Ann Arbor — There was a time last season when former Michigan coach John Beilein would show Eli Brooks clips of himself from high school to remind him of the player he can be.
He was confident. He was aggressive. He was scoring in bunches.
It was a 180 from the player Brooks looked like as he fell into the habit of passing up shots and second-guessing himself on the court.
Yet, first-year coach Juwan Howard hasn’t needed to bust out Brooks’ old highlight reel this season. That’s because the junior guard has been playing with a renewed sense of self-assurance heading into Tuesday’s Gavitt Games clash against Creighton.
"I just see a lot more confidence not even in scoring, but just the way I look out there on the court,” Brooks said Monday of what he sees of himself on film this season compared to last year.
“My presence, being able to talk to people on the court and not just worrying about myself and being able to try to organize other people as well (is different)."
The key to tapping back into the old version of himself and pulling it out? Meditation.
Brooks said he started meditating last season around the time Michigan wrapped up regular-season play and headed into the Big Ten tournament.
He noted he tried to meditate before games back in high school but could never do it. He decided to give it another shot last year because Beilein had always talked about it.
“It's something that I didn't really understand,” Brooks said, “but then I finally started doing it and it really helped me.”
And it showed in his play last year. After closing out Big Ten play with a rough stretch where he made three baskets and scored seven points over 11 games, he nearly matched that total alone in the Big Ten tournament opener with six points on a pair of 3-pointers.
Brooks would go on to score in four of Michigan’s final five games and finished the postseason with 20 points on 44.4 percent shooting (8-for-18) off the bench.
While it may be a small sample size, Brooks said he felt the meditation made a big difference right away. He had a lot less worries. His thoughts were freer. He could understand things easier. He wasn’t overthinking anything.
Brooks has since made meditation a staple of his pregame routine. He said he usually takes the floor close to two hours before tip-off to put up some shots. From there, he’ll go back to the locker room, shower and then find a quiet place where he’ll sit and close his eyes for 10-15 minutes.
"I let (my mind) go wherever but it always goes back to seeing myself on the court,” Brooks said. “That's mostly where it goes.
“I feel like visualization is a big key for success. Seeing yourself out there before it even happens is something that Coach B preached, and I really took to it.”
So far, it has continued to pay off. In Michigan’s exhibition against Saginaw Valley State earlier this month, Brooks tallied 13 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes. He drew a team-high seven fouls and went 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.
"I’ve been trying to tell people, man, Eli Brooks. He's under the radar,” junior forward Isaiah Livers said after the exhibition. “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. It was his welcoming party.”
Brooks followed that up with a career performance in last week’s regular-season opener against Appalachian State, posting a career-high 24 points. He shot 7-for-15 from the field, 5-for-11 from 3-point range and 5-for-6 from the free-throw line after, once again, drawing a team-high six fouls.
The points, shot attempts and made 3-pointers all more than doubled his previous career highs.
“Eli looks so much more comfortable out there. His confidence is so high right now,” senior center Jon Teske said last week. “It's been a lot of hard work. He's been through ups and downs his freshman and sophomore year and give credit to him. He stuck with it and he stayed here all spring and summer.
“You could see him in the game with the ball in his hands he was comfortable. He can knock down 3s, he can get to the rim, he can rebound, he can do all the little things, too.”
But more important than Brooks’ impressive stat lines has been his willingness to continue shooting the ball, as evidenced by his rough 1-for-7 night against Saginaw Valley.
Brooks noted last year if he missed a shot, he’d get discouraged and turn down other shots. Even when Beilein would tell him to shoot the ball, he would still be passive.
However, Brooks regained the confidence during open gyms this summer when his teammates would implore him to keep firing. It was part of an offseason where Brooks focused on playing with an aggressive mindset on offense, and it’s a mindset his teammates want him to maintain.
"He's just got to keep attacking,” Teske said. “We have to stay on him and if we see him stand back and shoot 3s, we'll get on him to get to the paint not just for himself but to kick out to others. He has a great IQ for the game and he's going to find the open man if he gets into the paint.”
While Brooks has shown he can make an impact whether or not his shots are falling this season, the hope is it's a sign of more to come — and a sign of the player he will continue to be.
"We need him," Howard said. "He can shoot the basketball. He defends well. He plays hard. His teammates love him and we enjoy coaching him.
“The kid is talented...I want him to stay aggressive.”
Creighton at Michigan
Tip-off: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: Michigan 1-0, Creighton 1-0
Outlook: Michigan is 1-1 in the Gavitt Games, with a loss to Xavier in 2015 and road win over Villanova last season…This is the third all-time meeting between the programs and first since 2009…Creighton was picked to finish seventh in the Big East preseason poll and is led by junior guard Ty-Shon Alexander, who averaged 19 points last season.