to play football, not to play trumpet
You'll know this by the third word but this is a guest post from Johnny of RBUAS, who just popped up and was like "I've got this thing." Here it is.
He came from the internet, just like the rest of them. He was in California in barren gymnasiums, making no-look passes from half court with the audacity of someone who thought he’d be the best one there back when the bus was still idling in the parking lot waiting to depart, even though sometimes he wasn’t.
He was at Michigan last year when it was bad and was supposed to be good and when it wasn’t his team because it wasn’t really anyone’s team. And this year when he stewarded a sinking raft that became a submarine lurking just below the water’s surface.
And he was there in Charlotte with eight seconds left, clapping for the ball with enough intensity to turn carbon to diamonds between his hands. Not out of routine or even because it could be no one else but because he knew exactly where he was going and that he needed to get on with it. He needed only the ball and a chance and pursued it with the sort of maniacal focus that ends with you pulling your head inside your shirt completely when you miss because it is dark in there and calm, or at least calmer than the disorienting, vertiginous return to a reality you thought you had transcended in those brilliant moments.
It was a miss that leaves with it a haunting memory; seconds that play on a loop until you fall asleep and then you see them in your dreams. But sometimes they manifest themselves in the type of theatrical vindication accompanied by a montage and a soaring, orchestral soundtrack or at least a bodacious new haircut. I think, at least.
It's technically over but let's call this an interlude.
I think it was sometime in 2006 but all that matters is that it was years after everything happened that they said didn’t happen. Chris Webber was on The Best Damn Sports Show talking to John Salley and some men with spectacularly gelled hair who had never played basketball professionally. And then Jalen Rose appeared on screen via satellite.
Jalen and Chris existed then as they do now: in an impenetrable nebula with other wealthy people who build bowling alleys in Welsh castles and fill the moats with virgin blood and ride around on hover boards sipping Pterodactyl bone marrow straight from fossils. They were exactly where they told each other they would be.
They were there and I knew that they were there because I could see their bodies, and yet they were still mostly back in Jalen’s Dodge Shadow in jackets that were too big; half baffled that they’d made it, half amused that it had been so easy.
Chris said these things:
“Jay had old, beat up shoes, with holes in ‘em, that he would sit around cleaning with a toothbrush and white shoe polish.”
“You’d get a pizza card every day for five days … but me and Jalen would eat the same pizza, save (the cards), so the next week we could get like 15 pizzas.”
“When we were down to UCLA by 20 at halftime, Jalen came in, and Juwan said something, I might have cried, coach Fisher ain’t say nothing, and we walked right back out on the court.”
“Jalen had a green Dodge Shadow that had no back seat because all it had was speakers in the back, that one of his boys hooked up that probably was going to catch the whole car on fire, and all we would listen to was Scarface.”
“It was the best time of my life.”
When they were in that car they were in orbit, in a way, twisting the world in their palms like a tiny stone they’d found floating on their way to another galaxy. They were there and I think, sort of, they always have been.
Jalen told Bill Simmons, “When media members came into the locker room and they hear that kind of music, they’re looking at us like we’re from another planet.”
In some ways they were. Grotesquely fascinating and, in their most thrilling moments, frighteningly unstoppable. Five kids synchronize to create a monster the country struggles to interpret, let alone fathom. They can only stand and watch and listen to the noise and feel the ground shake beneath them. They were a marauding death squad worthy of a theme song and an action figure, shooting apples off each other’s heads once the curtain was drawn.
And so you can pull the banners down; burn them in an open field while orphans sing hymns around the flame. It happened. Something was there and it sort of isn’t anymore but mostly it is, like getting a tattoo of her name removed after she left you and then really left you. Bubbly, mangled flesh where a life once was. It’s gone except that you never forget the times you opened the door and she was there, just standing there, looking at you, waiting for you to let her in.
Brian’s frustration with Webber is not at all irrational. But I never knew them as something that grew, or simply emerged, and then broke everyone’s heart. I know them only filtered through the tumult and deification. Part of why I’m so capable of appreciating the Fab Five is specifically because I’m so detached. I know them through VHS recordings, retrospectives, and ultimately a reputation not so much for capturing the zeitgeist but for chewing it up and spitting it out unmistakably altered. They existed, somehow, and so that is enough for me. They are a geological force, a museum exhibit, an alien cadaver cryogenically frozen in a remote military base to be studied and dissected. It won nothing except everything that actually matters.
It is like someone saying, “So tell me what it was like when you got electricity.” This is what I know because it has always been. Long ago it was dark when the sun went down and now I plug two metal prongs into a wall and can watch infomercials on a colorful rectangle. Only rather than a lab coat they were wearing black socks and an air of magnetic irreverence. I know only what they became.
This is not that team; it is not any team and I have no idea what it will be and for that reason I love it. It is not peculiar or compellingly flawed or even one of Beilein’s self-effacing, limitation embracing West Virginia teams. It is just a thing that is constantly turning into another thing and we see it happen in Jon Horford moving through the lane in what seems like a single step and in laser-precise backdoor bounce passes. In Tim Hardaway Jr. launching three pointers undaunted by distance or obstruction, knowing only of a force that overcomes his entire body and having no desire to suppress it, and a confidence that builds like a tidal wave in the distance and leaves in its wake snapped umbrellas and a 900-win coach’s emasculated smile after barely managing to make it out of there alive.
It is a team at once starkly pragmatic and gleefully ambitious, a kid posing in the mirror in its dad’s fatigues from Vietnam when no one’s home. It is proud and quietly defiant; it is something where things shouldn’t be. If the Fab Five was a seismic force capable of shifting the earth on its axis, this is a plant growing from the fractured pavement.
They came from the internet, obscure aside from their lineage and some of them, for a time, with hair like members of 60’s British rock bands. They are here now and they will be here and I am watching it happen.
Johnny used to write stuff like this at RBUAS before everything became too depressing. He met Lloyd Carr once because Carr liked what he wrote.
A Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure.
It seems just about everyone in the media has a "source" that knows what Darius Morris plans to do this offseason. Such rumored plans include:
- Returning to school for his junior year with 100% certainty.
- Entering his name for the NBA Draft, but not hiring an agent, so he can pull out of it.
- Absolutely, with 100% certainty, entering the NBA Draft - for keepsies.
The correct answer is... none of the above. At John Beilein's meeting with the media today, he went into great detail about Darius's (possible) upcoming decision.
There are effectively three phases for an underclassman who intends to enter the NBA Draft. The first phase, which is what Darius has done, is to submit an application to the NBA Draft Undergraduate Advisory committee. John Beilein recommended to Darius that he apply to this committee: "Within two days after the season was over, I called Darius into the office, and suggested that we go through the Undergraduate Advisory Committee and gather information - and that's all that's happening right now." This is not a decision that blindsided the coaches, and in fact was Beilein's own idea.
Phase two is declaring for the NBA Draft, which Darius has not done. In fact, the application for evaluation explicitly states:
Please note that submission of this application is not a declaration of eligibility for the 2011 NBA Draft. A separate letter must be sent to Commissioner Davis Stern (received by April 24th, 2011) declaring eligibility for the 2011 NBA Draft.
(Emphasis original to the source). The third phase is actually going through with the Draft, which means not withdrawing by June 13th, or hiring an agent, etc.
Beilein declined to discuss specifics of Darius's merit for the NBA Draft, only pointing out that conventional wisdom states that underclassmen who aren't projected to be first-rounders usually stay in school at least one more year. He's not a scout, and hasn't watched film on every player who's a senior or has submitted his name for evaluation, and so did not say whether or not he thought Darius met that standard.
He was adamant in pointing out that Michigan's coaches want nothing more than for their players to have successful careers (emphasis on career, presumably as opposed to a big draft payday) in the NBA. "It's not about getting drafted, it's about having success in the NBA."
"There's a lot involved in this, and you have to think about it; it's a very important decision," Beilein said. Manny Harris has proven in his first NBA season that he made the right decision, as he's a regular in the Cavs' rotation. It remains to be seen what the Committee will tell Darius, and he'll make his decision after that.
Other post-season notes from Beilein's luncheon are less pressing matters, so expect a recap tomorrow.
3/20/2011 – Michigan 71, Duke 73 – 21-14, 9-9 Big Ten, season over
This is the point where the author is obliged to disclaim any belief in moral victories, whatever that means.
Wikipedia's article on the concept is a poorly-written stub that goes right to the sports definition before making a couple of flaccid thrusts in the direction of applicability outside of sportswriting disclaimers. Those thrusts are getting crushed to death by rocks but keeping the land in the family, dying at the Alamo, or dying at Thermopylae and seem to indicate the anonymous author has never heard of a Pyrrhic victory. That last link goes to a much, much better article that indirectly confirms that "moral victory" has no currency amongst the sort of people—scientists, historians, television fans—that make for good wikipedia articles. Moral victories, and disclaiming them, appear to be the exclusive domain of people who have just watched their sport-ball team exceed expectations just enough to suffer an agonizing loss.
After disclaiming the moral victory, the author then explains why he feels better about the sport-ball team in question than he did before the sport-ball match in which his team was defeated agonizingly, which kind of seems like exactly what a moral victory is. This makes the disclaimer the equivalent of "I'm not a racist, but…": a lie meant to deflect criticism.
I hate the concept of moral victories and denounce anyone who accepts them. Truly, the only thing worth striving for is numerical superiority, and claiming mitigating factors when you have not achieved numerical superiority is indicative of a diseased mind and probably communism. Love it or leave it.
That said, we totally just beat Duke.
Not, like, you know, when it comes to numbers or anything, but definitely when it comes to not embodying class privilege and being able to parse sentences about Grant Hill's family. Also almost in the numbers. In fact, if Evan Smotrycz was allowed to exist within three feet of a Duke player on a basketball court, we totally won. I will see you all in the Moral Sweet Sixteen, where we will play Butler despite the fact they're in the actual Sweet Sixteen—that's how crazy that Butler game was.
John Beilein had Michigan sing the Victors after the Duke game. I renounce my renouncing of moral victories. We are moral national champs.
I think that last bit might actually be true: in an "exceeded expectations" tournament Michigan is a one-seed. A quick glance at the Sweet Sixteen reveals chalk, the occasional mid-major expected to be good in-conference that pulled out a couple wins at the right time, the eleventh Big East qualifier, Florida State, and a couple of powers bouncing off down years. The only competition comes from the two MWC teams, San Diego State and BYU, and Ohio State, and none of those teams were responding to a victory over a hated rival by saying "too bad this isn't likely to help score an NIT bid."
I've been searching for a Michigan equivalent and in my memory can only come up with the '97 national title team. Unless there was a basketball team that outdid this year's—unlikely—I think you have to go back to 1969 to pull another team that so wildly exceeded what was expected of them*.
So no one's mad. No one's thinking about the other places in which the sun shines and the band plays and men laugh, because though Michigan's Casey struck out on a last-ditch floater no one expected to get anything out of this season other than yet another test of how much grim tolerance you can squeeze out of your pores.
We got much more than that: wins over Michigan State, a tourney bid, a grisly human sacrifice in the first round, and something that was most definitely not a moral victory in the second. We got an Aneurysm Of Leadership, a triple double, Drunken Sailor Assault Basketball, epic Smotrycz wallpaper, a genocidal campaign against backboards, Zack Novak alternate universe posterization, "Get off my court," Tim Hardaway mouthpiece thousand words, Hardaway fighting Harris for efficiency supremacy in context (and eventually winning!), Hardaway engaging killswitch, Matt Vogrich elevating himself into a photoshoppable entity (right), Zack Novak fouling out on five attempts to take a charge, and possibly more muppets than the last three football seasons combined.
We got a season, even if numerical superiority was not acquired against Duke. Next year they threaten to create a program here. If people are naturally leery of an '09 repeat, remember this time around slackers will be bled on by Zack Novak.
*[There was probably a point at which a hockey observer went "whoah," but they were so few and far between then that I'm not even sure that counts. The other main candidate is the '06 football team but in the end they were just another Rose Bowl losing team, so I think that puts them in a second tier.]
The engoodening. How does it do? That question is worthy of a post, or a series of posts, but here's a paragraph or two off the cuff anyway.
Engoodening #1: getting Smotrycz most of his minutes at the four. This would be a combination of development from Smotrycz and Horford. This year the only thing worse than having 6'4" Zack Novak guarding enormous leaping machines like Trevor Mbakwe was having Smotrycz do it, so he ended up at the four and Michigan's defense had a hard cap on how good it could be. Michigan was above average in rebounding nationally but click that conference-only box on Kenpom and Michigan turns red and ends up eighth. They're worse (ninth) at defending two-pointers. Getting Horford significant minutes seems like it will improve both numbers since he's easily Michigan's most athletic big. Insert tallest midget joke here.
Engoodening #2: vicious competition at the guard spots. Adding Burke and Brundidge and getting another year of development from floppy-haired assassin Matt Vogrich will put Douglass's minutes under threat and give Michigan an option other than panic when Morris is on the bench. Though I'm not as down on Douglass as the rest of the internet—he consistently draws the other team's top perimeter scorer, though Michigan's propensity to switch screens makes this not quite as impressive as it would be on other teams—he's an obvious target for opposing teams playing pressure defense and very rarely does anything good happen when he attempts to create a shot. Either he'll get better or someone will take his minutes.
Other bits: Jordan Morgan becomes less of a foul machine, Hardaway shoots like he did over the latter half of the season, Darius Morris develops a corner three a-la Richard Hamilton, leaning a bit more on the bench—for perspective, Michigan is actually more starter-dependent(337th in bench minutes*) than they are young(335th)—makes the starters more effective.
*[This is impressively low in a pool of 345 but isn't good for last in the league. It's not even good for second-to-last: OSU and PSU are both lower. If Sullinger and Buford leave OSU could be in for an ugly year; Penn State is going to be atrocious.]
A rocket to Kenpom. If you're wondering what a 30-point bludgeoning and a two point loss at a "semi-away" venue against the #2 team in the country does to your computer rankings, it makes for an implausibly huge leap. Michigan is now #23 on Kenpom, up from 44th before the tournament IIRC. Tennessee lost ten spots in a single game-type substance.
That's still only good for fifth in the league (Purdue, Wisconsin, and OSU are all top ten and Illinois is 17th) but everyone in front of them is getting smashed by graduation and possibly early draft entry. It's still amazing that if you take every possession Michigan played this year, and adjust it for the strength of schedule only 22 teams would expect to do better.
His Old Kentucky Home. I hope this is the last thing I have to say about people who obviously didn't bother watching the Fab Five documentary, but I bet you a dollar Jim Nantz has done this at some point:
It must be awkward for Clark Kellogg to sit next to Nantz as he goes on his righteous crusade without having even the vaguest grasp of the facts. Nantz managed to indict four people who didn't do anything wrong in the eyes of the NCAA and repeat the canard that Rose said anything at all negative about Grant Hill's family, something Grant Hill, Michael Wilbon ("Calvin and Janet Hill were left hanging out there, depicted as anything other than the model parents that they are"), and now Nantz have asserted.
This is literally everything Rose said about Hill's family:
"I was jealous of Grant Hill. He came from a great black family. Congratulations. Your mom went to college and was roommates with Hillary Clinton. Your dad played in the NFL and was a very well-spoken and successful man. I was upset and bitter that my mom had to bust her hump for 20-plus years. I was bitter that I had a professional athlete that was my father that I didn't know. I resented that moreso than I resented him."
In the end this just confirms everything Jalen Rose thought as an 18-year-old—Hill is still the person the world accepts, and asshats like Jim Nantz can't see through the red mist to see that literally the only things Rose said about Hill's family were they were "great," mom went to college, and dad was "well-spoken and successful."
The charitable interpretation is that Nantz is too stupid to parse the above quote, but I don't think that's true.
Morris return reiteration. Just in case:
“Yep,” Morris said when he was asked if he was definitely returning next season.
This echoes what Morris said a week ago, when he said “yeah, I’m here man. I’m not going anywhere.”
Chantel Jennings in the Daily. Matt Vogrich had his car covered in post-its. He cleared off enough to see and left the rest there. Surprise! No one who was zero years old in 1993 wants to talk about the Fab Five. Stu Douglass epic throwdown vs Tennessee. Also more evidence that taking a picture of Tim Hardaway, Jr., is always a good idea:
|WHAT||8 Michigan v. 1 Duke|
KenPom: Michigan +11 (13% win)
"More like Puke." "More like White Devils." etc.
Shock the World.
If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy:
|Michigan v. Duke: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||Duke Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. Duke Def eFG%||44||7||D|
|Mich Def eFG% v. Duke eFG%||145||18||DD|
|Mich TO% v. Duke Def TO%||16||98||M|
|Mich Def TO% v. Duke TO%||242||30||DDD|
|Mich OReb% v. Duke DReb%||323||192||DD|
|Mich DReb% v. Duke OReb%||62||80||M|
|Mich FTR v. Duke Opp FTR||343||34||DDDD|
|Mich Opp FTR v. Duke FTR||36||195||MM|
|Mich AdjO v. Duke AdjD||37||2||D|
|Mich AdjD v. Duke AdjO||28||4||D|
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc.
Have I made the "hide ya kids, hide ya wife" joke too many times yet? Yes? Darn. Well anyway, Duke is really good at the basket-ed ball.
Guard Nolan Smith has been their most-frequently deployed player this year, but with the return of the nation's #2 freshman (as a recruit) Kyrie Irving, the guard play may be less of a Smith monopoly. He's an efficient shooter and a very good assist man.
In the frontcourt, Kyle Singler and the Plumlees are all over 6-8, and they're the main reason Duke is 6th in the nation in effective height. Despite that height, Duke is a good-not-great rebounding team. Deploy the VOGRIT.
Unlike Tennessee, Duke has no obvious weaknesses. Which, duh, that's why they're a 1-seed instead of the worst 9-seed in history. Michigan is going to have to shoot the lights out, and hope Duke doesn't do a great job of same. Without playing a near-perfect defensive game (and getting a bit of luck), Michigan probably can't win.
Michigan is as hot as any team in the country, but Duke is Duke. As noted above, this is going to require a near-perfect performance or a very healthy dose of luck for the Wolverines to emerge victorious. I think Matt Vogrich plays double-digit minutes and gets a fair number of MANBOUNDs, and that Darius Morris finishes with a more impressive statistical day than either of Duke's star guards. HOWEVA, Michigan's bigs have trouble staying out of foul... uh... trouble, and Duke pulls away late in the game. The Blue Devils win it, 75-62.
Prove me wrong, Blue.