Eli Brooks' parents talk about his change of heart and his decision to stay at Michigan

ANDREW KAHN
mlive.com (TNS)
Eli Brooks

Three weeks ago, Michigan was preparing for an NCAA Tournament game and Eli Brooks was preparing for the end of his college basketball career.

Across the sport, it was a tough season for players, who had to deal with daily COVID-19 testing, isolation from family and friends, and few to no fans in the stands.

Brooks, a senior guard for the Wolverines, was tired of it. The NCAA was allowing seniors to return next season, a one-time exemption to eligibility rules, but the Spring Grove High School graduate wasn’t going to take advantage.

“We talked to him during the tournament and he was still (going) back and forth,” James Brooks, Eli’s dad, said over speakerphone.

Kelly Brooks, Eli’s mom, clarified. “He definitely wasn’t going back at one point.”

Both parents laugh. Everybody associated with Michigan basketball, now, can too.

Eli is staying in school for one more year.

Being in a bubble was tough: The 6-foot-1 guard, a full-time starter the past two seasons, has not yet spoken publicly about his decision. Four other Michigan seniors faced the same choice, and they decided to pursue a professional basketball career, either in the NBA or overseas.

The latter would have been an option for Eli. He not only considered it, he preferred it, given how this season went.

“Being in the bubble, getting tested every day, he was like, ‘I don’t think I can do this again. I’m not coming back,’” Kelly said. “It was a really hard year for the kids. Not being around their families at all. Being in the (postseason) bubble for so long. It was just really hard. Making the decision, he had to wait until that was all over.”

Michigan had done well on the court, winning 23 games and losing just five, securing the Big Ten title in the process and reaching the Elite Eight. Eli was a key part of the success, averaging 9.5 points per game while playing superb defense. The coaches wanted him back.

The decision-making process: Asked about his intentions immediately after Michigan’s NCAA Tournament loss to UCLA on March 30, Eli said, “I talked about it with my family and weighed the different options, but I didn’t come to a conclusion.”

Removed from the grind of the season, Eli gave it more thought. Michigan could be really good again next year, and he could play an even bigger role. Europe will still exist next year.

Then again, the Wolverines will look a lot different next season. Eli's long-time teammates Isaiah Livers and Austin Davis will be gone, as might sophomore Franz Wagner.

“He had his meeting with Juwan — and it was only with Juwan — and he felt really good about it,” said James, who was Eli's head coach in high school. “During that meeting or towards the end he made the decision. They were both happy with it.”

Like it or not, he'll be a leader: Eli will get another season of college basketball — hopefully one that won’t require so many COVID restrictions, including more fans inside arenas. And he’ll start on a master’s degree in social work.

Eli, a co-captain last season known for his basketball IQ, will be a super senior. He’ll have seniors Brandon Johns Jr., a potential starter, and Adrien Nuñez, plus four rising sophomores, to help him, but guiding a six-man freshman class will fall heavily on Eli.

“It will be a lot of teaching, on-court, off-court, how Michigan does things,” James Brooks said.

Teammates and coaches have said for years that Eli excels in this area.

“I think he’s good at it,” James said, before adding with a laugh: “I don’t know if he always particularly likes it. There are moments where he would like to be responsible just for himself. But when you’re in a leadership role, that’s not how it goes. He’d rather be in the leadership role than not.”

And, for one more year, he’d rather be doing it at Michigan.