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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Stonebraker and the patient path to stardom

NIU Athletics
Senior forward Brooke Stonebraker shoots a jump hook over an Eastern Illinois University opponent on Dec. 18, 2023. In her first year as a starter, Stonebraker finished the 2023-24 season as the Huskies leader in points and rebounds. (Northern Star File Photo)

A towering presence resides in the paint at the Convocation Center, but the rise of senior forward Brooke Stonebraker didn’t happen overnight.

Basketball was a natural fixture in Stonebraker’s life at an early age. Her first position on a team was water girl for the Versailles High School girls’ basketball team, coached by her mother, Jacki Stonebraker.

In seventh grade, Stonebraker began playing basketball competitively, but it wasn’t until her sophomore year that she began growing into her 6-foot-3-inch frame.

“In seventh and eighth grade I was actually one of the shorter ones,” Stonebraker said. “I was still a post player inside but didn’t have the strength to go up against some of the bigger people.”

Stonebraker finally reached her adult height as an upperclassman, and the late growth spurt helped earn her a Division I collegiate athletics career as an NIU Huskie.

Brooke Stonebraker attempts a layup at a middle school basketball camp. Stonebraker says she was one of the shorter players on her team in middle school and high school before she grew to 6-foot-3 inches. (Courtesy of Brooke Stonebraker)

Stonebraker’s waiting would continue well into her NIU career as her first three seasons would be spent primarily from the bench, playing just 214 minutes in her first three seasons combined.

For three years Stonebraker’s position of center was occupied by former NIU superstar A’Jah Davis. Davis, a DeKalb native, earned the starting spot in Stonebraker’s freshman year and thrived as one of the MAC’s most dominant players.

“Growing up I was always, I guess you could say, a role player,” Stonebraker said. “Always behind someone better than me, maybe faster or stronger than me. I grew up in that position, and I knew what that position looked like coming in here.”

In each of her last two seasons before transferring to Seton Hall University, Davis averaged at least 16 points and 12 rebounds per game, leaving little room on the court for an inexperienced Stonebraker.

“I think she (Stonebraker) always knew that she had to stay patient, playing behind A’jah Davis, one of the best players in the MAC,” said senior guard Jayden Marable. “She (Davis) made her (Stonebraker) better every single day. She just had to stay patient, and we knew her time would come.”

Although it was a mystery if Stonebraker would ever get an opportunity to shine on the court, that didn’t scare her away from extensive preparation.

“For the first three years, I never knew if my name was gonna be called,” Stonebraker said. “Every single thing that you do behind the scenes impacts what happens whenever you get that chance.”

Stonebraker thrived in the weight room while she waited for her time, and her work did not go unnoticed. 

“She was doing extra work during the season, knowing that game day wasn’t gonna be overly taxing for her,” said NIU women’s basketball head coach Lisa Carlsen. “The extra time in the weight room and the extra conditioning, I think she really gained confidence from being bigger, stronger, faster.”

When Stonebraker did get her chance, she wasted no time capitalizing on the expanded role.

In the 2023-24 season opener against Arkansas State University, Stonebraker put up a double-double in her first collegiate start, racking up 11 points and 14 rebounds.

Just 15 days later, Stonebraker made another big impression with her teammates.

“We were in Puerto Rico – it felt like a breakout game for her,” Marable said. “She was super aggressive, just doing everything that we knew she can do.”

In Puerto Rico against Radford University, Stonebraker set a career-high with 20 points and pulled down 9 rebounds and blocked a pair of shots.

Stonebraker finished her senior season as the second-leading rebounder in the MAC with 9 rebounds per game.

“I think sometimes her ability to rebound the basketball gets taken for granted,” Carlsen said. “I attribute that to three years of having to battle one of the best rebounders that’s ever played here.”

In addition to her dominance on the glass, Stonebraker led the Huskies in scoring, beating Marable by 4 points.

Stonebraker finished the year with nine double-doubles, eight of which came in MAC play.

“There’s not been too many players that I’ve been more proud of than Brooke,” Carlsen said. “From the time she stepped on campus as a timid, 6’3”, skinny little freshman to what she’s been able to do this year.”

A first round exit in the MAC Tournament kept a storybook ending away from Stonebraker’s senior season. However, with another year of eligibility remaining, there’s still time for Stonebraker to rise to higher peaks.

All that is left for Stonebraker this offseason is to wait, one last time.

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