Spring Grove's Eli Brooks talks after his team's 77-67 win over Northeastern Friday night. Amanda J. Cain
Eli Brooks’ freshman season didn’t go quite as planned.
The former Spring Grove High School standout started at point guard early on for Michigan, before getting moved to the bench as the Wolverines went on a March Madness run before falling to Villanova in the national title game.
As the No. 18-ranked Wolverines visit the No. 8-ranked Wildcats on Wednesday, Brooks is averaging more than 20 minutes a game this season as the first guard off the bench.
In the season opener, the 6-foot, 1-inch sophomore had one of the best games of his young college career, scoring eight points with four assists and two rebounds. He made two of his three attempts behind the arc in the win that gave head coach Jim Beilein his 800th victory.
“Jordan (Poole) got a foul early, so it gave me an opportunity to play early,” Brooks said. “The team was playing well when I came in, and it just carried on. It was a good start.”
Freshman season: Brooks, who scored more than 2,400 points at Spring Grove, said his struggles as a freshman were confidence related.
“I think I was hesitant because I didn’t have confidence,” Brooks said. “When you’re hesitant, you’re not going to play to the best of your ability, and I think that showed.”
Brooks served as the team’s starting point guard last season for a 12-game stretch early in the campaign, before giving way to Zavier Simpson, who is now a junior. Brooks ended the season scoring 1.8 points per game and averaging 10 minutes a game.
“There is a familiarity with knowing when to score and when to shoot and knowing the game of college basketball, which is way different than high school basketball,” said Brooks about what he learned as a freshman. “Ball-screen coverages that the defense shows and just taking each game at a time, staying consistent and trusting yourself.”
Brooks said he learned the most from Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, a senior guard last year who grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
“I learned a lot from Muhammed,” Brooks said. “Being a Pennsylvania guy, the coaches linked us up together quick. He taught me a lot, on and off the court.”
National championship: Despite Brooks’ individual struggles, the Wolverines enjoyed one of the best college basketball seasons in school history.
Michigan finished at 33-8, winning 14 straight games before losing 79-62 to No. 1 seed Villanova in the national title game in San Antonio, Texas. The Wolverines won the Big Ten championship and were a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s something you dream of as a kid,” Brooks said of the title game. “Being able to get there my first year, seeing the atmosphere, was quite an experience.”
Offseason work: Brooks said he focused on two things in the offseason: his jump shot and his confidence.
Brooks shot 30.2 percent from the field last season, including a 24.4-percent clip on 3-pointers.
“I didn’t shoot the ball that well, so I wanted to get my shot back to where it was,” Brooks said. “I think that was the main thing.”
Brooks sat down with Greg Harden, Michigan’s director of athletic counseling, to gain confidence. Harden has worked with athletes such as Tom Brady, Michael Phelps and Nik Stauskas. He has been featured on “60 Minutes” for his work as a sports counselor.
“I sat down with Professor Harden, as well as Coach Beilein, to just talk about finding myself again,” Brooks said.
Sophomore season: While Brooks is a backup this season thus far, it seems as if he will play a more integral role in this year’s squad.
In the Wolverines' second game, a win over Holy Cross, Brooks finished with two points and four rebounds in 23 minutes. For the season thus far, Brooks is shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range, while averaging 5.0 points per game.
As the first guard off the bench, Brooks said it’s important to pay attention to the flow of the game when he’s not in the game.
“You need to know what we’re running and what’s working,” he said. “Being a point guard, you need to call some of the floor plays and know what’s working and have leadership.”
Brooks said he doesn’t want to overthink the game this season.
“I think when the play breaks down, it’s just about playing basketball,” Brooks said. “You need to have a high IQ and find a way to make it work.”
Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org