The Wolverine

March 2020 Issue

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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MARCH 2020 THE WOLVERINE 79 BY JOHN BORTON E li Brooks has a friend who doesn't care if he scores 20 on the road in a crucial win or struggles all night to make the three-ball drop. Michigan's junior guard gleans both perspective and solace from Finn, the 15-month-old golden re- triever who shares his Ann Arbor apartment. "It keeps you busy," Brooks noted of dog ownership — not to mention classes at the University of Michigan and starting for a major college bas- ketball program. "It's like another person. You find joy. He's cute. When you're having a bad day and you come back to him, it's pretty hard to be mad anymore." If Brooks is mad about anything these days, it doesn't show. He's as impassive in a postgame conversa- tion as he appears to be while bat- tling on the court. That's by design, he assured. "I'm pretty even keeled," Brooks said. "Take the Purdue game, for an example. I only had two points, but I only gave up three points the whole game. I was trying to find other ways to help the team win. You try and do little things, even if the ball is not going in." You also try and treat other peo- ple — along with man's best friend — well, regardless of the ups and downs of any particular basketball season. This one's been good for Brooks, in many ways. Although he started 12 games as a freshman and played in all 37 last year off the bench, he hadn't broken through as a major component in Michigan's attack until this season. Amid U-M's highs and lows, he's remained a big contributor. He en- tered late February fourth among the Wolverines in scoring (11.4 points per game), second in assists (53) and first in three-point field goals made (48). Starting every game, he's con- firmed in new head coach Juwan Howard's mind his initial evaluation of the player Howard inherited from John Beilein. "When I watched from afar, I knew Eli played his freshman year," How- ard said. "Last year, he was a part of the rotation. I did my homework, watched film and saw what he pro- vided to the group last season. "I understood why Coach Beilein played him. He's a high-IQ basket- ball player that knows the game. He has a great feel for the game. If he ever wanted to come back when he's done playing and coach, he'll be a great coach." It's no shocker that Brooks gives off those vibes. After high school games in Spring Grove, Pa., Brooks went home with the coach — his dad, James Brooks — for even more bas- ketball discussion. "I did hear that," James Brooks said of Howard's coaching comment. "I do think Eli would be a good coach." The younger Brooks could always combine coaching with an animal rescue business on the side. His fa- ther knows Finn isn't Eli's first expe- rience with dogs. The evidence remains on James Brooks' sofa. "We have a dog laying on our couch right now that Eli found in a snowstorm," the elder Brooks noted. "He cared enough about this dog to get it inside. We bathed it, sham- pooed it, took care of it, and the next day or two, he went back to the area he found it to knock on doors and try to find the home of the dog. "We put it on the internet, every- thing. We already had two dogs, and Eli just knew, 'Hey, we had to take care of this dog.' We had to make sure it's going to be all right. We still have the dog. Eli's moved on and gone to Michigan, and he's got his own dog there." Rudy, a 9-year-old shih tzu, re- mains in Spring Grove, a testament to Brooks' heart for animals. The recovery operation certainly wasn't the only big-hearted effort along the Michigan junior 's basketball path, one that combined celebrity with a keen sense of empathy. WIZARD OF THE WHITEBOARD Most of Brooks' elementary school contemporaries played with cars and other toys during their free time. His pursuits proved a little more predic- tive of his direction moving forward. He started thinking basketball early, perhaps thanks to a dad im- mersed in it. "When I was little, I would always draw up plays," Brooks said. "In YMCA, I'd draw up plays and ask my dad if we could run them. I had a whiteboard." "He had to have one just like mine," James Brooks said, with a laugh. "When I would upgrade to a new one for the year, I'd always give him the old one. He'd literally sit down and draw up plays, and ask me what I thought about them afterwards. I would get him to ex- plain out why he thought they would work. "He was pretty detailed on it. That was early on, as early as I can re- member. We're talking fourth or fifth grade. It went all the way up to his se- nior year: 'Hey dad, I think we should run this action. This will work.'" Cooperation, humility and a team spirit always worked in the Brooks household, and Eli embodied all of it. Even when he went from fifth-grade John Wooden of the whiteboard to local superstar status in high school, he didn't act the part. He did push back against the coach, a little bit, but always inter- nally. "At first, I didn't like it," Brooks said of the diligent direction he re- ceived. "I viewed it as he was being hard on me. He just saw the potential that I had. He knew basketball and knew what he was talking about. "Once I got more mature, and I realized and could see the bigger pic- ture, it was a better feeling of trust. It was knowing what he saw in me, and buying into the hours and the film sessions we would have." Heart Beyond Hoops Eli Brooks Racks Up Assists In Many Ways Brooks started the first 25 games of the sea- son, and averaged 11.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per contest. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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