Eli Brooks uses NCAA's free year to return to Michigan for fifth season

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Eli Brooks’ time in Ann Arbor isn’t over just yet.

The Michigan basketball program announced that Brooks will come back for a fifth season and take advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA to all winter athletes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guard Eli Brooks will return for another season at Michigan.

According to the program, Brooks made the decision after meeting with coach Juwan Howard on Wednesday.

“Having the ‘Professor’ back is only going (to) help our team, our culture and me,” Howard said in a tweet. “Eli never ceases to amaze us with his knowledge of the game, but it’s his zest for life and its deeper meaning that I admire most. I’m ready for class!”

With starting point guard Mike Smith and sixth man Chaundee Brown already passing on the free year to pursue professional careers, Brooks’ return — which won’t count against Michigan’s scholarship limit for next season — is a major boost for the Wolverines.

The 6-foot-1 guard is one of the team’s top defenders and averaged 9.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 31 minutes per game last season. He also posted the best shooting numbers of his career in 2020-21, making 42.6% of his shots from the floor and 39.6% from beyond the arc.

While Brooks didn’t lead the Wolverines in any of those statistical categories, the coaching staff often talked about how his contributions beyond the box score impacted winning. Last season, Michigan went 23-3 in games Brooks didn’t miss due to injury.

“He’s the most valuable player on this team, plain and simple,” assistant coach Phil Martelli said in March. “The most invaluable piece both to his teammates and to the coaching staff is Eli Brooks. This team is about balance and that's what Eli brings.

“He's a tremendous defender. He's a big basket maker. He takes pressure off of Mike in the minutes that Mike needs to be off the floor. His IQ and willingness to share his knowledge not just with his teammates but with the coaches during practice, that's why I say he's the most valuable player on this team."

As one of Michigan’s two primary ball-handlers last season, Brooks spent time at both guard spots and has the ability to initiate the offense. His versatility and veteran presence will help stabilize what projects to be a young backcourt with sophomore-to-be Zeb Jackson and incoming freshmen Frankie Collins and Kobe Bufkin.

Brooks will be one of the most experienced players in the Big Ten next season. He has appeared in 125 games over his four-year career and has started all 57 contests that he’s played in the past two seasons.

Of Michigan’s five scholarship seniors, Brooks might be the only one to return for 2021-22. Isaiah Livers and Austin Davis haven’t made official announcements yet, but both appear likely to move on.

The Wolverines are also awaiting NBA Draft decisions from Franz Wagner, who is a projected lottery pick, and Hunter Dickinson, who could evaluate his options after a strong freshman season.

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins