As always, click the links/stills to open each GIF in a lightbox.
The first real hint that Spike Albrecht would exceed even the most unreasonable expectations came in the second game of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, when he threaded a left-handed bounce pass between two defenders to hit Glenn Robinson III in stride from halfcourt. Michigan's bench leapt in unison—we thought, at the time, out of shock, but in retrospect perhaps they knew before the rest of us that Spike was far from done.
Two weekends later, Spike introduced himself to the hoops world at large with his 17-point outburst against Louisville. In the years since, that performance has become less stunning, which is remarkable considering he's only been a full-time starter when injury struck the guy in front of him.
To say Spike made the most out of a limited skill set is to sell him short, because he had serious skills. This is not a pass I've seen anyone else make, certainly not in a college game, and he pulled that out as a freshman in the second weekend of the tourney. It came seemingly out of nowhere—as, quite freqently, did Spike:
Spike's greatest asset was his audacity. He'd launch a shot from a foot inside the halfcourt logo because he could do that. Once he hit such a shot and then did the Sam Cassell big balls dance; if Cassell didn't have full ownership of that move, it could've been Spike's most fitting signature. One of his greatest highlights started by accident and ended with him acting like that was the plan all along:
Despite the above, Spike appeared in constant control. He'd dribble donuts through a defense until an opportunity presented itself. He'd find that extra half-foot of space required to get off his patented one-handed granny layup. He'd leave the center no choice but to respect that damn granny layup and commit a moment before Spike would drop a deft pass to the man the center had left all alone. He'd pick your pocket or your passing lane, then lead a highlight-worthy fast break. He'd weave through the defense and dish off a pass to a player he couldn't possibly have seen:
And, yes, Spike did the proverbial gritty stuff. In his second-to-last game, a rote blowout of Houston Baptist, he didn't hesitate to lay out for a loose ball—as he'd done so many times before—landing on two bad hips that were in even worse shape than we thought. The whole team ran over to pick him up. He shook it off as if it was nothing, then gave us one last spectacular play:
When Spike was on the court, odds were he'd put a smile on your face. He was just as likely to do so off the court:
If there's a player that embodies why we watch the college game, it's Spike Albrecht. While his career ended too soon, it contained more than we ever could've imagined.
"DARK DAYS," PUP
August. Thrice-accursed August.
Back when I had a commute and a job that didn't have anything to do with Michigan football, there was a feeling that hit me at some point in August. An unseasonably cool day might set it off. The sound of a light plane trundling along. An unbidden memory. A random association. Anything.
You probably know it, or at least remember it. For college football fans who get 11 12 maybe 13 days a year of the most important thing in the world it was the feeling of cresting the last dune and seeing a glittering city on the horizon.
Only college football makes you wait so, so long. The NFL has been in swing for a couple weeks now and will go until February. Also, it is the NFL: the Dave Brandon of sports. Most other sports barely have offseasons. There is nothing more irritating than the baseball reporter exclaiming "pitchers and catchers report!" thirty seconds after the World Series ends. Baseball would like some space. Baseball cannot breathe, baseball fans. Baseball would like to see other fans, but baseball is stuck with you because it is baseball.
College football annihilates you and leaves you. Then it comes back.
When that feeling hit me I wanted to fast-forward through the nothingness of thrice-accursed August and get back to living. Since this proved impossible I turned to the next best thing: my Michigan Marching Band CD, A Saturday Tradition. (At this point in time, CDs were conveniently small places to put music. Millennials may recognize them as "coasters.")
I kept it in my car, and when that feeling hit me I put it in for my morning commute and turned it up as loud as my janky old-school Jeep Cherokee would go without turning the music into blaring smears. This was not that loud. Most of the time I'd skip back to the entry cadence after Hawaiian War Chant in an effort to maximize the ROCK METALLLLL in my veins.
At one point the AC broke on the Cherokee for the same reason the last lemming jumps off the cliff. I had to blaze my way to Novi with the windows rolled down precisely enough to churn hot air around the car without blowing my face off… while I had that feeling. So the janky speakers in my janky car were literally turned as far up as possible to mitigate the wind noise. I started slamming the roof of the car with my palm at some point. Probably Temptation. I couldn't type very well that day.
"Pitchers and catchers report." Cumong man.
That feeling left me. As much as you try to insulate yourself from the changes wrought by turning Michigan football into your job, when you have a 50k word deadline in late August every year the start of the season ceases to be something you would like to fast forward to. Precious, precious August. Each day a treasure.
It did not help that about as soon as I stopped having a commute (they said "you don't seem to be working very much"; I said "thank you for taking so long to notice") Michigan started beating anticipation for the season out of its fans. This was a gradual process, of course, but I thought Michigan might go 8-5 in the first year of Rodriguez and I don't think I've predicted double-digit wins since. Michigan has generally underachieved even the modest expectations placed upon it. Denard and the Sugar Bowl year provided a momentary respite; the overall mood of Michigan fans has been on a steady downward trend since Football Armageddon. Since the day Bo died.
By the time 2013 happened things were already balanced on a knife edge, and there was no question which direction they went after. Last year's Story is blunt:
Michigan football is a white tub proclaiming to be a memory of a feeling. It is on the shelf next to things that still provide dat mouthfeel tho. … when we cleared the NBA draft and the World Cup, the cliff loomed ahead.
The dread was palpable. Dread. Unprecedented, but true.
Even that post proved to be wildly optimistic ("Brady Hoke does provide a good deal of hope. Seriously!"). Since anything that accurately projected Michigan's 2014 season would have induced a visit from Homeland Security I'm fine with that; I was not fine with, you know, everything else.
In that I was not alone. Michigan executed what is to my knowledge the only war against an athletic director in history. Those who weren't incensed were gone. Collectively, we were just done. You know how long it takes to get there? Brady Hoke doesn't; you do. We were about to lose our religion.
That sounds melodramatic, but when presented with a Maryland game in which the Big House was maybe 75% full and the prospect of Dave Brandon staying until April and keeping Brady Hoke around, and… well, I don't know. That kind of program murder has never been attempted. That it was at all possible was the culmination of a thousand different things. It doesn't matter now.
I had that feeling again, out of nowhere. It stopped me dead in my tracks; I knew what it was and it still brought me up short.
We have an alarm that plays a bunch of songs I pile into a playlist every few months or so. The pile is deep and if you're busy doing things you may not notice a song for weeks. I had just finished a post and was walking to some point or another in my house and I heard this song that I'd used on the podcast back in March after the season and it was just like
the light will falter and will fade
and in the darkness we'll say
this winter hasn't been so rough
oh it was cold but still IT WASN'T COLD ENOUGH
to freeze the blood beneath my spine
and at least I survived
And man. Upbeat pop-punk isn't supposed to do that do you.
I recommended PUP on Twitter shortly after that podcast by calling them the Japandroids—a relentlessly peppy indie band that mostly deals in WOO and is still good—that sang about the apocalypse largely because of this song. And then I forgot about it despite the fact that it was playing most mornings.
But yes. We survived. At the crucial point, various bits of the thing that is collectively Michigan booted Dave Brandon and went and got Jim Freakin' Harbaugh. Many bits played parts in this, from the student government going hard in the paint on Lochdogg, to the students mad enough to protest, to tie-buyin', Harbaugh-conspirin' Todd Anson, to Jim Hackett and his hipster dad outfits, to Jamie Morris and all the lettermen making sure Harbaugh knew how much he was wanted.
Things were bad, man. Ruinously bad. Seven-plus years of infighting and mismanagement and ego had Michigan at the edge of something truly disastrous. But in the depth of winter there was something invincibly Michigan. The place still means something other than a number in a spreadsheet despite the best efforts of the previous gentleman in charge to change that.
I mean, look at this guy.
He made them make a hat. It is the Bo hat. A block M like that has not been seen in many a year and Jim Harbaugh went to someone and he said "I want this hat and no other hat" and they made it for him. When they asked him at Big Ten Media Day about this job they got one of those honest Harbaugh answers that come out of nowhere sometimes:
“It’s more than personal. I grew up there as a youngster, went to school there as a student athlete in college and now back coaching. Can’t screw it up. I have to do good."
Then he told them he had the same path to work that Bo did and the exact sequence of streets involved.
The thing after "Dark Days" was "Bombs Over Baghdad." I used that on the season preview podcast this year for probably the third or fourth time because it's just… it's just itself, man. I had a conversation once with Spencer Hall of EDSBS, a longtime Atlanta resident, and he told me that the day that song came out you could go anywhere in the city and it would be playing. When it was over, it started again. It was instantly part of Atlanta's DNA.
Harbaugh is part of Michigan's DNA, arrogant and weird and irascible and unable to suffer fools. The Bo drips off him. And he is good. So damn good. His goal after coaching is to die. He is of Michigan; now he is Michigan. I thought about that, and Atlanta suddenly having a national anthem, and about how it wasn't cold enough yet, and about Jim Harbaugh's Bo hat. I put on A Saturday Tradition. I turned it up.
I turned it up all the way.
When the Seattle Seahawks drafted Frank Clark in the second round of last weekend's NFL Draft, the obvious question arose: how would organization handle Clark's November arrest for a domestic violence charge?
The details of the arrest report were disturbing; Brady Hoke called the incident "unacceptable" while dismissing Clark from the program; at the NFL Combine, Clark engaged in an unsettling bit of victim-blaming instead of shouldering the full responsibility for his actions.* Clark pled guity to reduced charges in April. For an NFL team looking to draft Clark, due diligence was required; this wasn't even Clark's first run-in with the law.
On Friday, Seahawks GM John Schneider said all the right things about the organization's investigation into the incident:
“Our organization has an in-depth understanding of Frank Clark’s situation and background,” Schneider told reporters in Renton after the second and third rounds on Friday. “We have done a ton of research on this young man. There hasn’t been one player in this draft that we have spent more time researching and scrutinizing more than Frank. That’s why we have provided Frank with this opportunity and are looking forward to him succeeding in our culture here in Seattle.”
Schneider said, based on the team's investigation, he didn't believe Clark hit his girlfriend, and domestic violence issues were a deal-breaker when evaluating players. That revelation came as quite the surprise to many, including witnessess of the November incident—witnesses who, according to a bombshell report in the Seattle Times today, were never consulted by the Seahawks:
But the Seahawks made him the 63rd overall pick in the draft, saying team officials had conducted an extensive investigation of their own and felt confident that the 6-foot-2, 277-pound Clark had not struck his girlfriend. The team acknowledged on Monday that their investigation did not include interviews with witnesses other than Clark.
The police report describing the incident quotes Diamond Hurt, then 20, saying Clark punched her in the face. Hurt’s younger brothers are quoted saying the same thing.
When Babson and Colie found her, Hurt “was just laying there,’’ Babson said. “She looked like she was unconscious to me.
“The kids were saying, ‘He killed my sister!’ ’’
Colie added that Hurt “was on the ground, curled up and holding her head and stuff.’’
Both women gave written statements to police via email the following day. But they say they never heard back from anybody about the case until The Seattle Times contacted them on Monday.
The Seahawks didn't perform a thorough investigation. They didn't even perform a half-assed one. They talked to the person they wanted to play football for them, heard what they wanted to hear, and willfully ignored a great deal of evidence that directly contradicted their conclusions.
It's a remarkable failure that hurts all parties involved.
It's an unfortunate reality-check for the ever-increasing number of people hoping the NFL will actually take domestic violence seriously, instead of doing the bare minimum to avoid negative PR. I can't imagine how the victim must feel seeing Clark's new employer take her alleged assailant at his word and make no effort to get the full story, one corroborated by multiple witnesses.
It also does no favors for Clark. While his alleged transgressions—and his subsequent statements—leave little room for sympathy, he's had his day in court and isn't subject to further discipline from the NFL; he should be able to move forward with his career, ideally with the support of an organization that is there to help him learn from his past and become a better person.
Seattle's investigation and its backlash, which is only just beginning, cast that into serious doubt. If the Seahawks feel obligated to correct their mistakes with this investigation, Clark will be the one looking for a job, and while he has nobody to blame but himself for being in that position, that doesn't mean it's justified. Cutting Clark may save some face for the organization, but that's about it, and it certainly doesn't help Clark find his way to a better path. If Clark remains, on the other hand, Seattle's initial handling of this doesn't instill confidence they'll do a whole lot to support Clark's growth as anything but a football player.
The Seahawks hurt themselves, too—at the very least they're facing a major controversy, and at worst they'll cut a second-round pick before he ever suits up for them—but they've somehow set themselves up as the least sympathetic party in this most recent ordeal.
What's perhaps the most galling is how unnecessary this is. Clark's alleged assault was common knowledge heading into the draft, and most expected he'd still get drafted; I don't think the central issue here is with him getting a chance to play in the NFL, or even that he got selected earlier than expected for a player with his off-field history. What concerns me most is this: Seattle didn't take the issue seriously, no matter what they say, and in doing so they set everyone up for failure.
*Clark would later make a more contrite statement of apology (last paragraph). He still maintains he didn't strike the victim.
This should be how we remember Devin Funchess. It is not. [Fuller]
Losing isn't conducive to hero worship. This is, perhaps, an obvious point. For every Minnesota-era Kevin Garnett, a beloved star on a bad team, there are many New York Carmelo Anthonys, nitpicked and questioned to an unreasonable degree while surrounded by lesser talents, hampered by poor coaching, or both.
Which brings me to Devin Funchess. In 2013, Funchess could do no wrong as the matchup nightmare foil to Jeremy Gallon's production by precision. Expectations entering last season were so high Brian had to repeatedly clarify that Calvin Johnson comparisons weren't entirely reasonable:
So Devin Funchess probably isn't Calvin Johnson. Michigan should try to prove that assertion wrong. Expect something between first team All Big Ten and an All-American followed by an early entry into the NFL draft. He may even win the Mackey award, because people don't pay attention.
Funchess's 2014 initially met expectations; he looked like a man among boys while scoring a trio of touchdowns in the opener against Appalachian State. Funchess managed 107 yards against Notre Dame as Michigan got whomped, but the seeds of discontent were planted:
Devin Funchess tore ligaments, crack bone in a toe in the ND game. Took a shot in the toe before Utah. Re-injured it. Never got better
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) March 21, 2015
We didn't know this, of course, because Brady Hoke didn't talk about injuries. "He's fine," Hoke said, days before he'd hold Funchess out of the Miami (OH) game.
Funchess didn't look the same for the rest of the season. He didn't record another 100-yard game until the season finale at Ohio State; he reached the end zone just once after the opener. With the offense—and the season, and the Hoke era—crumbling around him, the focus turned to his occasional drops and a perceived lack of effort. Save for Devin Gardner and the coaching staff, Funchess drew more ire from fans than any other member of the program.
Never mind that he clearly played hurt. Never mind that his quarterback had the worst year of his career. Never mind that his catch rate actually improved from 53% to 62% despite him being targeted on nearly a third of Michigan's passes—and even more frequently on passing downs, when it became obvious to all that the ball was going his way. Never mind that when Gardner threw his second interception against Northwestern, Funchess blew through two block attempts, chased down Ibraheim Campbell after a 78-yard return, and laid a lick on him for good measure:
This didn't fit the narrative. Funchess wasn't an otherworldly talent gamely battling through injury in a lost season even if it meant hurting his draft stock. He was a prima donna wide receiver who hadn't earned that status, a guy who didn't care about winning, if you interpreted an unfortunate postgame presser soundbite as so many did.
When Funchess declared for the NFL draft, the reaction from many Michigan fans wasn't one of disappointment or sadness; instead, the news was met with indifference or, quite often, a list of all the reasons why he'd fail as a pro. That list got longer when he ran a disappointing 4.7-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine a month ago. It was only after, when his draft stock and earning potential had taken a serious hit, that we learned he was still recovering from an injury of which we never knew the full extent.
I can't say for certain whether Funchess will succeed in the NFL. If I had to guess, though, I think he will. At his best, his combination of size, speed, and body control is up there with anyone; we just didn't get to see him at his best last year for reasons almost entirely out of his control. If he works through his too-frequent battles with butterfingers, he's got the potential to be a defense-bending number one receiver.
In an alternate universe, Funchess may very well be Braylon Edwards, whose game was eerily similar right down to the frustrating drops. We remember Braylon in a very different light; winning helps quite a lot, as does avoiding injury and being surrounded on all sides by NFL talent. I hope we'll come around on Funchess and similarly celebrate his accomplishments instead of bashing him for failures not of his own doing. If, and hopefully when, he's skying over NFL defenders like so many Mountaineers, we'll be glad we did.
For weeks now, I've had half-baked column-type things on Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins saved on my laptop, begging for an easy narrative the subjects couldn't provide. This is MAAR's offense now? Well, he just went 1/7 with four turnovers at Indiana. Dawkins provides a steady shooting presence? It's too bad he just shot 1/8.
This shouldn't be a surprise. Michigan's two late recruiting pickups for 2014 weren't supposed to have significant, let alone starting, roles on this team. As recently as December, when Michigan hosted Syracuse, both registered DNP-CDs. That all changed with the injuries to Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, of course. Instead of easing them into the college game, John Beilein had little choice but to throw them in headfirst and hope they could tread water.
MAAR and Dawkins combined for just seven points on 3/12 shooting against Ohio State; Sunday's game nevertheless displayed their progress.
Abdur-Rahkman drew the unenviable assignment of guarding future top-five pick D'Angelo Russell for much of the game, and he did better than anyone could expect of a freshman defending one of the top scorers in the country. Russell had a hard time freeing himself as Michigan jumped out to a big first-half lead, going just 1/4 in the first stanza; he'd finish with 16 points, but needed 17 shot equivalents to get there, and he turned it over five times.
Time and again, MAAR fought his way over and around screens to stay in Russell's hip pocket, forcing a series of difficult shots. He knew where to be—no small feat for a freshman on defense—and he seemed acutely aware that he'd have to expend most of his energy on that end of the floor. Then, at the end of a rough day on offense, he came through with one of the biggest assists of the game, finding Zak Irvin on a drive-and-kick for a corner three that gave M a six-point lead with six to play. It was the type of play we'd hoped to see from MAAR for weeks.
Dawkins, too, came through late after struggling for much of the day. Shortly after MAAR's critical assist, Dawkins got past Marc Loving and tried a short pull-up from just outside the paint. Although the initial shot went off the mark, Dawkins corralled the rebound after a tip, then pivoted past Jay'Sean Tate to scoop in the putback (above, Fuller). I don't think it's a play he makes in December, when Michigan's freshmen had to think their way through all 40 minutes.
They're still developing, of course. Dawkins made an ill-advised foray to the basket early in the shot clock with Michigan clinging to that late six-point lead; while the Buckeyes blocked the shot, Max Bielfeldt bailed out his teammate with a tough rebound. MAAR got himself trapped next to the Buckeye bench and had to sweat through a lengthy replay in the final minute. Overthinking (or underthinking) is still an issue.
Especially when one notes Kam Chatman's unexpected six-point run in the first half, though, it's hard not to be encouraged by the progress of Michigan's freshmen after Sunday regardless of what showed up on the box score. MAAR is hitting 55% of his twos in Big Ten play while developing an outside shot and building confidence on defense. Dawkins has that tantalizing athleticism and truly impressive shooting numbers—he's fourth in the conference in true shooting percentage.
Michigan doesn't have a superstar like Russell in the freshman class, but it's becoming easier and easier to see what John Beilein envisioned when he recruited these guys. It's still hard to come up with a smooth game-to-game narrative to attach to them. That's kind of the point, though—freshmen are unpredictable. Instead of waiting for them to string together enough similar performances to declare they're here, sometimes it's best to note the highs and the lows and realize they're getting there, and that's just fine.
Indoor soccer leagues are not particularly good about keeping things balanced. We were getting the shit kicked out of us because we were all 30 and out of shape and these kids were in high school. Since they were in high school, they were dicks. I'd just about gotten fed up when their goalie started making forays up the field in an attempt to score. Repeatedly. Just rubbing it in.
I started tracking him the next time he did it, with every intention of cleaning him out. As I reached him, he passed the ball. My fate was sealed anyway.
Without any semi-legal means of letting this guy have it, I punched him in the face. 30 seconds of rolling around later, my glasses were in tatters and I'd gotten a healthy suspension from an amateur indoor soccer league I didn't care very much about.
This is not at all what Frank Clark did. I am not drawing any sort of equivalence between the two events.
But I have been there, in the place where part of your brain that says "maybe we should think about this" is overwhelmed by a need for violence. I understand that many—too many—people come at this from the perspective of someone who has experienced or knows someone who has experienced the other end. That is valid. Of course it is. I come at it from the other end. I am a relatively normal person with a nice life, and there but for the grace of God and wife go I.
I struggle to say the appropriate things here because I think the idea of "thoughts" going out to the victims of such things is condescending at best. If you're ever in a position to help a person in that situation do it and if you're not then don't puff yourself up about how roundly you condemn such behavior. I don't see a whole lot of difference between people with the gall to blame the victim and those loudly proclaiming Clark a miserable waste of atoms.
This gets on my nerves because it's a quick leap from pointless moralizing to dismissing a guy forever as only that one thing in that one moment. I saw this picture and it took the wind out of me.
"Clark refused to look at the camera at the Perkins police station"
What did I do?
"Look at the camera."
That's not who I am.
"Look at the camera."
I thought I had left this behind.
Maybe Frank Clark's a bad guy. Or maybe one of the assholes waving him goodbye in the comments to make themselves feel better about themselves would have made the same screwup in the same situation, bottle-deep in a miserable football season after literally living a feral existence on the streets of Los Angeles for most of his youth.
It's not acceptable; Michigan had to make the decision it made. For once the program managed to handle something right. There have to be severe societal punishments for these things, and Clark's going through that.
He's got a choice now. He can be a guy that this happened to once, and he put it all away and forced all of that down as best he could and it never happened again. Or he can let it recur, and be the guy the internet says he is now. It's up to him. I don't know which way it will go, and that photo suggests he doesn't either.
I hope he makes it, and feel badly for him. Yes, as the perpetrator of a terrible thing. Yes. It is possible to be a bad person in a moment because you are wired to be angry, a wiring that comes easily when you've experienced way too much fear growing up. How many people are shitty all the time without tripping a line like Clark did?
It is heartbreaking for Frank Clark to almost make it. You should feel that part of this too.