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University of Missouri

Be a Cager in Five Steps

An MU sociology professor unlocks the keys to success in any career.

Scott Brooks

Scott Brooks, associate professor of sociology, studies the basketball culture of Philadelphia. He says the secret to success in hoops is the secret to success in any field. Photo by Rob Hill.

Play hard. Play often. Get noticed. Get noticed by the right people. Take advantage of your opportunity.

For four years, MU sociologist and ethnographer Scott Brooks watched kids grow up on the hard courts of Philadelphia and follow that path to success in basketball. What he didn’t realize at first was that everyone faces the same path.

Basketball players, lawyers and actors don’t “make it” just because they’re good at what they do. They have to be recognized for their talents.

In Philadelphia, the process of becoming a “known player” involves year-round basketball in multiple leagues. Each game is a chance to hone skills, showcase talents and get noticed — but not by just anyone: by someone with connections to a prep school or college scout.

Take singer Justin Bieber, Brooks says. Thousands of people saw him on YouTube, but it wasn’t until the right person, a business partner of R&B star Usher, noticed him that his career took off.

Brooks’ doctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania was similar. Penn offered him its stamp of quality and Ivy-League connections. That opened doors in the publishing industry when he wrote his first book, Black Men Can’t Shoot (University of Chicago Press, 2009). Being published brought further credibility and opened more doors.

“[Career] mobility doesn’t just happen,” is Brooks’ message. “It happens through people connecting, people vouching, people choosing you when they could have chosen someone else.”