Early on in the Michigan men’s basketball season, it felt like Eli Brooks had to be ‘the guy.’
The fifth-year guard was expected to be the one taking over 10 shots a game. The one who had to go get a tough bucket when the offense would stagnate. The one who did it all.
But, that isn’t really Brooks’s game.
Brooks is at his best playing off the ball, his relentless cuts tiring out defenses. He’s at his best when he’s bridging the offense, initiating plays and always making the extra pass. And, he’s certainly at his best on the defensive end, where he takes the assignment of guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player.
Now that the rest of Michigan’s offensive weapons are starting to fire on all cylinders, the version of Brooks that the Wolverines need is back in his role, and they’re better for it.
“Eli is Eli, man, he’s a basketball player,” Michigan assistant coach Saddi Washington said. “Whether he is making shots, whether he’s creating shots for other people… He’s consistent. That’s the thing that we love most about a kid like Eli.”
Lately for Brooks, it’s been more so creating shots for others. His own shooting has been mediocre over the last two games, converting on a combined three makes on eight attempts. Yet, those two contests — double-digit wins over Maryland at home and Indiana on the road — were some of Michigan’s best performances of the year.
They weren’t games in which Brooks was asked to score at a high volume or to play Superman. Instead, they were games where Brooks was simply himself:
The player who can help run the offense, point to his teammates where to stand on the floor and provide a much-needed stability.
When Brooks only needs to be himself, it usually benefits the Wolverines. In games where Brooks has attempted 10 or more field goals, Michigan is just 4-6. Compare that to 5-1 when he attempts less than that and it quickly becomes apparent that when Brooks is playing the support role — the part he plays so well — the Wolverines have been a better team.
That’s because Brooks provides so much more than scoring. Through his experience, Brooks is looked to as the leader of the team. He’s the lone captain and time and time again is referred to as a “coach on the floor” and by his nickname “The Professor.”
“We have so many guys out there that haven’t experienced playing at this level,” Michigan assistant coach Howard Eisely said Friday. “So just to have someone out there that has been through the trenches and through the wars, really helps them to calm (their) nerves.”
That’s what five years of collegiate experience can help you become. Someone that is looked to for so much more than just a couple of shots per game. And, it’s when Brooks occupies the role where he is doing everything else, making all the plays that aren’t recorded on the stat sheet, that the Wolverines have been at their best.
Washington understands that as well as anyone.
“He understands that now, as a senior, that his impact doesn’t stop whether he’s making shots or not. There’s so many more ways to impact the game. He does that a really high level for us.”