ANN ARBOR, Mich — Entering his junior season, Eli Brooks had never scored in double digits in a game during his Michigan basketball career.
The Spring Grove High School graduate broke through that barrier in a huge way on Tuesday night.
The Wolverines guard exploded for a career-high 24 points to help new head coach Juwan Howard win his Michigan debut, 79-71, vs. visiting Appalachian State. Howard replaced longtime Wolverines head coach John Beilein, who left for the NBA. Howard starred on Michigan's Fab Five teams in the early 1990s.
With Howard calling the shots Tuesday, Brooks flourished. The 6-foot, 1-inch, 185-pound guard started the game and played a team-high 37 minutes, going 7 for 15 from the field and 5 for 11 from 3-point range. Brooks was also 5 for 6 from the foul line and had three assists, two rebounds, a steal and a block.
His shooting from long distance had to be especially encouraging for Brooks, who shot under 30% from 3-point range in each of his first two years at Michigan, when he served mostly as a role player while averaging 1.8 points per game as a freshman and 2.5 ppg as a sophomore.
Brooks had talked about being more aggressive this season and that is something that Howard welcomes.
"I want him to be aggressive. The kid is talented," Howard said after Tuesday's win. "He's a high-IQ player. He knows how to read the game very well. He's like another coach on the floor."
Michigan led 67-37 with about 13 minutes remaining, when Appalachian State went on a 30-5 run. A 3-pointer by Adrian Delph cut the lead to five with 38.8 seconds left, but the Mountaineers couldn't complete the comeback.
"You kind of expect us to hit a bump," said Brooks, who scored more than 2,400 points during his stellar all-state career with the Rockets. "Not everything's going to go smoothly, especially the first game. New coach, new system, so it's to be expected. Just moving forward, next-play mentality."
Brooks also excelled vs. Saginaw State: In Michigan's exhibition win over Saginaw State on Nov. 1, Brooks also excelled, recording a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. He also had three assists and two steals.
After that game, Brooks' teammate, Isaiah Livers, praised Brooks.
"Trying to tell people, man, Eli Brooks," Livers said. "He's under the radar. Eli, he's been great since the first day of practice. He came in with this attitude and he knew what spot he wanted to come in and get. Obviously, he showed, it was his welcoming party."
Howard also praised Brooks after the Saginaw contest.
"Eli is a big competitor," Howard said. "Even though he may look small because of his size, he's tough. He competes every day in practice."
Brooks, meanwhile, believes he's ready to take the step.
"It feels like the game has slowed down a lot," Brooks said after the Saginaw win. "Still little kinks (I have to work on) but I felt comfortable. I think you just have to trust the work that you put in. Also, one thing I did was meditate and try to clear my mind and just focus on the good things I did last year and try to improve on the old."
Reach Steve Heiser at firstname.lastname@example.org.