There is something to be said about knowing why you are doing something.
If you know – down to the smallest detail – the reason for the decision, it almost always makes that decision better.
According to James Brooks, this also applies to basketball.
“That’s how I trained,” James told The Daily. “You have to know the reason why you’re doing what you’re doing, and then you’re going to do it without me telling you to do it.”
This seems pretty self-evident. A coach doesn’t always have to tell his players what to do. But what James preached was different; it was deeper. James ’philosophy was accurate – if you didn’t know for sure why are you doing something, you asked questions until done.
In his opinion, it made the basketball players smarter and better.
And so did Eli Brooks.
The idea challenges everything – knowing not only what you do, but also why you do it – makes Ellie unique. This is what allows him to see the game the way he is, giving him the ability to recognize an opponent’s sets even before they throw the first pass. Then he not only takes the position, but also knows where each player on his team should be in that split second.
That’s why the fifth year of the Michigan guard, and now the best player of all time, has a very appropriate nickname: “Professor”.
And it all started in Spring Grove, Pa.
Or can’t remember when his family returned to Spring Grove. Born in Sumter, Carlamina, while his father James served in the Air Force, Ellie was just two years old when James graduated and Brooke decided to return to Pennsylvania.
For Elijah the Spring Grove has always been home.
Here were his grandparents and family, there he grew up and here he started playing basketball.
Not only did James be out of service, allowing Ellie to spend all of his childhood at Spring Gow, it also allowed James to be his coach. From elementary school to high school to high school Dad Eli coached his team.
This was an advantage not only for Eli but for everyone around him.
“Most high school coaches have children under the age of four,” James said. “So, with 10 years of experience working with one coach, parents and everything related to the team, everyone knows what awaits them next (season).”
That expectation had to come true.
“Kids are used to winning,” James said. “That group of kids I had with Ellie knew how to win, and they knew what it was like to win.”
Or was a star, but their success was shared. Eli had a way to make everyone around him better. In this way, as a team, they improved together, asked questions together and developed an understanding of what it is like to play winning basketball together.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Spring Grove High School youth team was not a team that knew it was experiencing victory in basketball. The Rockets won just two games a year before the arrival of James, Ellie and his teammates. Brooke and company were determined to change that.
But it took time. In the first season, Eli came off the bench, and Spring Grave finished with seven wins. The following year, after a sharp rise, Ellie started, and the Rockets got 15 wins and their first district playoff game in more than a decade.
But in his junior year Spring Grove took off. Eli led the Rockets to a record of 25-4, earning his first since 1971 York-Adams Inter-School Sports Association Championship title and the first-ever Pennsylvania Inter-School Sports Association Playoff 4A playoff title.
They found a way to win basketball.
“If you buy into winning basketball, it will work,” Eli said. So, being able to move forward with the guys we had, everyone played their part, and we did it. ”
While Spring Grove continued to win in Ellie’s senior season, he continued to impress. Early in his high school career the noise quickly turned into chatter, which turned into celebrities. Eli Brooks wasn’t just a Spring Grove star, he was the guy in York County.
“He turned out as if he were the ambassador of this area,” said York Daily Record sports reporter Matt Elibon. “… He definitely drew attention to this area.”
And the district put his attention.
“Every game has been sold out,” Allibone said. “It’s always been an event.”
And Eli was at the center of the stage. People flocked to see him, and that meant Ellie was obliged to give them everything he had; not only on the court, but also after the game.
Ellie stayed – taking pictures, meeting people, talking to his fans – for at least an hour after each game. Win or lose, Eli did it.
“Talking to kids, taking pictures with kids, I feel that sometimes some people can be annoyed,” said Brendan McGlyn, a former Eli teammate on AAU and a rival in high school. “And I feel like he loves it, just helping little kids make their dreams come true and so on, like he’s more than just a basketball player.”
But it’s more than that. Whether he’s been like that forever or learned it in high school, he gives his all – that’s who Eli is.
If it will hand out autographs and take pictures after the game, he will give it to you. If he tells his teammate where they should be on defense as soon as he sees the set, he will give it to you. If it stingy on winning basketball until everyone else does, it will also give you that.
And he knows exactly why he does it:
It helps the people around.
If you asked Eli earlier this season why he returned to Michigan for the fifth year, he would tell you something about “unfinished business” or mention his hunger for the national championship.
But when you ask him that he is returning to study, his eyes light up before he starts telling you about his masters of social work and what he once worked to help children.
In the tunnel after Wolverine’s recent victory over Iowa in Iowa City, when asked what he wanted his legacy to be in Michigan, Elijah’s eyes strayed elsewhere. He made eye contact with the child who was waiting for the photos, and gave him a “one second” hand gesture before answering the question:
“I’m trying my best to pass on all my knowledge to other people on the team,” Eli told The Daily.
As soon as he finished talking, he found himself next to the kid, smiling, taking pictures and handing out autographs.
The usual thread running through the reasons for Eli’s return – unfinished business, degree in social work, organizing a children’s day, support from teammates and coaches – is that each reason gives him another chance to help others.
And now that Michigan coach Juvan Howard has been dismissed until the end of the regular season and hopes for the NCAA Wolverines tournament on the line, Ellie once again has a chance to help lead his team more than ever before.
“If you look around and say, ‘Okay, who do I want with me?’ You say, “Okay, he’s the first guy I want with them,” said Michigan coach Phil Martelli.
While Ellie maintains leadership over the players, doing her best to help Wolverines get a bid for the tournament, he will use principles he learned from his father and in Spring Grove: ask questions, know why you are doing on the court, wear winning mentality and, above all, making people around you better.
And that’s exactly what he does.