Eli Brooks proud to take after father, coach
Eli Brooks may be the most celebrated basketball player in York County history, but it wasn't until this past summer that he achieved one important goal.
No, it wasn't committing to Michigan.
It was beating his dad in one-on-one.
For years, James Brooks had been one of the few people who could slow down his star son. A 1,000-point scorer at Gettysburg High School who played collegiately at East Stroudsburg, the Spring Grove head coach has kept himself in playing shape over the years.
But even he can't beat his son now.
"I don't have the stamina anymore," James Brooks said. "I'll get up 5-0 and he'll beat me 11-5. We still go back-and-forth in shooting contests, though."
For James and Eli Brooks, basketball has always been a way to bond. In addition to all the hours they spend together with Spring Grove's team, they also like to compete against each other, watch college games and discuss the latest sneaker trends.
The two are extremely close, even by father-and-son standards. For Eli, being called "mini Getty" — his father's nickname in high school — has always been a source of pride.
Still, the younger Brooks has strived to create a legacy separate from his father's, a mindset has helped him become a 2,000-point scorer and future Big Ten player. But when you ask him who has been the biggest influence in his life, he's quick to name his current head coach.
"I've always wanted to create a name for myself," Eli Brooks said. "But I think it makes any little kid proud to be compared to their dad, and my role model growing up was always my dad. I always wanted to be just like him."
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Eli was still a toddler when his father first thought he might be a unique basketball player.
Like many young children, Eli had a toy basketball hoop and ball he would constantly practice with. According to James, Eli could shoot the toy ball for hours and rarely miss.
"It was weird," James Brooks said. "We thought every kid must make all their shots on those. Then his cousins would come over and miss, so I thought he might be special."
While James Brooks has been a basketball fanatic his entire life, he never had to pressure his youngest son to play the sport. From the time he could walk, Eli always had a ball in hands. When his elementary school teachers would ask students to write down the job they wanted as adults, Eli always wrote "professional basketball player."
Not only did James coach Eli's youth teams starting in the second grade, he also allowed him to occasionally serve as his side-kick at adult league games. At the age of 11, Eli would play against grown men if there weren't enough players for full teams.
It was around that time when James Brooks began to really see his son's potential.
"Guys would start off not guarding him, then he'd make a couple shots and they'd foul him," James Brooks said. "I'd say, 'Why are you fouling a kid?' I was proud of how he handled it, he wanted to compete."
Eli also wanted to be his own type of player. He was never one of the tallest players, unlike his 6-foot-3 father and his 6-foot-6 older brother Tyler, who played for Daniel Boone in high school and Kutztown in college. Eli has topped out at 6-foot-1. That meant developing into a point guard instead of a traditional wing like the rest of the family.
While James said he's a better true shooter than Eli, he admitted his son is a much more effective passer.
"You might get an alley-oop from me but that's it," James Brooks said. "(Eli) plays a lot like me, but he's even smarter than me. He shoots the ball well but he can really play the point. And he dribbles so well."
Of course, coaching your son or playing for your father isn't always easy. But with the exception of a few arguments, the pair said it's never been too much of a strain. If anything, all the hours on the court have strengthened their relationship.
"We saw a lot of kids where playing for their parents wasn't a great thing, but for them it was never like that," said Kelly Brooks, Eli's mom and James' wife. "They've always watched film together, even when Eli was in second grade, and Eli always wanted to know what he was doing well and what he wasn't doing right."
Added Eli Brooks: "We're definitely a basketball family and I think (playing for him) has made us closer. We share so many memories."
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While James Brooks occasionally talked to Eli about his basketball career growing up, it was never a constant point of discussion.
He wanted his sons to worry about their own careers, and not get into the habit of bragging. Eli has kept that mindset throughout high school.
The past few seasons, Spring Grove basketball games have become a spectacle, with fans lining up to meet Eli after the game and get his autograph. The current senior takes time to speak to everyone, and he smiles while he does it.
He credits his parents with instilling that attitude in him.
"People want to give me all the credit but I was brought up the right way and taught to respect people," Eli Brooks said. "What I respect about my dad the most is the way he treats people. He treats everybody the same no matter, that's just the way he lives his life."
Eli and James' time together on the court will be coming to an end. Next year, James will have to get used to watching his son play on TV instead of in person.
It will be a difficult adjustment, but both said they're happy to have shared basketball the past 18 years, and to continue sharing it in the future.
"I'll miss it a lot, I'll miss his quirky jokes, but the bond we've built won't be broken," Eli Brooks said.
Added James Brooks. "It's going to be different but I will embrace it when it comes. You don't want to be the one holding your kids back."