With the game on the line on Sunday, the Michigan Wolverines needed a stop in a critical moment to hold off an upset effort from Penn State. The Nittany Lions turned to Sam Sessoms for the final shot and Wolverines guard Eli Brooks responded with one of the best defensive possessions you will ever see, helping preserve what would become a 62-58 win in Ann Arbor to kick off conference play.
Brooks’ value to the team was never more evident than on Sunday as he continued to show himself as being one of the best defenders in the Big Ten while also contributing 12 points in the victory. Head coach Juwan Howard spoke about the performance after the game.
“It’s huge, he means a lot to this team,” Howard said. “He was one of our best defenders last season. Last year, I was totally surprised he wasn’t on the All-Defensive Team. This year, he hasn’t missed a beat because he’s always very detailed, he’s a competitor. He gets into a scouting report and he tries to do everything the right way that’s being coached. We had the right person guarding him at the end of the play at the right time. I knew it, he wanted it. He wanted it man-to-man, he didn’t want zone defense. He wanted to guard him man-to-man and it was awesome to see a guy like that making a winning play. It was inspiring for all of us to watch on the sideline.”
The talk often is about who you want with the ball in his hands with the game on the line if you need a game-winning shot. But on Sunday, the conversation was about the player you most want guarding that guy with the game on the line. Howard says those types of defenders don’t come around all that often.
“You only have a few of those guys around. When you have one of those guys on your team, it is a joy to coach,” Howard said. “You have a guy who doesn’t really care about scoring. Not all about the stats, doesn’t care what shows up on the box score. He just wants to make winning plays to help the team. Eli is that person. He’s always been that guy. Last year, when I had my first year of coaching him, I got a chance to witness it when he’s playing with Zavier a lot. Before the season started, I tried to look at starting lineups, who would be right for that group? Who would be the two-guard that would play alongside Zavier? Eli kept ringing in my ear. He’s just a glue guy, he makes everyone (better). He also holds everyone accountable but he makes it work.”
Howard can say all of this given his lengthy pro career and the guys he has seen up close and personal. What Brooks brings to this team in his role as a stopper brings back memories of NBA players that fall into that category.
“I remember Shane Battier being one of those guys,” Howard said. “Like I said, there’s not a lot of those guys around. I also remember David Wesley when we were in Houston as being one of those guys. I also remember a guy by the name of Jimmy Jackson, he was another one of those guys I’ve been around. Had a lot of teammates but those three individuals—also Dikembe Mutombo.”
Brooks and his teammates will be back in action on Christmas Day when they travel to take on Nebraska.