Eli Brooks’ impact comes into focus against Northwestern

In fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks, Juwan Howard believes he has the best leader in college basketball.

The Michigan men’s basketball team’s captain is already the winningest player in program history. He served as a bridge connecting the John Beilein and Juwan Howard eras, helping the Wolverines reach an Elite Eight on each side.

Nicknamed “The Professor” for his fundamentals and attention to detail, Brooks’ veteran leadership is one of the main reasons Michigan has rebounded from its rocky start this season. Players and coaches alike often laud Brooks for his presence as a coach on the floor.

“We have so many guys out there that haven’t experienced playing at this level,” Michigan assistant coach Howard Eisely said last week. “Just to have someone out there that has been through the trenches and through the wars really helps them to calm nerves.”

But sometimes, even the coach on the court has to lead by example. And when the Wolverines needed a spark on Wednesday night against Northwestern, it was Brooks who delivered.

After the Wildcats cut Michigan’s lead to 36-35 less than two minutes into the second half, Brooks responded by canning a 3-pointer from the wing. He stole a pass in the backcourt after the subsequent inbound and needed only one dribble to get from the top of the key to the rim, where he glided through contact for an and-one lay-in. He made another 3-pointer a minute later, extending the Wolverines’ lead to 11. In a flash, Brooks single-handedly accounted for one of the night’s key turning points.

But for Michigan, Brooks’ impact stretches far beyond the box score.

“I mean, we don’t call him ‘The Professor’ for no reason,” graduate guard DeVante’ Jones said. “He does everything for the team. He defends their best player, he makes good reads, he scores the ball at a high level. That’s what we need from him. He’s probably the best leader in the country.”

Freshman wing Caleb Houstan echoed a similar sentiment, complimenting Brooks’ awareness as a leader. His calm demeanor allows him to stay composed, but most of all, he knows how to talk to each teammate. Some can handle the loud truth in front of the whole team, while others respond best in one-on-one conversations away from the huddle.

On the court, Brooks does a little bit of everything. Scoring and playmaking are two of his duties on offense, while he’s emerged as one of the Big Ten’s elite perimeter defenders at the other end of the floor.

“Eli is Eli, man. He’s a basketball player,” Michigan assistant coach Saddi Washington said Tuesday. “Whether he’s making shots, whether he’s creating shots for other people. … He’s consistent. That’s the thing that we love most about a kid like Eli.”

Brooks’ experience and leadership allow him to make plays and impact games in a number of ways. At times — like the beginning of Wednesday’s second half — he can even take over a game.

That sort of backcourt value made all the difference for the Wolverines on Wednesday.

“Having experienced guards in the backcourt really helps your team,” Howard said. “Eli has been rock solid for us for the last three years since I’ve been here, and he continues to get better and better. There’s a lot of trust. A lot is asked of him and he always welcomes the challenge. He embraces it night in and night out.”

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