The possession began as many do — a few probing passes and a couple meager off-ball cuts.
Offensive stagnation may be excusable, even expected, from the backup unit in its first competitive action together. With two freshmen on the floor, a transfer and two sophomores who played sparingly a year ago, a few ugly possessions simply come with the territory.
But then freshman guard Eli Brooks took action.
Identifying the zone, Brooks darted into the lane off the ball, away from his spot on the wing. Before many of the defenders could even spot the generously-listed six-foot guard, he was inside a hole in the zone with the ball in his hands. Soon after the catch, Brooks quickly released his mid-range jumper. Two points.
They were an inconspicuous two points, especially against Grand Valley State in an exhibition game.
But the play could be emblematic of a possible solution to one of the predicaments facing the Michigan men’s basketball team ahead of the season: Where will the bench scoring come from?
Of the five-man group on the floor as the second unit in the exhibition game, only sophomore Ibi Watson and sophomore Jon Teske have experience in Michigan coach John Beilein’s system. The two of them combined to average just 1.7 points per game last year.
The Michigan coaching staff believes Brooks can be an answer to that question.
“I like that he’s really an excellent shooter,” Beilein said after the game. “You saw a little bit of that (Friday). He’s just learning the game. I sense right now he’s going to be one of those guys who picks up college basketball pretty quickly. That’s what I sense right now.”
Added assistant coach Deandre Haynes: “He’s always making the right reads, making the right plays. He takes his open shots, but if he’ll be a little more aggressive — and even with our young guys — we’ll be a special team.”
For Brooks, early playing time not only comes with a steep learning curve of college basketball, but also the predicament of playing a new position.
With two point guards ahead of him in terms of experience in the system (sophomore Zavier Simpson) and experience in general (fifth-year senior Jaaron Simmons), Brooks enters the year at a distinct disadvantage to vie for playing time. Which is why, though Beilein insists Brooks remains in the starting competition, he could be an asset on an offensively-deficient second unit.
To do so, he will likely have to play at least some time in a new position: shooting guard. While it may seem implausible for a freshman to play significant minutes in a new position, Beilein noted that “in a two-guard front, once we get up there, they’re doing the same thing.”
Still, it’s a tall task for a freshman making the leap in competition from rural Pennsylvania to the Big Ten.
His teammates certainly think he’s ready.
When asked at Big Ten Media Day who has stuck out most in practice, senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman did not hesitate.
“He can play on and off the ball,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “He’s a really good shooter, and he has great court vision. Just overall game and understanding for the game.”
Junior forward Moritz Wagner and senior forward Duncan Robinson also volunteered Brooks as a standout.
While Brooks lingers in the point guard battle — a testament to his college-readiness on its own — he still sees plenty of room to grow.
“(I’m) just hesitating on some shots that I should take,” Brooks said at the team’s media day. “Knowing the offense, but knowing how to score out of the offense is probably the biggest change out of high school. … Just being able to know when to take shots and when not to take shots.”
He’s a freshman after all. But he just may hold a key to the offense.