Plenty of talent from the Michigan Wolverines’ 2020-21 roster moved on to the next level. In fact, only two of the top six players from a season ago remain with the team this year: Hunter Dickinson and Eli Brooks. Brooks’ return was a bit of a surprise as so many of his compatriots did move on from the college game. But it won’t go unnoticed as Brooks brings veteran leadership and experience into the backcourt this season.
Let’s dig into Brooks’ career at Michigan so far and expand on his role for 2021-22.
The story so far
Brooks is the final remaining member of the 2017-18 championship run on the roster. He’s played 125 career games dating back to that season, and has been a key contributor to this team for most of them. Starting in 69 of those 125 games, Brooks has been a solid combo guard who does a bit of everything for the success of the team.
Originally recruited by John Beilein, Brooks was the No. 201 player in the country and a three-star prospect according to 247Sports. The Spring Grove, Pennsylvania native had Ivy League offers including to Brown. He was once Crystal Balled to attend Villanova for basketball, but he chose the University of Michigan instead.
As a freshman, Brooks played in 31 of the 41 games and started 12 of them due to some injuries on the team. He impressed the coaching staff before the season, but slowly lost playing time as the bench shortened come postseason time.
Tides turned as a sophomore when he saw a bump in playing time (12.9 minutes per game instead of 10) but shot sub-30% from deep and never started that season. It began to look like he could be buried in the depth chart with young talents around him like David DeJulius, Jordan Poole and Zavier Simpson.
When Juwan Howard took over, something changed with Brooks’ role. He became more of a facilitator and even ran some point guard. He shot the ball almost seven more times per game and was much more efficient. He shot 41% from the field and 36.4 % from deep after averaging seeing significant jumps from his 34.8% and 27% averages respectively in his first two seasons at Michigan. Tack that on to already being a strong defender, and Brooks became an indispensable member of the team. He started all 30 games for the Wolverines in 2019-20. But a season cut short by COVID cost Howard his first chance at a Big Ten title and beyond.
However, it did allow Brooks to return to the Wolverines for this super senior season, and it won’t even cost them a scholarship spot on the roster. Last season, the combo guard started 27 games after missing a few due to injury. In that span, the senior shot 42.6 % from the field and 39.6% from behind the arc. He averaged 9.5 points per game and added 3.1 rebounds, a career-high 3.1 assists, and 1.1 steals per contest.
Brooks quickly became one of the top defenders in the conference and had a few special performances on the season. Like when he dropped 21 points and seven assists in the NCAA Tournament against LSU. He’s not often the second or even the third option in the offense, but when called upon, Brooks consistently has delivered over the past two years.
Outlook for 2021-22
Brooks may be the most valuable player on the team in 2021-22. The versatility he brings to the lineup cannot be understated. Being able to play both guard spots gives Howard multiple options to fill lineups around him. It’s not just the numbers that show up on the box score, though. He's countlessly proved to be a hustle guy — a guy who never gives up on a play and someone who can lock a smaller guard down in face-up defense. Brooks is smart and always seems to make the right play.
That leadership doesn’t have value. It’s priceless. And to add on the veteran savvy and his ability to continue to get better throughout his time at Michigan makes him one of the most integral parts of the identity of the Wolverines this season.
From a roster standpoint, his scholarship doesn’t impact the other 15 scholarship players because of the COVID rule. There may not be a more important player in the country that is utilizing that rule this season. Brooks has the opportunity to mentor some of the younger guards on the team like Zeb Jackson, Kobe Bufkin, Frankie Collins and even Caleb Houstan. On top of that, if an injury would happen or if things don’t turn out right with DeVante’ Jones, Michigan has a viable option to start Brooks at point guard.
The Wolverines are extremely fortunate to have a player of Brooks stature back in 2021-22.