in town for free camps
There is no GIFs post this week, because hell no, so instead I'm taking the opportunity to write about lemons and health and whatnot. If you're looking for the video of Brian finally fulfilling the terms of the Bolden/Morgan lemon bet, click here. Below is me eating a lemon for entirely different reasons.
I have an odd way of stumbling into life-changing events.
My first "real" writing job came when I responded to a thread on The Wolverine's message board announcing they were looking for an intern, despite my only qualification being a couple years of blogging on a site I created on blogspot. They hired me, for some reason, and from that point forward writing about sports went from hobby to potential profession.
I landed my job here eight months after graduation. I'd done nothing to find another job, instead writing on the blog I'd created while at The Wolverine and hoping someone would notice. In the span of a few short weeks, Tim Sullivan got hired by The Wolverine, TomVH got hired by ESPN, and I found myself in the Michigan Stadium press box covering a weather-shortened game against Western Michigan.
In the interim, I'd been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which appeared to explain many of the myriad health problems I'd experienced since the latter half of high school. Eventually, I'd write about dealing with CFS as I spent the better part of a year working from my bed in my parents' house. I did my best to write about it positively and within the framework of sports, because facing the realities of having a debilitating illness with no proven cause or cure is scary and depressing, as is the prospect of openly discussing it with a rather large audience.
Writing how I actually felt—depressed and scared, mostly, of the reality of my situation and whether it would get better and whether I could keep this job and whether I should date anyone and whether it would ever be safe to have children because the best my CFS specialist could tell me was "use a condom and it should be fine"—was not something I could face head on, and I was genuinely distracted from that pain by Michigan's wonderful basketball team, so I chose to focus on that latter bit.
I began to feel better enough this summer that I once again began the process of moving out of my childhood home, this time to a townhouse in Ypsilanti with my brother and one of his co-workers; my brother does an amazing job of providing support, and I still would be living close enough to home to keep that support system intact and available. At some point, I needed to begin real life, whatever that is, and trying to do that from my parents' house wasn't very easy, as you can probably imagine.
As I prepared for the move, I saw my physician for a routine checkup in July. Outside of my immediate family and closest friends, I trust this physician—who from the outset had been wary of my CFS specialist, who is as much a researcher as a doctor, which has its positives and its considerable negatives—more than anybody I know. Two hours after I'd left the doctor's office, I got a call from him. It was after 6 pm. The office had closed at 5.
He'd been going back through my medical records, and noticed that six years ago something in those records indicated a potential gluten allergy, and in the whirlwind of doctor's visits that led to my CFS diagnosis this had slipped through the cracks. I immediately began to research gluten allergies, and what I found explained so much: symptoms I'd stupidly attributed to "well, I have an illness about which little is known, so this probably just that," rather serious symptoms at that, were listed with eye-opening accuracy to my real-life symptoms on any site or forum I visited.
I cut gluten out of my diet immediately, even before undergoing testing for celiac disease—celiac tests are notoriously unreliable and don't cover the full spectrum of gluten allergies, so the best way to find out if I had a gluten issue was to see if my symptoms improved while going entirely gluten-free. They did. Confirming our suspicions, I began feeling more acute symptoms on the (many) occasions when I'd accidentally "gluten" myself—a strong signal that gluten is, indeed, the problem.
This has been life-changing, to say the least. Instead of dealing with an illness with no known cause or cure and little funding for research to change that, I'm dealing with a food allergy, and while the solution involved cutting more foods out of my diet than I ever could've imagined, there was a solution.
This brings me, in a very roundabout way, back to Brian's lemon bet, and strange coincidences. I'd been trying to figure out a way to write about this for the last month or so, once I was pretty certain that gluten, not CFS, was the real problem for me. When Brian didn't initially eat the damn lemon, one of our dedicated commenters, WolverineDevotee, started a Twitter hashtag: #EatALemon. I clicked on it. I never click on hashtags.
When I scrolled down, I eventually stumbled upon a link to a Facebook post by an organization called FARE—Food Allergy Research & Education—containing this video. It's a nine-year-old boy named Luke, inspired by the Ice Bucket Challenge, eating a lemon to raise awareness for life-threatening food allergies:
As you can see in the video at the top of this post, this in turn inspired me to do the same—how could I not after stumbling upon this? In the last couple months, I've just begun to realize the prevalence and danger of food allergies, and how difficult they are to manage.
The stats are here, and they're frightening: around 15 million Americans—and one of every 13 children—have a food allergy of some sort, and while I'm lucky enough that mine hasn't had more severe consequences, many of them can be outright deadly. The consequences for me eating gluten-contaminated food, at this juncture, are migraines and fatigue that last a day or two. The consequences for people like Luke can be far, far worse.
Perhaps the biggest issue is the one I faced. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, 83% of Americans with celiac disease are either undiagnosed or wrongly diagnosed with another condition, often the type of autoimmune illness with which I was misdiagnosed. The average time to get a correct diagnosis is 6-10 years. I'm about average in that regard, and lucky to be properly diagnosed at all.
So I have this platform, and I'd like to use it for some good. Whether or not you'd like to film yourself eating a lemon and posting it on the internet—it's really not that bad!—I hope you'll consider donating to FARE.
I have an additional request, as well. While I've been lucky enough to have a change in my diagnosis, my father still deals with CFS, a disease for which research is woefully underfunded. I've witnessed my dad act as a guinea pig for experimental treatment for over two decades, and the rollercoaster of symptoms he's had as a result. Simmaron Research is doing what they can to get even the most basic research for CFS funded and underway, and I hope you'll consider giving to them, as well. Any little bit helps.
I'm doing better now, though the early stages of dealing with a previously untreated allergy can be difficult; I'm still doing my best just to not contaminate myself on a daily basis with mixed (though improving) results, even though I've eschewed any attempt at eating out in favor of preparing all my food myself, while making an extraordinary effort to keep my part of the kitchen separate from my roommates'. While my energy and ability to think clearly is improving by the week, I'm still woefully underweight—at 5'10", I've weighed in the 125-to-130-pound range for the last two years—and eating anywhere but in my own home is a major obstacle.
But I know what I must do, and that's an incredible development compared to where I was a few months ago, when my treatment boiled down to get some rest and hope. I'm hoping, by raising whatever awareness I can about my situation and countless others', that more people can make a similar discovery.
*Since I plum forgot to do this in the video: Seth, BiSB, and Bryan Fuller, consider this a formal challenge.
One of the main themes coming out of Big Ten media days is that Michigan's locker room was massively divided last year and that this was a major reason for the fractured splat mess that Michigan's season ended in. (And pretty much started in.) Frank Clark:
"There's no point in yelling at someone. Yelling to another grown man isn't going to get you very far. You've got to have a certain level of respect for that individual. And if he respects you, then there's not going to be that type of level of disagreement."
The implication is that this is a change from 2013.
This is both unusual and not. You often hear about chemistry problems in the aftermath of an unpleasant season; lord knows that I have heard it and fervently believed it about Michigan hockey the last couple years. It is a standard trope whenever sports people have to talk to media before a season, up there with Leave Touted Freshman Alone and We Are Only Motivated By Our Haters. That it's emerged after Michigan's 2013 is no surprise.
The unusual part is the not-quite-on-the-record vehemence being directed at one particular player. That would be Taylor Lewan. No one wants to come out and say it directly, but read between any two particular lines about locker room divisions and they land squarely on him. The result: regular threads on message boards about what a bad captain he was and how unity will unify us all now that he's gone.
I am not buying this.
I don't come to praise Caesar here. There's plenty of circumstantial evidence that Lewan was a dick, from his role in the Gibbons mess to the still-pending assault charges to his increasingly unhinged behavior in last year's Michigan State game. When Mike Spath did his annual piece from Big Ten Media Day in which he gives players anonymity in exchange for real talk, a couple of them called Lewan out for being over the line:
"I don't know how that plays at Michigan, but if my teammates were doing that, it'd be like dead silence in the room, and everyone would know what he's really about.
"That's not the guy I want leading my team."
So yeah he's not exactly Denard. No one is disputing that.
That said, the NFL grabbed him in the first half of the first round. And his performance matched that during the year. He took piles of criticism because Michigan couldn't move the ball, all of it ridiculous since the guy next to him—sometimes both guys flanking him—were blowing the play as he executed his assignment.
You know what doesn't get talked about when you're winning football games? How much of a dick player X is. "Chemistry" is often an effect of other stuff, not a cause. Before the departures of CJ Lee and David Merritt tanked a Beilein team I would have gone with "always" in the previous sentence; nowadays you have to acknowledge that sometimes it is a real thing.
It's not likely to be a big factor in last year's collapse—insofar as a pile of rubble can collapse. Fracturing was always going to happen once that offense was so so bad and the defense got sick of running on the field after a three and out six times in a row. There was always going to be a falling out with the coaches after their ham-handed attempts to fix things made them worse. If Michigan's players weren't questioning what the hell they were doing on offense, there's about to be some bad news about their ability to pass classes at Michigan.
When [Hoke] arrived at Michigan in 2011, he routinely discussed that the group's seniors would carry the club. They'd be the backbone, and the team would be playing for them.
In 2011, it worked. Hoke's senior group was close and welcomed everyone in -- and the team won 11 games. In 2012, it seemed to work again. Even during the moments when the team struggled, it never seemed to unravel.
But with a mostly younger group in 2013, it never clicked. The team stopped fighting for one another, and became disconnected.
When did the team "stop fighting for one another"? During the Akron game like two games into the season? Or on the two point conversion that might have beat Ohio State at the end? It "worked" in 2011 because Michigan got lucky repeatedly; it did not in 2013 because they did not. The offensive line was a shambles against Notre Dame, but Gardner played out of his mind.
There is no narrative in which the fight goes out of Michigan. The pattern here is not one of increasing incompetence, but game-to-game variability: beat Minnesota with a good ground game, get that tackle over set annihilated by Penn State. Run the ball against Northwestern, get 150 yards of offense against Iowa, put up 41 on Ohio State in consecutive weeks.
They were up and they were down and that was mostly because they weren't any good and the offense was mismanaged. Taylor Lewan's affability was at worst 1% of a problem that started with Rich Rodriguez's offensive line recruiting. Losing him isn't going to solve a problem. Winning will.
It's been just over a month since Mitch McGary announced his "decision" to go pro. The scare quotes are present because there was no decision to make if McGary were to act at all in his own self-interest.
This sucked. This sucked because Mitch McGary is a joy to watch on the basketball court, a 6'10" mace attached to a giant pendulum, swinging violently back and forth while pausing only to wreck shit. This sucked because he's equally fun off the court, with his unicycle and Bieber-crooning and invaluable coaching advice and generally making Michigan's bench seem like the best party on campus, even if McGary was the only one partying:
What sucked most of all, though, was the feeling that McGary had only scratched the surface of his potential, and factors almost entirely out of his control* limited our exposure to just 12 career starts. Mitch McGary's Michigan career lasted all of 966 minutes played. That's just over 16 hours. That's not nearly enough.
So while I had no trouble writing effusively about Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III after their departures, I've spent the last month struggling to put McGary's career into words. I try to analyze and am left instead with a whole lot of feelings. How does one discuss an athlete hyped to Webberian proportions before he ever enrolled who, apart from one brilliant six-game stretch, never produced as expected yet was beloved all the same?
Probably by ignoring all of that, sitting back, and watching him work, because again: when Mitch McGary was on the court, the only proper response was to drop everything and watch Mitch McGary. He didn't give you a choice in the matter. He grabbed your attention like so many entry passes:
McGary was a defensive force with impeccable timing. His steal rate as a freshman easily surpassed that of Trey Burke, Master of the Halfcourt Pickpocket. He protected the rim. He seemingly rebounded everything. Michigan's defense suffered mightily last season without McGary's interior presence and game-changing ability to erase opponent possessions.
He also boasted remarkable skill for a big man. Defensive boards turned into fast breaks in the time you could say "Unseld." Sometimes he'd eschew that route and just do everything himself. Occasionally he'd finish his coast-to-coast forays with a Rondo-esque fake behind-the-back pass. Speaking of point guard skills, he could thread multiple defenders without looking. Perhaps my favorite McGary play came in the Kansas game, when he hit a baseline turnaround right in Jeff Withey's face like it was routine, not a work-in-progress shot he'd rarely—if ever—utilized to that point.
He did these things while accepting a backup role until it was time to unleash him for the 2013 NCAA Tournament, playing in an offense that relied on him more as a garbageman than a creator, and being the team's #1 scholarship cheerleader and hype man.
Look at the GIF at the top of the post, one more time. It's a 25-point blowout of Northwestern, and there's McGary, showing more effort in one play than some guys do in four years. Sure, he lost the ball out of bounds, but it's not like you can be mad about it; even if it didn't end well, that play brought life to a dull affair, and we were all better for having seen it.
That's how I'll choose to remember Mitch McGary. The flashes of brilliance. The occasional mistakes born from genuine enthusiasm that bordered on excessive. Most of all, the feeling, after everything, that I enjoyed my life just that much more thanks to a big kid from Indiana who seemed to enjoy everything.
*Yes, there's the weed thing. Read that David Roth piece, then think about the punishment for McGary's transgression versus one of another Michigan center—the football one, Graham Glasgow, suspended for part of spring practice and one should-be-a-cupcake non-conference game for drunk driving. I find one of these things far worse than the other, and it's the one that puts other people's lives in actual danger.
Even after his meteoric rise from unheralded three-star to coveted five-star, Glenn Robinson III was never the centerpiece. In John Beilein's 2012 recruiting class, Mitch McGary commanded the most attention. In Michigan's offense over the following two seasons, Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas were the focal points. Playing a game in which the object is to put the ball through the hoop, Robinson was notable for how rarely—and briefly—he touched the rock.
He waited on the periphery, and when the opportunity arose, he struck with such suddenness and forcefulness that even if you forgot he was on the court, you were sure to leave the game talking about whatever he just did. One moment, he was a 30% three-point shooter standing harmlessly in the corner. The next, some unsuspecting defender was attempting to discard a 6'6", 220-pound hat with ill intentions.
Robinson's ability to make these lightning strikes look effortless belied the skill required to execute them. Correctly timing a cut requires not only reading the defense, but also your teammates—a foray to the rim is worthless if the cutter and passer aren't on the same page, and a poorly timed one can ruin the offense's spacing.
[Hit THE JUMP because of
excessive entirely necessary GIF usage.]
In today's basketball world, the corner three is superior in value to any shot that doesn't come at the rim. It's also the toughest shot in the game to create for yourself; to do so requires a silky touch, a tapdancer's precision, and the guts and/or stupidity to launch a shot that would earn most players a quick trip to the bench.
Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry covered this topic in exacting detail yesterday, posting this fascinating chart that shows the assist rate for shots made from each spot on the floor—three-pointers usually require assistance, and the rate increases as the shooter gets closer to the baseline [click to embiggen]:
Goldsberry's post focused on the players who could create those high-percentage shots for their teammates, because even in the NBA, finding players who do it themselves is a difficult proposition:
Meanwhile, unassisted corners 3s are the white buffalos of perimeter shooting. They don’t come around too often. As it turns out, dribbling into the corner and firing up a 3 is very difficult, and perhaps unwise, as well. It takes a special kind of player to even attempt this task, as Rudy Gay demonstrates for us here: [GIF of Rudy Gay dribbling into the corner and badly airballing a fallaway attempt]
Which brings me to Nik Stauskas. I've written before about his pregame shootaround routine, but it's worth mentioning again. In addition to practicing the usual spot-up threes from various points around the arc, Stauskas always spent time in the corner working his crossover stepback, a move designed to clear out just enough space to launch from a spot that opponents long ago learned to keep him from at all costs.
Without ever having to look, Stauskas's feet nestled precisely between the three-point line and the sideline, the product of countless practice hours transforming process into instinct. By the end of his Michigan career, he made these audacious warmup attempts at about the same outrageous clip that he hit his normal shots. Michigan's shootarounds were considered must-watch because of the team's—and especially Glenn Robinson's—impromptu dunk exhibitions; for me, however, the Stauskas Stepback was always the highlight.
[Hit THE JUMP for more on Stauskas's incredible shot creation in GIF, still, and chart form. Oh, and some more words, too.]
Brennen Beyer won't forget that moment. Long after Al Borges is just a name from a past that may or may not haunt us as fans, the Canton native who stayed close to home will delight in telling his family and friends about the time he—a defensive end—scored a touchdown; he'll have the football to prove it, and the final score of the game will be largely irrelevant.
These moments have been frustratingly few and far between this season, especially this month; even in the shadow of defeat, however, they provide fleeting flashes of joy, even when we're doing our best to detach emotionally.
When Devin Gardner rolled out, couldn't reach the corner, then threw aside Tanner Miller like a defective Weeble-Wobble before hitting A.J. Williams for his first career reception—in the end zone, no less—my reaction wasn't to slump back onto the couch, muttering something about Al Borges's doomed waggles; it was "F*** YEAH, DEVIN." Maybe not so profound or eloquent, but damn if it didn't feel good.
Then Michigan lost, miserably, and I drove home in a funk. But they had their moments, and so did I.
[After THE JUMP, basketball moments.]