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Basketball Season Review: Eli Brooks emerged once again as unsung hero in 2020-21

And the story may not be over just yet.

LSU v Michigan Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Eli Brooks’ career arc with the Michigan Wolverines has been one of seizing opportunities when they become available. Sometimes the chance you have to make an impact will pass, but continuing to put in the work and positioning yourself for that next shot can be what defines a player.

Brooks was not a huge factor in Michigan’s success in his first two seasons on campus but was still a part of teams that competed for a national championship and made two Sweet 16 appearances. He started games at point guard early in his freshman season, but Zavier Simpson ultimately grabbed that spot and never relinquished it.

Brooks’ role was expanded upon Juwan Howard’s arrival given the exodus of players like Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis from the program following the 2018-19 season. Howard settled on Brooks as his starting two-guard and it has been a spot he has held onto ever since all while developing into one of the best defensive players in college basketball.

Eli Brooks’ stats (2019-21)

Season GP MPG FG % 3PT % FT % Reb Ast Stl Pts
Season GP MPG FG % 3PT % FT % Reb Ast Stl Pts
2019-20 30.0 32.0 41.0 36.4 72.9 3.7 2.0 0.8 10.6
2020-21 27.0 29.9 42.6 39.6 90.9 3.1 3.1 1.1 9.5

Brooks was relied upon for offense last season a lot more than he was this year, which is a testament to how deep this group was. His usage rate dropped to 16 percent on the offensive end of the floor as he slid into a more complementary role.

Despite his minutes and points per game taking a bit of a hit this year, Brooks was better in almost every statistical category listed above. He shot nearly 40 percent from three and increased his free throw percentage from 72.9 to a career-high 90.9 percent. He also set a career mark of 3.1 assists per game, which is not surprising given that he played the point in certain rotations when Mike Smith was off the floor.

Brooks and his Michigan teammates were erroneously left off of the Big Ten’s all-defense honors, but his play throughout the year cemented him as an elite defender and one of the best guards in the country on that end of the floor.

Most analytics rightfully point to Hunter Dickinson, Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers as Michigan’s three most important players, but the eyeball test case can be made that Brooks quietly may have been the team’s MVP. His impact on the roster was never felt more than when he missed the game against Minnesota and left early with an ankle injury against Michigan State in the season finale. Their inability to get into an offensive flow and share the basketball were defining traits of those two losses in addition to his ability to hit shots from the perimeter.

Brooks took part in Senior Night festivities with his other departing teammates, but this year’s celebration came with an asterisk next to it. The NCAA paused eligibility for all players this season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that any senior could opt back into their team for 2021-22 and not count against the scholarship limit. There remains optimism in Ann Arbor that Brooks may take Michigan up on that offer after Smith and Chaundee Brown declared for the 2021 NBA Draft.

Brooks returning to Michigan would be massive for its roster in 2021-22. Without him, Michigan would be left with a backcourt led by a sophomore in Zeb Jackson and a pair of top-50 freshmen in Frankie Collins and Kobe Bufkin. That is far from a bad spot to be in, but Brooks coming back would give them a proven contributor at both guard spots and a mentor to players that project to be the future of the program.

Collins is the only true point guard on the roster for next season, so it stands to reason that Howard may elect to dip back into the transfer portal. Brooks can handle point guard duties if need be, but he proved over the last two years that he is best suited to play off the ball more often than not. We will not count the chickens before they hatch and wait for Brooks to make the call before we break this down.

If Brooks decides that he is content with his Michigan career, it will be a happy story for a player who has worked hard for everything he has earned as a Wolverine. Returning to the roster would give him a chance to add to his legacy as one of the winningest players in program history and a needed veteran presence on what projects to be a young team.

Either way, his worth was proved over the last two years and has been a pleasure to watch.