The Wolverine

March 2020 Issue

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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80 THE WOLVERINE MARCH 2020 "He started getting some accolades and was becoming good," James Brooks said. "He could score when he wanted to, he could not do the textbook move — he could do some- thing else, and it would still work. "I would still get on him — 'Hey, you need the fundamentals. You don't need the flash. You just need to be consistent.' When he went off to college, the things he gets praised the most about are being fundamen- tally sound and simplistic in what he does, being consistent in his activities and his demeanor." Demeanor can begin to become an issue when you average 24.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.8 steals and 2.3 assists as a high school junior, especially in an area where those numbers make you a demigod. When those digits get bumped to 29.7, 12.0, 2.2 and 4.0 as a senior, for a state quarterfinals squad, all bets are off. Not so in this case, James Brooks insists. Humility and awareness of others were built into the program, not only encouraged but also en- forced. "The thing that really was amazing about Eli was, he played on a team where he could have been the person who took every single shot," James Brooks said. "But we fostered the idea that the more he set screens, the more he worked for others, the more they would work for him. His ability would then take over, and he'd be able to dominate. "The harder you work for others, it will come back to you. You'll be in a position where people will want to get you the ball, or want you to succeed. It's been a blessing, every- thing working the way it has. It's been amazing." Combined with the occasional dog rescue, his unselfish basketball pat- terns were becoming habits. "With all the things Eli had go- ing on, he's still in that caring mode of thinking about animals, think- ing about others," his dad offered. "That's the thing I'd say the most about Eli. He never got too big to not shake someone's hand, look some- body in the eye, sign something. "Our high school games became unbelievable. We had the most- watched jayvee team in the state. Ev- erybody knew they had to get there [early], or they wouldn't get in the gym. "After the games, we used to stay out an hour, two hours, signing, tak- ing pictures, almost every game, weeknights, weekends. We never turned anyone down. He never got too big to be out in the community, knowing he was doing something no one around here had done, at the level he had done it. He never got too big for himself and he always cared about other people." Team members were committed to helping out in the school's youth program, giving back as assistant coaches. Given Brooks' status on the high school varsity, his appearances were a particular hit with the youth. It was about the kids … and more. "More than just yourself, you're caring for your community — in your actions, giving back to others," the coach commented. "It encour- ages the younger kids to do the same thing when they get to that level." The lessons stuck, along with the younger Brooks' seemingly natural bent for racking up assists away from the basketball court. "I thought about coaching when I was little, just because of my dad," Brooks said. "I want to get into help- ing with youth, so maybe that's a gateway. I like working with younger kids, trying to help them through things." He backs that talk with action, reading to local elementary school kids in Ann Arbor, helping second graders with English and math, and working in an after-school program for kids whose parents work late. "We play sports with them, all the different athletes," Brooks said. "I go to the hospital and talk to kids, inter- act with other athletes. "It's fun. You've got to realize, we're in a blessed situation. We have housing, we have food. Some people don't have that. Some are in a hos- pital. Sometimes they're away from their family. It's fun just to bring joy to people's faces and be there for someone." A FIT AT MICHIGAN Brooks' abilities both off and on the court made him a natural for Beilein's recruiting radar. With 168 three-pointers in his final two prep seasons and 2,426 career points — Brooks has been an effective shooter during the 2019-20 season, sinking 41.3 percent of his shots overall and 38.4 percent of his tries from behind the three-point line through 25 games. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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