On Wednesday, following a blowout win over Northwestern, junior forward Isaiah Livers was asked to describe junior guard Eli Brooks — the game’s leading scorer. Instead of diving into the minutiae of the guard’s performance, Livers kicked things off by giving the third-year player a new nickname:
“The silent assassin.”
Among monstrous dunks from Livers and an emergent performance from senior forward Austin Davis, the player who had the largest number under the points column got lost in the fray. In fact, he didn’t even speak to the media after the game.
Brooks dropped 18 points and shot 4-for-8 from 3-point range. And nobody said a word about it.
Perhaps it’s easy to see why. This season has been a whirlwind for Michigan, which began the campaign red-hot acquiring the No. 4 ranking in college basketball, then fell flat on its face after Livers went down to injury. Add a one-game suspension to senior guard Zavier Simpson and the baffling rise of Davis and you have more storylines than you can reasonably keep track of.
But through it all, the ups and downs, Brooks has remained a fairly reliable source of offense for the Wolverines. Sure, he has his off-games, but who doesn’t?
“One thing that coach (Juwan Howard) always says is that, ‘The ball finds energy,’ ” Brooks said. “The shots are gonna fall eventually, and the percentages will also. If you’re a 45 percent shooter, you’re gonna be a 45 percent shooter over time, so it’s just a matter of time when those baskets fall.”
When he’s on, though, he’s on. Brooks has led the team in scoring on five separate occasions this season, and what’s even more remarkable is that four of those times have either been on the road or on a neutral site.
Most recently, Brooks has led Michigan in scoring in its last three Big Ten road games.
To be sure, this is weird. Throughout the history of basketball, players have almost always put up bigger numbers on their home court giving rise to the term, “Home court advantage.”
Well, for Brooks, that’s wrong, and not for any reason you might expect.
“I like road games better than home games, honestly,” Brooks said with a wide smile. “I like hearing the other crowd, and I use reverse psychology, like, ‘When you miss a shot, they’re cheering for you,’ so you don’t think about it as much, so the next shot’s going in.
“That’s how I think. It’s a weird way to think about it, but it works for me.”
And so far, it’s worked quite well with Brooks notching 25 at Iowa on Jan. 17 and 20 at Nebraska on Jan. 28.
The main source of that scoring has largely come from Brooks’ unique catch-and-shoot ability on the team.
Brooks knows why he’s on the floor for the Wolverines. It’s to use his 38.8 percent 3-point shooting ability to gash teams from the outside. That’s why you’ll frequently see Brooks generating lots of off-ball movement in an attempt to free himself of his defender and get a clean look at the basket.
When working with the coaching staff — assistant coach Saddi Washington, in particular — it’s the encouragement from the top-down that has given Brooks the confidence in his shot selection.
“Coach Saddi just continuing to be on me about hunting shots,” Brooks said on his offense. “And just taking that to heart and trying to apply it.”
‘Cause when he is hunting, it’s open season. So when Brooks steps onto an opponent’s court for a true road game, teams may not be facing the Eli Brooks that appeared in their scouting reports. They’re taking on the silent assassin.