Eli Brooks did not think he was coming back for another season.
The fifth-year guard was set to leave Michigan after his senior campaign, having enjoyed a successful four-year career in Ann Arbor. But the Wolverines’ season-ending two-point loss to UCLA in the Elite Eight left an unsatisfying taste in Brook’s mouth, and he decided to exercise the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19 and give it one more shot.
“The whole year, I told everyone on the team that I wasn’t going to come back,” Brooks said at Big Ten Media Day in Indianapolis. “After we suffered the loss (to UCLA), I sat down and talked to my parents and just thought why not come back for one more year?”
Brooks’ return adds some veteran leadership to a talented, but young, Michigan roster. The Wolverines boast the No. 2 recruiting class in the country and sophomore center Hunter Dickinson, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, is also back in the fold. But Michigan will be without the services of Isiah Livers, Chaundee Brown, Franz Wagner and Mike Smith, all of whom moved on to pursue NBA careers. That quartet accounted for more than half of the team’s scoring last season, while Livers, Brown and Smith all shot above 40% from three.
Brooks put up solid numbers himself, averaging 9.5 points and 3.1 assists per game and shooting 39.6% from deep, while also being the Wolverines’ best free throw shooter, going 40-of-44 at the line. Brooks was always a solid offensive player, but the pressure was never on him to be a floor general or the best shooter on the court.
Now, with the massive holes left in the backcourt, the onus is on Brooks to fill the void.
“It’s natural because gradually you move up,” Brooks said. “Each year, I’ve taken a step in the leadership department. It’s something that’s come with time. I’m ready because I learned from people that came before me and I know what works and doesn’t work.”
Michigan coach Juwan Howard was thrilled to learn he would have Brooks back for another year. In the weeks following the end of the season, he eagerly awaited Brooks’ decision but never tried to sway him one way or the other.
“He said he’s coming back, and I said, ‘Okay!’ It wasn’t a sales pitch or anything like that,” Howard said. “He had an opportunity to not take the extra year, but he chose that was the best option for him and I respect his decision. I will continue to pour a lot of energy and effort into helping him wherever he wants to go.”
The coaching staff the Wolverines have assembled was a big pull for Brooks to stay. He is the one of the last players from the John Beilein era and having stayed over with Howard, he’s seen how Michigan has been able to remain in the national conversation despite the regime change.
“There are a lot of benefits for me (coming back),” Brooks said. “To have the college experience and full capacity (at Crisler). Being able to learn more from the coaching staff that we have, whether it’s from Coach (Howard) Eisley or (Phil Martelli) or Juwan. We have great coaches and I feel like we have a great team.”
Above everything else, Brooks is chasing what every player dreams of: winning a title. Michigan emerged as a championship contender last season after starting as an unknown commodity. This year, there are expectations at the outset and the pressure will be on the Wolverines from the very first game.
But with Brooks at the helm, he’s ready to embrace the pressure and maybe lead this Michigan team to heights that were just out of reach last season.
“I’ve done pretty much everything I have wanted to do besides win a national championship,” Brooks said. “That’s what brought me back, to win a national championship.”