Eli Brooks getting Division I looks
At midnight on June 15 — the first day colleges could contact Class of 2017 athletes — Eli Brooks' phone lit up.
It was a text from James Madison University representatives, who refused to waste even a minute in letting Brooks know he was on their radar.
Brooks' phone lit up several more times throughout his first day of eligibility with calls or texts, as eight Division I college basketball programs let the Spring Grove junior know they were keeping an eye on him.
"It was crazy because the only school I talked to face-to-face with was Mount St. Mary's," Brooks said. "So I was surprised to see seven other schools interested in my game."
Brooks, who averaged 20.1 points per game and led the Rockets to their first district playoff win in nearly two decades, visited The Mount later that week. He drained a few 3-pointers while playing a pick-up game with members of the Mountaineers squad, and the coaching staff offered him a scholarship before he left the campus.
Brooks will have a number of other suitors competing for his services. The Mount is the only school to officially offer Brooks so far, but Princeton, Towson, JMU, Colgate and St. Joseph's are among others that have already contacted the high school junior. That's a lot of interest for a kid who still has two years left to impress before he steps on a college campus.
"I can't tell you how many calls I've got on this kid," Brooks' AAU coach Tony Sagona said. "A lot of guys haven't seen him play since he's young, but now they're calling and asking a million questions. He's an eye-opener. He'll have a ton of offers before he's done."
Interest from low- to mid-Division I level schools this early is impressive as it is, Sagona added, but Brooks has piqued the interest of an even bigger fish: Notre Dame.
The Irish have called Sagona and watched Brooks play for Sagona's Jersey Shore Warriors AAU squad, he said.
"This is my 40th year doing this, I've had 300 D-I players, and without a doubt, I can say he'll be there," Sagona said of Brooks' chance to play for a major college program. "I've seen the action coming in on him already, and his upside is tremendous. If he happens to grow a little more, that will be a big plus for him, too."
Brooks isn't the most imposing guard — he's listed at 6-foot, 165 pounds — but he was the YAIAA leader in rebounds among guards and made it to the free-throw line 167 times in 25 games last season.
His tenacity and knack for drawing contact might come from games back at the Brooks home. Eli's brother, Tyler, and his dad, James, who coaches Spring Grove's varsity team, were both high school standouts before playing in the college ranks.
While family games get quite competitive between the three, a win against his older brother has eluded Brooks, but he did beat his father for the first time three months ago, Brooks said.
"He doesn't even like losing at ping pong, so he was upset I beat him," Brooks said of the momentous family victory. "But he was happy because it shows I'm getting better."
Brooks' biggest strength might be his court vision and ability to distribute. He takes pride in setting his teammates up with an easy shot, and his play caught the eye of another former YAIAA standout, Austin Tillotson, who recommended Brooks to Sagona.
Tillotson (Eastern York, Colgate), Andrew Nicholas (Eastern York, Monmouth), Notre Dame's Steve Vasturia, and Darun Hilliard, who was a 2015 NBA draft pick by the Detroit Pistons, are recent players to suit up for the Warriors.
The name recognition and team reputation were what attracted Brooks, who is playing in a lineup chock-full of D-I prospects, including his close friend and Manheim Central standout, Taylor Funk. They've played the best of the best on the AAU circuit, including five-star prospects and future potential NBA draft picks.
"Every team you play has two or three D-I players at least, so you're playing high talent," Brooks said. "The talent level and size are the biggest difference. You don't see 6-foot-9 guys who can shoot and drive there (in the YAIAA)."
Brooks has more than held his own, Sagona said. At a recent tournament against seniors and prep school players, Brooks averaged 15 points per game as the Warriors took home the trophy.
"He has gotten a lot better at shooting the ball, and there's no one he can't go by off the dribble," Sagona said. "But the best thing about him is he's just a fantastic character kid and the best teammate."
Still, despite the excitement of being recruited, Brooks has remained humble. He sees himself as a mid-level Division-I talent and wants to play somewhere close to home, but "not too close." Academics are a big priority in his choice, he said, for life after basketball.
"I just want to have a solid college career," Brooks said. "I just want to play as hard as I can and let the results speak for themselves."