Sometime tomorrow evening and into the next several days we will be discussing what happened in the Final Four game against Syracuse - one way or another. Before that happens I thought I would reflect once more on the past 20 years of Michigan Basketball since we were last watching our Wolverines take the court in the FInal Four.
First, some quick context. I attended Michigan from 1993-1997 and as a member of the Basketball Band for most of that time I sat right on the floor starting the year after Jalen and Juwan left....exactly the start of the 20 years of futility. I stayed a huge fan through the dark days and couldn't be more happy with where the program stands today. Like many of you I rooted for a lot of bad teams and mediocre players in the past 20 years, hoping for a magical run. But enough about me.....
As you'd expect with the relative lack of success these past twenty years, the program has produced very few stars that we could watch beyond their days at Michigan. There were many players that were fun to watch, easy to root for, or played their hearts out, but can you name anyone who made an impact in the NBA?
The Past - NBA Version
Over the past 20 years since the Fab Five left town, almost no Michigan players have gone on to any NBA success. In fact, just THREE have had an NBA career last more than 5 years:
- Maurice Taylor - 9 years, 4 teams
- Robert Traylor - 6 years, 4 teams
- Jamal Crawford - 12 years, 6 teams
Those guys aren't exactly the alumni you're proud to root for either, with Taylor and Traylor both being part of the Ed Martin scandal and seemingly falling short of their potential in college and Crawford playing a total of 13 games before the NCAA decided they didn't like his back story.
Sure, many other players have hung around the end of an NBA bench for a couple of years, but none made any lasting impression. Yet prior to the 20-year-drought we had a whopping EIGHT players have long NBA careers (Webber, Rose, Howard, Vaught, Mills, Rice, Grant, Robinson). Not only did our on-court success cease with the Fab Five, but our pipeline to the NBA did as well. Here's the full list of Michigan players who've ever played in the NBA if you're interested:
Yet this year we are treated to a starting lineup that might send all five players to the NBA. Will any of them be stars at the next level? Probably not, though I can't wait to see what Burke can do. But we now have NBA talent on the roster again. Having NBA blood lines also helps. With a little luck there's a chance we'll see Burke, Hardaway, Stauskas, Robinson, and McGary in the NBA (hopefully not too soon) and both Irvin and Walton come with the pedigree to continue that pipeline.
But the real point of this post, is about the other players who came and went in those 20 years. Where are the likes of Daniel Horton, LaVell Blanchard, and Josh Asselin? While there were certainly some bad apples (thanks again Brian Ellerbe!) there were also a lot of good players that never quite put us over the top.
The Past - Euro Version
Inspired by a post at The Only Colors a while back, I dug into the foreign professional league rosters and was pretty surprised at what I found. A total of 13 former players are still active in leagues around the world with two more playing in the past two seasons. Below is a table of names you may remember and what they're doing today. I included a link to their player page for more information on their background. I didn't have time to research the various leagues to determine their quality (as much as I love Novak, I'm guessing his league isn't that prolific if he's averaging 19 per game), but I encourage others to do some digging too.
|Name||Years @ UM||Current Team||PPG||FG% (2p/3p/FT)||Previous Countries Played In|
|Maceo Baston||1995-1998||Bnei Hasharon (Israel) -- 2011||3.1||63/0/50||Spain, Ukraine|
Asefa Estudian (Spain)
|Josh Asselin||1998-2001||Assignia Spain)||11.8||47/41/86||Spain, Ukraine, Dom Rep|
|LaVell Blanchard||2000-2004||9 de Julio (Argentina)||9.0||48/42/81||Brazil, Finland, Bosnia, Ukraine|
|Bernard Robinson||2001-2004||Basquete Cearense (Brazil)||7.4||46/25/77||Dom Rep, Argentina, Brazil|
|Daniel Horton||2003-2006||Kataja-Korihait (Finland) -- 2012||11.3||41/37/87||Australia, France, Cyprus|
|Graham Brown||2003-2006||Le Havre (France)||10.0||60/0/52||Belgium, Portugal|
|Brett Petway||2004-2007||AGOR (Greece)||11.6||66/31/69||Harlem Globetrotters, France, Greece|
|Dion Harris||2004-2007||Akita NH (Japan)||12.8||46/31/66||Venezuela, Germany, Cyprus, Syria, Poland|
|Courney Sims||2004-2007||SK Knights (S. Korea)||11.3||67/0/73||Latvia, China, Belgium|
|Jevohn Shepherd||2006-2009||CSM Bucuresti (Romania)||19.2||58/39/75||Germany, Holland, Canada|
|DeShawn Sims||2007-2010||Sagesse (Lebanon)||21.4||54/32/62||S. Korea, Puerto Rico, Greece|
|Manny Harris||2008-2010||Azovmash (Ukraine)||14.0||46/31/53||n/a|
|Zack Novak||2009-2012||Zwolle (Holland)||18.6||50/35/87||n/a|
|Stu Douglas||2009-2012||Planasa NV (Spain)||9.1||42/40/90||n/a|
Data obtained from http://www.eurobasket.com/
(Note - I may have missed some guys in my search, feel free to add in the comments.)
When you look at that list of players, so many memories (good and bad) jump to mind...not to mention some of the interesting facts contained in that chart. Here are some of my thoughts:
- Who would have thougt there's competitive basketball in so many countries? How do you go about finding these jobs all around the world? Just look at the wide range of teams Dion Harris has played for!
- What is life like for these guys playing on obscure teams in obscure countries? How much do they earn? How hard is it for the guys that had a cup of coffee in the NBA to adjust to playing in places like Syria?
- Maceo Baston has been the Juwan Howard of Euro basketball, hanging on for a long time playing purely a post game (0% from 3pt).
- If you had to pick the highest scorers from this list of names, how many would you have guessed until you got to Jevohn Shepherd?? He averaged 2.5ppg in his four year career at Michigan. Who is playing in this Romanian league with him where he can score 19ppg?
It would have been fun to see John Beilein coach the 2004 team with the following players on it:
- PG - Daniel Horton
- SG - Dion Harris
- SF - Bernard Robinson
- PF - LaVell Blanchard
- C - Graham Brown
- BN - Petway (PF), Sims (C), Lester Abram (SG/SF), Chris Hunter (PF/C)
- Josh Asselin has made a nice career for himself and is actually shooting better from distance than Manny, Zack, Dion, Daniel, and Stu!
- I wonder how many dunk contests Petway has won in Greece.
I hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane, even if there were some painful scars remembered (damn you Louis Bullock!). I hope most of these guys are watching this weekend as Michigan finally reaches the top of the mountain that eluded everyone on this list for so long.
To orient yourselves: I have no memories of the Fab Five. In fact, my earliest memories of Michigan Basketball were late in my high school years as Tommy Amaker took over. I graduated from high school in 2003, the second year of Amaker’s run as Michigan basketball head coach. I graduated from UM in December of 2007 and continued in grad school at UM.
My last year in the Maize Rage was the 2009-10 season. I fell in love with Michigan basketball because of the Maize Rage during a time when it was comprised of a fraction of the students it is today. In that time, I truly feel as though I’ve had a front row seat to something special. I have seen the essence of college athletics rebuild a program from the very bottom. This is intended to honor those who never got to a Final Four themselves, but played a major role in getting Michigan back to where they are today.
2003-04: NIT Champions
Lester Abram, Chris Hunter, Bernard Robinson
Wow, what Michigan Men.
Bernard Robinson Jr sits at 23rd all-time in games played for the University of Michigan, 210, starting in 104 of them (15th all-time). Given the unfortunate off-the-court troubles of Bernard, it might be tough to commend him. Yet, his contribution cannot be denied. Bernard was drafted late in the second round by the Charlotte Bobcats and had a short NBA career before moving on to Europe. Thanks, Bernard.
2004-05: The First Amaker Collapse
A season that saw Michigan lose their do-it-all guy in Robinson, but nobody else, failed to find any kind of rhythm, ultimately finishing 13-18. If there’s anything worth pointing to in the 04-05 season, it was the coming out party of team MVP Dion Harris.
One of the original “H-Bomb” recipients, Harris led the team with 444 points on the year, out-dueling second place Courtney Sims by well over 100 points. In a team full of verterans, it was the sophomore Harris that shined. Harris would finish his career in the top ten in games played, top-15 in scoring, and second all-time in 3-pt field goals made. A pure college scorer, Dion Harris was the first Mr. Basketball in Michigan to go to U-M since the Ed Martin scandal and was a key component in the turnaround. Thanks, Dion.
2005-06: So… Close
I will take this memory with me to the grave. Michigan hosting #8 Illinois. All-Everything point guard Dee Brown coming into Crisler and Michigan looking for the upset. That night, with Illinois fans filling the upper level, Daniel Horton poured in 33 on the lauded Dee Brown and Michigan topped the Illini. It was late February. Michigan was 18-7 in a very good Big Ten and had just taken a top-10 scalp; we were going dancing and rushing Crisler’s court. What followed that year will probably be the lasting memory of the Tommy Amaker era. Michigan would finish the season by losing to a top-15 OSU on the road, an average Indiana squad on senior night (or day as it were) in Ann Arbor, and a 5-11 Minnesota team in the first round on the Big Ten tournament. No dancing, no NCAA streak broken.
However, this season is very special to me. The players on the UM team I initially fell in love with were all seniors: Graham Brown, Sherrod Harrell, Daniel Horton, Chris Hunter.
Graham Brown ranks 25th all-time in games played and 11th all-time in starts. Additionally, he ranks in the top-25 all time in rebounds. Of course, these lofty achievements pale in comparison to his standings in bone-crunching screens (1st all-time) and nickname awesomeness (2nd all-time; Hambone). Thanks, Graham.
Sherrod Harrell probably flies under the radar the most of this group. He snuck into the 100-game club, however, finishing his career on that milestone. He was a co-captain with Brown and Lester Abraham. Thanks, Sherrod.
On the court, Daniel Horton provided some amazing moments, as described above. Like Robinson (though moreso), off the court, there were some troubles. I thought about leaving Robinson and Horton out of this, but instead will just focus on nights like the Dee Brown destruction and choose to remember the good while not ignoring the bad. Thank you, Daniel, for an amazing night in February of 2006.
Like Sherrod Harrell, Chris Hunter is easily overlooked by some. However, Chris was vital during the Amaker years. Hunter is also a member of the 100-games played club, checking in at 105. He also makes an interesting appearance in the record book as one of only a few players to be perfect from the line with atleast 10 attempts in a game (vs. South Florida). He was one of those glue guys that held a team together. Thanks, Chris.
2006-07: The Beginning of the End
Michigan would start the year 11-1 before heading into a matchup with then #1 UCLA. That game was ugly, though it would not be the last time Michigan played the number one overall team. However, carrying a 12-3 record into conference play, it appeared that this could be the year. To close out the year, Michigan hosted #1 OSU during spring break. I remember bring my brother to campus for the game and then the pain of driving home, agonizing over Courtney Sims’ missed dunk that could have tied the game late. Michigan would fall 61-65, finishing the regular season 20-11 and squarely on the bubble. If only that dunk fell, their ticket would have been punched. Alas, it did not. Michigan won the 8-9 game against Minnesota only to run into the buzz saw that was OSU that year. Another year without dancing.
Lester Abrahm was a 5th year senior captain that did everything the right way. In the end he would finish top-25 in games played, games started and 29th all-time in scoring. A true captain and Michigan man. Thanks, Lester.
Courtney Sims was the big man that many thought could have been more. However, looking back on his career it is hard to be very disappointed. Courtney Sims finished his career fifth all-time in games played, seventh all-time in games started, 28th in scoring, 13th in rebounding, and second all-time in blocks. An amazing collegiate career that would only be rivaled by his serve on the tennis courts (Sims was an all-state tennis player in Massachusetts, IIRC). Thanks, Courtney.
Brent Petway, or more appropriately, Air Georgia. The McDonough, GA native was best known for his pre-game one-man dunk contests, appropriately awesome nickname (and one of the best Maize Rage signs on the era), and senior night haircut. If memory serves, he was on the receiving end of a Jerrett Smith (lol) lob pass in that OSU game that was almost a part in what could have been the biggest game of Tommy Amaker’s career. What would have been. Petway is another member of the 100 games played club, finished top 40 all time in rebounds and sixth all-time in blocks. Thanks, Brent.
2007-08: Enter John Beilein
John Beilein’s first season in Ann Arbor will go down as one of the worst in Michigan basketball history. It’s funny writing that now. At the time, it was a grind. Players were mismatched in a system that relied on strengths that simply were not there. However, the biggest victory of that year was not any of the 10 that were won on the court. It was John Beilein convincing both Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims to stay with Michigan, despite the departure of Tommy Amaker.
Ron Coleman, was a senior from just down the road in Romulus that year. The team captain who once was an underclassmen three-point specialist for teams that were on the verge of the NCAA tournament saw his role dramatically altered. In the end it was sad seeing Ron Coleman score just 3 points in his Crisler finale. However, true to form, it was a three-pointer. And in the end, that’s exactly how I’ll remember him. Thanks, Ron.
2008-09: Queme Los Barcos
Why hello NCAA tournament. In what was one of the remarkable turnarounds in Michigan history, John Beilein took the previously 10-24 Michigan Wolverins to the NCAA tournament the next year. It was close, though. A packed Crisler Arena waited and waited. Holding our collective breaths as the selection show neared its end before: Kansas City. 7 seed. Clemson. 10 seed: “out of Ann Arbor.” Eruption, craziness, pure bliss. We’re going dancing. My lasting memory that year will be walking around Kansas City with all kinds of Michigan fans and thinking “wow, I am so lucky.” Michigan would pull off the first round upset before falling to the Oklahoma Blake Griffins.
Of course, the 2009 season was that of the walk-on captain point guards: CJ Lee and David Merritt. They’ll forever go down as fan favorite for their steady, if not spectacular, play on court and their true definition of leadership. Neither CJ Lee nor David Merrit are anywhere to be found in the University of Michigan men’s basketball record book. Let that sink in. Yet, they led the Wolverines to their first NCAA tournament appearance in a decade. Thanks, CJ and David.
2009-10: The Doubts Return
Certainly, losing only two walk-on guards and returning two NBA-prospects should result in continued success, right? Such was not the case for the Wolverines. Michigan won their first three games but would never win three consecutive games again for the rest of the year. It was a year that will be defined by the birth of “Death to Backboards” and Evan Turner’s Big Ten tournament stealing half-court heave. In a season that was all kinds of turbulent, it was no shock that Manny Harris decided to forgo his senior seson…
Manny Harris, despite his incompatibility in Beilein’s system, was a key component in leading Michigan “back.” His and-one to seal the upset of Clemson in the 2009 NCAA tournament will be his lasting legacy, however he made his mark in the record books as well. Harris finished tenth all-time in scoring for the Wolverines as well as in the top 35 in rebounding. Harris would go on to sign undrafted with the Cleveland Cavaliers and have some pretty remarkable games for the Cavs.
DeShawn Sims battled through incomparable adversity during his time at Michigan, including the death of his brother. In the end, Sims earned his degree and finished as a team captain that was a major component in the end of the tourney streak. Sims finished sixth all time in games played, 16th in scoring, 13th in rebounding and ninth in field goals made. He’ll forever be remembered for his monster 28 point game against Kyle Singler (who had just 15) in the 2008 upset of Duke. Thanks, DeShawn.
2010-2011: Back to the Tourney
Behind a hot shot sophomore point guard and Tim Hardaway Jr. (sound familiar?) Michigan returned to the tourney in 2011. However, it wasn’t easy. Michigan started Big Ten play 1-6 and there were very audible rumblings for John Beilein’s firing as Michigan stared a 1-7 start dead in the face with a trip to East Lansing on the docket. East Lansing, meet Zack Novak: Novak poured in 19 to save the Michigan season. The Wolverines would go onto win 5 of the next 6 Big Ten games with the only loss at #1 OSU. That turn-around led to a more comfortable berth in the tournament: as a 8 seed in Duke’s regional. That week, the Fab Five documentary came out and all Ann Arbor could talk about was “Shocking the World.” Perhaps it wasn’t the world, but the state of Tennessee was shocked when Michigan ended Bruce Pearl’s career as a Volunteer with a 30 point beat down. Onto Duke. Where Michigan shocked…
Darius Morris’ runner that could have shocked the world was long. Perhaps by an inch. And just like that, his stay in Ann Arbor was over. Though only a two year stay, Morris flourished in John Beilein’s 1-3-1. The 6’4” point guard used his length to perfection in the wacky Beilein zone, and Beilein used his oversized point guard to exploit mismatches throughout the year. Darius would go onto the NBA were he’s enjoying a productive career, but not before: notching the third best assist per game season in Michigan basketball history (behind Cary Grant and Trey Burke), breaking the season assist record (later broken by Burke), 7 total 10-plus assist games, and one of only three triple-doubles in the history of Michigan basketball. Thanks, Darius.
2011-12: Big Ten Champions
With the early departure of Darius Morris, Michigan went to freshmen point guard Trey Burke to guide a mix of veterans and youngsters. Michigan would be ranked for the entire season, peaking at #10 late in the Big Ten season. While Burke proved to be an excellent replacement for the departed Morris, it was the season of senior captains Stu Douglass and Zack Novak.
Two barely-recruited, undersized, white boys from Indiana would lead Michigan to its first Big Ten championship in 26 years.
Stu Douglass – in addition to sporting a Spock-like haircut as a freshmen – was a prototypical example of what a player can be under John Beilein. Initially only an outside shooter (and a streaky one at times), Douglass turned into one of the teams most reliable ball handlers and its best off-ball defender by the end of his senior season – a compliment to both Douglass’ hard work and Beilein’s staff’s ability to develop players. Stu Douglass is the all-time leader in games played at the University of Michigan, beating out his partner in crime by two games. Douglass ranks fifth in career 3-pt field goals made and ninth in minutes played. He was the perfect ying to Zack Novak’s yang, providing a cool and calm leadership that led Michigan to that ever-elusive Big Ten championship. His number may not be retired, he may not be as dramatic and outgoing as #0, but he will never be forgotten by this Michigan basketball fan. Thanks, Stu.
Zack Novak started out as an undersized forward who missed a dunk that almost cost Michigan a win to Savannah St (!!!). He finished as a charge-drawing, dunk contest winning, Blake Griffin-checking stud of a glue man. He wore the number 0 for gosh sakes. A Michigan legend made from hard work, passion, and, yes, grit. As mentioned, Zack finished with two fewer games played than Stu, good for third all-time. He also finished third all-time in starts, behind Louis Bullock and Cary Grant. Novak cracked the top 50 all-time scorers and top 25 all-time rebounders. He finished eight 3-pters ahead of Douglass all-time, good for fourth in Michigan history. Zack Novak is the all-time leader in minutes played at the University of Michigan and is the only three-time captain in the history of the program. Simply a remarkable career. Thanks, Zack.
I didn’t plan writing this. It kind of just happened. And wow, 2,500 words later I am glad I did. I’ve always jokingly (but really serious) described myself as one of the few people who likes Michigan basketball more than Michigan football. I can honestly say I am proud of being a fan at the beginning and now enjoy where Beilein has taken us. I am so proud to call all of the above Michigan Men. Some fellow alumni, some not. But all Michigan Men. Writing this brought back so many great memories and I hope someone reading it feels the same way.
None of these players ever got the opportunity to play in the Final Four. But they are all a part of this. They all have contributed to this. Them and many others.
Enjoy tomorrow. It’s the icing on the cake. Win or lose, it has been a remarkable journey.
Because it's well, THIS WEEK, we interrupt the ongoing
"DESMOND JOINS THE FOOTBALL TEAM"
storyline to bring you...
(Click the Image to See Full Size Version)
I was very tempted to title this one "THE SHOT," because twenty years from now that's what we'll be calling it. And yes, we'll still be talking about it.
Good luck, boys... and thanks for the magic.
Friday Fun will pay homage to the team in perhaps a more stoic way.
THE BLOCKHAMS™ runs (typically) every week here at MGoBlog and on its official home page. Also, don't forget to check out the Friday Fun, my weekly single panel comic based on trending Michigan events, available on Twitter and the home page every Friday.
So, that Trouba guy left
Yeah, and now Michigan’s defense is in pretty sad shape.
I heard he was good at the hockey thing
Uh, right. A little better than good, actually. Only defenseman besides Jack Johnson to have an expletive seamlessly integrated into his name in recent memory.
Isn’t there somebody to replace him? I mean, this is Michigan fergodsakes
No. I was going to say not really, but let’s not lie. No. No no no. The answer is no.
Let’s start with his basic stats. In 37 games Trouba scored 12 goals and had 17 assists for a total of 29 points. That puts him third on the team in total points, behind only Alex Guptill and the also-departing AJ Treais. The next highest pointgetter on defense? That’d be Mac Bennett with 18. Trouba was fifth in assists, third in goals, and first in powerplay goals.
His offense will be sorely missed by a team that is losing its two best defensemen in Trouba and Merrill, and though Merrill missed a large chunk of the season and didn’t generate an earth-shattering stat line because of it those two were still key parts of Michigan’s powerplay. There isn’t a stat to quantify what a hard point shot like Trouba’s means on the powerplay, but the best proxy (best does not equal good, but still) is probably powerplay goals. Trouba had 7, which as previously noted was enough to lead the team and was also two more than anyone else. That accounts for 22.6% of Michigan’s powerplay goals so yeah, powerplay man. In total Trouba scored 9.3% of Michigan’s goals which means that he didn’t score 90.7% of them. I am desperately grasping for something positive here. Unfortunately, looking at Mac Bennett’s goal total (6) and realizing that it translates to 4.65% of Michigan’s total goals coupled with the fact that all other Michigan defensemen combined contributed 3 goals was not the ray of sunshine I was looking for.
There isn’t a good way to analyze defensive performance without advanced statistics, and even then the link between things like Corsi (which looks at shots generated versus shots allowed while on-ice) and a player’s defensive abilities is tenuous at best. College hockey isn’t exactly a haven for stats nerds so I have no advanced stats to trumpet here, which means we have to rely on the ol’ eye test. These ol’ eyes think that Trouba was pretty good in the defensive zone. He displayed greater hockey intelligence as the year progressed, understanding where pressure would be coming from and making the right pass to avoid it while also learning that sometimes going headhunting provides a super fun adrenaline rush until you get scored on because you were out of position, which is in fact a total bummer. I think that plus/minus is a hopelessly flawed statistic because it’s so reliant on how the team as a whole performs, but we might as well look at Trouba’s anyways. He was a –8 on the season, which sounds bad until you realize that we’re talking about a team that scored 129 goals and allowed 130 while posting a collective plus/minus of –45. Players tend to have negative plus/minus scores when they play for teams that allow more goals than they score, and even then a plus/minus score is so heavily dependent on who you play with that it’s practically impossible to tease out who was responsible for the goal (either for or against) and who deserves the plus or minus.
The one element of Trouba’s play that was less than stellar was his penchant for racking up penalty minutes. He finished the season with 29 penalties for 88 minutes, though 17 of those minutes came in one game at Northern Michigan early in the season when Trouba committed three penalties and got a game misconduct for a hit on NMU’s Reed Seckel. Trouba committed three penalties in a game on four separate occasions in 2012-13; once in November, once in December, once in January, and once in February. The ol’ eye test may be failing me here because I really thought he toned it down a little as the season went on but it looks like instead Trouba just went all non-potty mouthed Mike Rice on people once a month (sorry, too soon?).
Is there some Troubanian uber-recruit that can replace him?
The best of the incoming defensemen is Michael Downing, a self-described defensive-defenseman who can contribute sparingly at the offensive end. He’s likely to have more value on the penalty kill than the powerplay, and that’s according to himself. In the grand scheme of things this is good, as defense was clearly Michigan’s weakness in 2012-13 (see: more goals allowed than scored). I don’t expect Downing to replicate Trouba’s offense even if he is given a shot on the powerplay, and I don’t expect any of the defensemen currently on the roster to have as significant an offensive impact as Trouba did. After all, Trouba did win the GONGSHOW’s offensive defenseman of the year award, which sounds like something I would have created in NHL 02 if they let you create trophies but accolades woo! I think that the only way Trouba’s offensive production gets replaced is “by committee,” which is an athletically oriented way of saying we don’t have a replacement.
As Center Ice put it in Seth’s Exit: Jacob Trouba post, the inclusion of multiple freshmen and the promotion of seldom used players to regulars will either work, or it will be a disaster.
You’re not a very optimistic person, are you?
Typically I am pretty optimistic but in this case DOOM. I’ll close by recycling a joke I already used in Seth’s Exit post because if you’ve read this far you probably like hockey and muppets and Michigan or something.
What's that picture?
Well that's just weird. I don't think that's how they're used around here either....
I beg to differ. Trouba and Merrill left and that deserves an anti-celebration. Those two decided that, like the oft celebrated Muppets that are so beloved by perusers of this here blog, you can’t have one without the other.
WHERE WAS I WHEN THIS LAST HAPPENED?
This week, I wanted to take a break from statistics-based musing and stop to reflect on this coming weekend, when we will see Michigan do something that it has not done in twenty years – play in a Final Four game.
Granted, I am not the oldest member of the MGoCommunity, but I am old enough to remember well what I was doing and where I was at in my life around this time of the year in 1993. Coming from a Michigan family and having been a fan since I was a wee lad, these appearances were huge events in my house. My parents had a Final Four party in 1993 as well as a party for the Championship Game, which of course we did not win.
So, the question I asked myself may sound a little lame, but it was interesting to consider – How has the world changed for me since the last time Michigan was in a Final Four game?
In the spring of 1993, I was not quite fifteen years old and still figuring out high school. I was excited about the potential to get a learner’s permit in a time when all that was required in Michigan was proof that you lived in the state and maybe a pulse. In my bedroom, I typed papers on what was the pinnacle (well, not really) of computing at the time – a Mac Quadra 950 - and I printed them on an Epson MJ-500 inkjet printer. I had an e-mail account and access to what there was of an “Internet”. I accessed these on a dial-up connection facilitated by Compuserve and through a US Robotics 14.4K modem.
In 1993, I wanted to go to Michigan more than anything, but it would be another two years before that acceptance letter which changed my life came in the mail. As for my sports life, the options for viewing were growing, but still comparatively limited. For example, the Tigers games which weren’t on WDIV were sometimes on PASS, and PASS was a channel that I had to beg my parents to add to their cable package, along with Cinemax (that one was for admittedly selfish reasons as well, albeit different reasons). Part of that package was ESPN, which was a single channel then, and not in HD (because nothing was).
On April 5thin the year 1993, a rather awkward but unashamed nerd who had no clue at the time he would rise through the MGoRanks to help moderate threads on what is arguably the most influential Michigan site out there watched Chris Webber try to call a timeout when none were left and get rewarded with a technical. There was always next year, right? I was a forgiving soul.
So, here is that “next year” that I’ve waited for – 2013.
The players on that team which I watched on a 28-inch Zenith all those years ago are now hovering around 40 years old. I was accepted at and have since graduated from Michigan and even picked up a masters along the way. Several of the players on the team we will watch on Saturday were still about a year from being born when we were last in the Final Four, never mind played in the Championship Game.
I have, in that space, passed up some of the so-called milestone ages – 18, 21, 30, to be precise. Indeed, I will be 35 in July. In those intervening decades, I’ve married and am coming up on my 9thwedding anniversary. I have two beautiful children who now watch these games with me if they are awake. I’ve gone from occupying a drafty room above the garage of a house in Saline to owning my own home. I have gone from being taught to being the teacher, at least when my employer dares to let me teach people statistics. The Mac Quadra and the US Robotics modem have been replaced with an iMac and Comcast Xfinity broadband. Fox Sports Detroit and the multiple iterations of ESPN have created a situation where I have gone from being forced to watch certain games if I wanted to watch sports at all to feeling tormented over which games I should watch out of the 300 that are on at any given moment. I’ve gone from wishing I could drive to cursing the lack of mass transit in Metro Detroit too.
Why this weird trip down LSA’s memory lane, right?
Part of the fun in the ride of the current team, at least for me, has been this realization that it somehow builds a bridge back to what was a relatively carefree time for me, as well as a previous time when Michigan basketball was at the forefront and in the spotlight. It was awesome then, and it is awesome now.
I see in this current team a youthful energy and flair, and although I am always hesitant to make direct comparisons of what are two different eras of the game, those traits remind me of watching that team back in the early 1990s. It’s difficult to make good statistical comparisons, but the energized feeling that I have when watching is definitely the same.
Whatever happens on Saturday, I would consider this season successful because I believe that, at this juncture, we’ve made the circle back and achieved that general level of performance. Further, I believe John Beilein has set this team up through recruiting for a rather nice string of potential tournament runs here. Without speculating on how far we go in coming years, of course, I think that Beilein has built a program that will be seen as one not to be overlooked as a serious contender when March comes around.
My parents even said, as I sat there after the loss to North Carolina in 1993, that they would be there again next year and to simply be patient, but I will say this – come what may, this is one weekend for which it is difficult for me to wait.