Eli Brooks’ phone rang, and DeAndre Haynes was on the other end.
Haynes, an assistant coach on the Michigan men’s basketball team, called Brooks to give the sophomore guard a little extra boost before the season.
“Man, I’m proud of you,” Haynes said. “Just keep doing what you’re doing, keep being a great leader and keep playing with confidence.”
It would be easy for Brooks to lose the faith. At the start of last year, the point guard position was one of the Wolverines’ most pressing questions, and for a time, Brooks looked like he could be the answer. He earned the starting job in November, but had lost it by January.
Brooks faded into the background as then-sophomore Zavier Simpson broke out on defense. He was eclipsed as backup point guard by fifth-year senior Jaaron Simmons and backup shooting guard by freshman Jordan Poole. By February, Brooks was averaging less than five minutes a game.
This year will be different. Brooks knows he won’t have a starting role, with Simpson and Poole firmly entrenched at the ‘1’ and ‘2,’ respectively. But Brooks has a different perspective, an improved game and with it, a clearer path to more playing time.
“He handled it last year really well and … he got chances to go back on the scout team and really get reps,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “And he’s been one of our best players this fall.”
Brooks’ experience with the scout team led him to take more of a leadership role among the freshmen, especially forward Ignas Brazdeikis and guard David DeJulius — something he didn’t do last year. He has never been very vocal, but with Simpson’s fiery “bulldog” personality, he doesn’t need to be.
Instead, Brooks leads by example. Frequently, he stays after practice with the freshmen, teaching them the finer points of the game. It helps them, but it also helps him.
“It’s just his confidence,” Haynes said. “He’s just been a great teammate. I was telling someone earlier, the things (guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman) was doing with him last year and doing with the team, you see him doing.”
During his time on the bench, Brooks learned the importance of confidence — something that has increased with his leadership. Beilein and Haynes have noticed the difference, and the improvements that have come along with it.
Beilein praised Brooks for shooting the ball as well as any Wolverine. Haynes mentioned him as one of Michigan’s best defenders — high praise for a player on one of the country’s best defensive teams. If those changes show up in games, other teams will start to notice, too.
“We don’t know if he’ll back up at the point, play more of the ‘2,’ I don’t know what,” Beilein said. “But he’s gonna be on the court.”
After last year, Brooks could have given up and resigned himself to a diminished role. Instead, he recognized his unique position to help other players improve — and carved out a place for himself in the process. And no matter what position he plays this year, Brooks knows he has a lot to offer, on and off the court.
“Just maintaining your confidence, cause that’s one of the biggest things I learned,” Brooks said. “You’re gonna have highs and lows, but just being able to limit the lows is one way to stay on top.”