their opener was less than convincing, the victory against Russia was an epic - a deliciously intense and entertaining spectacle.
It was exactly the kind of elation that Brooks had missed during her time on the sidelines and so no surprise that her eyes lit up afterwards. Critically, it represented an endorsement of her belief that she would defy those doubters and be at the Final Round party.
"I always knew that I would be able to do it," she declared with visible pride.
"From the very first day when I found out about the pregnancy, I was always thinking about not only having my baby, but enjoying days like this and winning great games again with the Serbian national team.
"I am glad that we finally showed what we have been working on since May 1st. We knew against Russia it would be a completely different game than the one we played on the first day against Belarus. We came out to win the game by playing for the full 40 minutes and it was a great game to be playing in.
"I am now so content that I worked out for the whole pregnancy," continued Brooks.
"I did whatever I could and what was allowed for every stage of it. I could not afford to take much time off. The big positive was that it actually felt good to get some time to rest during the middle to later stage of my pregnancy. It allowed my joints to gain some much needed recovery.
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"After giving birth, I had to rest for only two weeks and then I got back to work straight away on the court. I had to get my cardio back to see how it would feel getting that important heart rate back up to where it needed to be.
"I joined the national team only six weeks after giving birth and they helped me so much right away. Day by day we have worked together as a team to get me in shape and I am grateful that they knew exactly what was required for me to be here with the team at another important tournament."
BABY AND BASKETBALL LOVE
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The post-game emotion of winning such an important contest has been heightened by her newfound status as a mother too. Brooks was quick to highlight how it is not only the name on the back of her vest that is different now - the entire game-day dynamic has been altered positively.
"Now, having my baby here with me, I actually find that I am having extra energy and desire as a mom," she stated.
"It makes you a different person, even on the court I think. I was carrying him for 9 months and it is true just how much it changes your life completely.
"I am so thankful that Serbia have allowed me to have my family here - to be with my husband and my beautiful kid.
"To be with them and to be playing basketball makes me feel for the first time in my life, it is absolutely complete now. It is a great feeling to have," enthused Brooks.
While consumed by the joyous feeling of having her new family unit around her, don't think that Brooks is easily satisfied these days. One of Europe's most lethal and productive forwards is as determined as ever to take care of business.
"Tokyo 2020 remains our main goal," she insisted, as she also made a big point of stressing the importance of home support.
"We know we have to finish in the Top 6 so that we can go to the Olympic Qualifying Tournament and keep our dreams of making another Olympics alive. But even after starting with two wins, we have the experience to know that the only option available is to go game by game.
"Most importantly for us and for the competition, I think we have now really got the crowd going and excited. When you get Serbians going like that, it gives us all amazing energy and it can be a special force in this tournament."
HEART IN SOPRON, THE WORST SPECTATOR
Once the dust has settled on Final Round, Brooks will be back in Hungary representing Sopron Basket. One of the last times she played was at EuroLeague Women Final Four 2018 - an event when she wrote herself further into club folklore with that dramatic shot in the dying seconds of the Semi-Final to hand Sopron a historic maiden Final slot.
During the 2018-19 campaign, Brooks had to swap dropping game-winners at the highest level for watching games online during her maternity leave. Even if Sopron managed to make Final Four again, watching online was a struggle.
"I am the biggest fan of Sopron and it is always Sopron in my heart, but honestly, it stresses me out so much to watch the team in EuroLeague Women as a fan instead of playing in it," she confirmed.
"I know UMMC Ekaterinburg and Dynamo Kursk are both very dominant teams. So, there was only ever realistically going to be two places left for everyone else and I was just so happy to see Sopron make it there again to Final Four. I was cheering for them so loudly and hoping they could go all the way back to the Final for a second time in a row.
"Who knows what will now happen when I return there again for this next club season, since we have some new players and a new coach?
"But, what I have learned is that being a spectator of EuroLeague Women is not easy - or at least not when you are more used to being out there on the court," smiled Brooks.