2021-22 Season

‘Irreplaceable’ Eli Brooks pushes Michigan back to the Sweet Sixteen

Each of Michigan’s 14 losses this season have carried the same somber scene and, for the most part, the same main character: Eli Brooks. 

Brooks, a fifth-year senior, has become a public face of the program, a position that carries with it both benefits and drawbacks. That includes having to shoulder the burden of speaking to the media following a disheartening loss. 

So in these exercises, Brooks sits at a table, shoulders sagged. Ever even-keeled, he seldom allows frustration to seep through the surface. But his mannerisms tend to tell the story — his face long and stoic, his voice monotone, his eyes tunneled downwards. 

During these moments, it became hard not to consider Brooks’s circumstances. Last April, he exercised his extra year of eligibility, still bitter from the Elite Eight heartbreak. He would return for one last hurrah, one last chance at eternal glory. 

But this? A season littered with growing pains, stuck on the outskirts of the NCAA Tournament picture, living a perilous life of a bubble team — this couldn’t have been what Brooks signed up for. 

It’s funny to ponder all of this now, with Michigan improbably on its way back to yet another Sweet Sixteen, the program’s fifth-consecutive trip to the second weekend of the Big Dance. And Brooks — because who else, really — flanked Hunter Dickinson with a masterful performance, pouring in 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting with five assists. 

Saturday could have been Brook’s last game donning the Maize and Blue, the final in a 157-game career. 

“That’s definitely in the back of my mind,” Brooks conceded postgame with a smile. 

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