Hoops Preview 2015-16: Recovery

Submitted by Ace on November 13th, 2015 at 5:00 PM

Previously: Hoops Preview PodcastMGoRadio 1.6 (wsg John Gasaway), Point Guards (Walton, Spike), Wings Part I (LeVert, Dawkins, Irvin), Wings Part II (MAAR, Chatman, Robinson, Wagner), Bigs (Doyle, Donnal, Wilson), Hoopsageddon.


WHAT Michigan vs. Northern Michigan
WHERE Crisler Center
Ann Arbor, Michigan
WHEN 7 pm ET, Friday
LINE No line (100% WP on KenPom)
TV BTN Plus (online stream only, $)
BTN will replay it at 11:30 pm Sunday

Right: Willy the Wildcat could use some time at Camp Sanderson. (via)

Before getting to this season's story, there's a game tonight that should look quite a bit like last week's exhibition. Like Le Moyne, Northern Michigan is a D-II team, and not a particularly good one at that—the Wildcats went 9-19 last season and were picked dead last by some margin in the preseason GLIAC coaches poll.

The Wildcats boast a couple solid outside shooters in guards Jordan Perez and Marcus Hall, but the lineup shouldn't pose much of a threat to Michigan. NMU has one player on the roster taller than 6'7", and he's a 6'10", 200-pound freshman. KenPom gives Michigan a 100% win probability.

On the Wolverines side of things, Zak Irvin will sit out this game because of his back injury; John Beilein said yesterday that while he's healthy he's not back in game shape. Spike Albrecht is still limited from his offseason hip surgeries and will play only spot minutes. The main focus of Michigan fans will be how the rotation shapes up:

  • Will Kam Chatman or DJ Wilson look like the superior option at the four?
  • Is Mark Donnal really the starting center or is this just like last year?
  • Will Moritz Wagner get time, therefore burning his redshirt? Or will Wilson see some time at the five?
  • How will MAAR find his way onto the court with Duncan Robinson providing such a quality scoring option off the bench?

Those questions won't all be answered in full tonight, but we should have more of an idea of how this team will look.

[Hit THE JUMP for THE STORY, which is really a health update with a hopefully-not-awkward tie-in to this year's basketball team.]


I've been long overdue for writing a health update and when it came time to write this season's story the two collided at some point. So, this is personal, it's not as focused on the basketball team as it probably should be, and it could easily be categorized under "navel-gazing"; when one is sick for a decade, they tend to spend a lot of time literally gazing at their own navel, so this is hard to avoid. The background to this is here, here, and here.

both apropos and hopefully bringing this thing full-circle

Recovery is not linear. It is not simple. This is not something people tell you when you're at your low point, for obvious reasons, but I've found it to be true in any context of recovery.

A year ago, Michigan basketball was gearing up for what many expected to be another run for the top of the Big Ten and deep push into the NCAA Tournament. While there were signs that the road back to the second weekend of the tourney could be bumpy—no more Nik Stauskas, relying on freshmen at center—it was easy to overlook them at the time.

Around the same time, I thought I'd solved the health problems that have plagued me since high school. After going through diagnoses of depression, de Quervain's thyroiditis, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as my symptoms headed in the wrong direction, my body initially responded well to a gluten-free diet, something my physician encouraged trying. I convinced myself I was gluten-intolerant. I clung to this diagnosis. I needed it to be correct. I even posted a very encouraging update on my own health.

But all I had to do was look at that very post to know I was lying to myself. I can't watch the video at the top of that page anymore; it pains me to see how strung out I look.

It all came to a head a month later, by which time I'd switched to a Paleo diet as my body became more and more sensitive to seemingly everything I ate. My weight fell to 115 pounds. I broke down in front of my family because I relied so much on them for support and felt like a burden. I'd managed to mostly keep my illness from affecting my work in previous years, with a huge assist from an empathetic boss, but that was no longer feasible—I couldn't even take care of myself, and I took some time off to figure out what was really going on.

My father took over managing my health. The first stop was to our trusted physician, who took one look at me with shirt off and—with my dad in the room—said I looked like I was "wasting," in the terrifying medical sense of the term. We immediately set up appointments with multiple specialists at St. Joe's while I underwent a battery of blood tests.

To make a long story short, a month later we hit on a diagnosis that had actual lab data to back it up. My pituitary gland wasn't sending signals to my adrenal glands to pump out the necessary hormone levels; we could say with more certainty than I could've hoped for that I have secondary adrenal insufficiency. Undetected, it'll drain the life out of you, but with proper treatment—I now take hydrocortisone twice a day—you can live a normal life.


While all this was going on, Michigan's basketball season was going in the tank. Derrick Walton got hurt against Villanova in the fifth game and was a shell of his freshman self. NJIT and EMU proceeded to upset the Wolverines in back-to-back games before Arizona ran them off the court in Tucson.

In January, Caris LeVert broke his foot, effectively ending the team's tournament hopes. Michigan shut down Walton for the season two games later. The squad gamely battled on with surprising contributions from a couple unheralded freshmen, but they were ultimately overmatched, losing eight of their last 11. At 16-16, Michigan didn't even make the NIT.


As I started treatment in January, I went on double doses of hydrocortisone to jump-start my recovery, which is standard procedure. While I'd been warned that the process would take a year before I felt "normal" (whatever that is; I'd long forgot how that felt), I thought I was far ahead of schedule. My weight bounced back and then some, I had more energy than I'd had in years, and one night on a whim I cracked a Founder's All Day IPA and ordered some pizza—the gluten went down so, so smooth, and I felt no ill effects in the aftermath. I was back.

Or so I thought, at least. As I said, it's never quite that simple. Finding the right medication level is an ongoing process; I thought I'd hit the sweet spot over the summer, then found that dosage insufficient when football season came around and worked ramped up significantly. My weight fell back down around the 130-pound range, my energy fluctuated, and I experienced regular panic attacks, issues I though I'd resolved; as it turned out, I'd unwittingly put myself through benzodiazepine withdrawal after I switched from a USA-produced generic to a Chinese generic of one of my medications when I moved to Ypsilanti last year and switched pharmacies. I didn't notice initially because my health was so bad otherwise; after over a year on the inferior pills, I switched back last month, but I'm still feeling some of the effects.

I thought I'd be at full strength by now, and while I'm doing so much better than I have in recent years, that's still not quite the case. It's not just the unpredictable physical recovery; retraining my brain to think of myself as healthy after ten years when doing so was downright dangerous hasn't been easy, nor has finding the right work/life balance after previously dedicating my energy almost entirely to the former.

All in all, though, life is so much better. I'm so close to fully healthy that it's almost more stressful than when I was sick; I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and the temptation to metaphorically floor it, even it that's unwise, is almost overwhelming. For the first time since high school, I'm making sure I'm expending enough of my available energy instead of conserving it at all costs. When the opportunity to do MGoRadio presented itself, I couldn't wait to add that to my schedule; in my previous years at MGoBlog, even that three-hour-per-week commitment would've been too much for me to handle.

While I'm not quite there yet, I'm beyond excited to see what I'm capable of doing when all is well, while also being mindful of how fragile that state can be and how lucky I am to be within striking distance in the first place.


Which brings us, in however contrived a fashion, back to Michigan basketball. After a lost season, the Wolverines appear poised for another run at a Sweet Sixteen seed, and if Maryland falters they're as good a bet as any to win the Big Ten. LeVert and Walton are back at full strength. In their absence, critical components of this year's team got invaluable experience. Where Michigan was thin to the point of wasting at times last season, when walk-ons became rotation pieces, suddenly John Beilein must find a way to trim the fat from the rotation.

It's quite easy, therefore, to project an immediate and full recovery. LeVert and Walton should be better than ever, Zak Irvin rounded out his game in their absence, the large sophomore class should take a big step forward, and the addition of Duncan Robinson could turn the offense into a juggernaut.

But it isn't that easy. The center position is still a major question mark. There are several players in line for possible breakout seasons—Doyle, Dawkins, Chatman, Wilson, even Irvin—but none are guarantees. Irvin and Spike Albrecht are battling injuries that shouldn't affect them during the meat of the season, but with back and hip issues, respectively, there's good reason for trepidation. The fact of the matter remains that this group still hasn't a chance to play with each other at full strength.

This team should round into impressive form sooner or later, and I fully expect them to make a lot of noise in March. In the early going, however, a little patience might prove necessary; that should be easier to pull off with the knowledge that, in the end, things should work out pretty well.



November 13th, 2015 at 5:20 PM ^

Man, can't wait to see the content that Healthy Ace puts out. Glad you're on the mend.

Also, this M team should be exciting. I have similar preseason expectations/thoughts as I did to Football. I'm not sure how good they'll be, I expect some bumps/maybe a loss or 2 they shouldn't lose, and I expect them to be much better at the end of the season compared to the beginning. Having great coaches is awesome. Should be fun...


November 13th, 2015 at 5:34 PM ^

Ace, thanks for sharing. So glad to hear your health is improving in a non-linear but positive fashion. Your story is a great reminder not to take good health or a great blog for granted. Keep on keeping on and thanks for your great work here.

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San Diego Mick

November 13th, 2015 at 6:47 PM ^

work you do, I'm amazed you've been sick because your work has been awesome!!

I expect a pretty damn nice season from the BBall team this year, I think Robinson should start, Go Blue!!!


November 13th, 2015 at 8:45 PM ^

Glad to hear you're doing better! I've got some experience dealing with chronic health problems and I know how tough it can be. Can't wait to see what you can do when you're really at 100%!

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