Spring Grove's Eli Brooks talks after his team's 77-67 win over Northeastern Friday night. Amanda J. Cain
There were doubts.
There had to be doubts.
If Eli Brooks didn’t have some doubts, he wouldn’t be human.
Brooks, however, didn’t allow the doubts, or the doubters, to deter him.
He didn’t pout, and he didn’t complain, at least not publicly.
Most importantly, he didn’t quit.
Instead, he simply put his head down and went back to work.
Now, that hard work is paying off in a very big way.
As nearly every York County sports fan knows by now, Brooks is enjoying a breakout junior season for the Michigan Wolverines — who just happen to be the biggest surprise team in all of men’s college basketball this season.
The former Spring Grove High School standout is a big reason why the Wolverines have gone from unranked to No. 4 in the nation in just a week.
Overcoming difficult times: Brooks’ journey to college success, however, has hardly been easy. In fact, it’s been downright difficult.
After one of the great high school careers in York County history, Brooks struggled during his first two years with the Wolverines, both with his long-range shooting and his confidence. In each year, in limited action mostly off the bench, he averaged fewer than three points per game and shot under 30% from 3-point range.
Losing his coach: Then, after last season, longtime Michigan head coach John Beilein left the Wolverines to take the head-coaching job with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Beilein was the man who recruited Brooks to Michigan, despite the fact that Brooks wasn’t considered a monster four- or five-star recruit coming out of high school. In fact, Brooks was a late bloomer, at least in terms of recruiting, and came to Michigan as an unheralded three-star prospect.
After Beilein’s departure, no one would have blamed Brooks for opting to leave the Wolverines. After all, his first two years in Ann Arbor obviously didn’t go as well as he would’ve liked, and the man he came to play for was jumping ship.
Ignoring the whispers: There were more than a few whispers, in both York County and Michigan, that the 6-foot, 1-inch, 185-pound Brooks wasn’t big enough, strong enough or talented enough to excel against college’s basketball’s elite in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten Conference. Many believed he’d be better off at a mid-major NCAA Division I program.
Brooks, apparently, didn’t listen to those whispers. Instead, he worked hard to refine his game, improve his shooting and regain his confidence, all in an effort to impress new Michigan head coach Juwan Howard. Consider Howard — a longtime NBA player and a member of Michigan’s famed Fab Five in the early 1990s — duly impressed.
Stellar start in 2019: The early-season results are now in, and it appears obvious that Brooks’ decision to remain at Michigan has been vindicated. Brooks has been nothing short of a revelation thus far during his breakout junior season.
He’s started all seven games for the unbeaten Wolverines and is averaging more than 32 minutes per game. He’s averaging 12.9 points per game, which is third-best on the team, and shooting 50% from 3-point range, which is second best on the team. He’s been lauded by both Howard and his teammates for his high basketball IQ, calling him another coach on the floor.
Helping Michigan excel: Brooks is a major reason that Michigan has shocked the college basketball world thus far. A team that was picked by most to finish in the middle of the Big Ten pack stunned NCAA blue-blood North Carolina last Thursday, thanks largely to a stellar 24-point outburst by Brooks. The Wolverines followed that with an upset of perennial power Gonzaga to win the Battle 4 Atlantis championship in the Bahamas.
Both North Carolina and Gonzaga entered those games ranked among the top-10 teams in the nation.
Things don’t get any easier for the Wolverines on Tuesday night, when they face a road contest vs. No. 1 Louisville.
Of course, at this point, Brooks and his teammates have proven they won’t back down from any challenge.
A local folk hero: It’s no secret that most sports fans here in York County — not just Spring Grove — are rooting hard for Brooks.
During his high school career, he became a near folk hero in these parts, and not just because of his basketball exploits.
Off the court, the Rockets’ star seemed to do everything right. It’s nearly impossible to find anyone in this area who has a bad word to say about the young man.
That is why his recent success with Michigan is such a big local story.
Erasing the doubts: Still, it’s important to note that Brooks’ 2019-2020 sample size is still relatively small — just seven games. There is still a ton of basketball yet to be played. Brooks, like any player, will certainly experience his fair share of ups and downs in the weeks and months to come.
At this point, however, Brooks seems to have washed away the struggles from his first two years and emerged on the other side as a more confident, more complete player.
The doubts, at least for now, have been erased, and the doubters have been silenced.
— Steve Heiser is sports editor for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.