michigan

My cousins moved to Ann Arbor during the mid 90′s, basically at the end of the Steve Fisher era. The romance associated with the ‘Fab Five’ had been replaced by accusations of impropriety. Chris Webber, Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock had taken $616,000 from booster Ed Martin and eventually the school imposed sanctions that sent the program into the abyss.

My personal feelings regarding boosters and the role they play in a system that leeches off the talents of youngsters for the sake of making heaps of money is a topic for another day. Michigan basketball was done. Coincidentally, because of my family, this was when I began to follow the exploits of a team that was considered a pariah in the Big Ten.

The 1992 trip to the Final Four never happened. Appearances in the 1993, 1996 and 1998 tournaments never happened. A 1997 championship in the college basketball equivalent of being magna cum laude at DeVry University was wiped out. The Wikipedia page outlining Michigan basketball’s history has more asterisks than the medal winners list from the 1984 Olympics. So many Krusty burgers.

The timing couldn’t have been worse for  a program that was the talk of the Country, when Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson and Juwan Howard were declared the greatest class ever recruited . Meanwhile, Wolverines football was making headlines for the wrong reasons, the Miracle at Michigan chief amongst them.  Head Coach Gary Moeller was fired after getting hammered at a restaurant in Southfield  and throwing a punch at a police station.

We know what happened next. Lloyd Carr took over the football program and enjoyed a lengthy run of success, including a National Championship in 1997. Meanwhile basketball coach Brian Ellerbe won the 1998 Big Ten Championship–which was vacated–and followed that up by failing to finish better than seventh in the conference.

The Student Body wasn’t fighting for tickets at the Crisler Center. The Big House was the place to be, and considering the talent on display–Charles Woodson, Brian Griese etc–this wasn’t surprising.

Apathy took over. When I went to visit my family we didn’t talk about the job Tommy Amaker was doing under trying circumstances. Over a decade later it’s a different story. While my Aunt and Uncle no longer call Ann Arbor home, Michigan basketball is back on the map. ‘Glory hunter’, ‘scummy bandwagoner’–I deserve the epithets.

At the time of his hiring, John Belein, to me at least, was the guy that recruited Kevin Pittsnogle and Da’Sean Butler. West Virgina were tournament darlings in 2005 and 2006, reaching the Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen. His arrival at Ann Arbor signaled a new era for a program that hadn’t made the tournament in six years. The end of an abysmal first year in the Belein era (10-22) coincided with the end of an NCAA enforced scholarship reduction. The Wolverines were finally out of purgatory.

I own a Manny Harris jersey. Manny Fresh remains one of my favourite collegiate players to this day, but that was a waste of money. With three tourney appearances in his first five years at Michigan, Belein had a brought a modicum of respectability to the program. This year, however, expectations are high.

Mich1

Famous fathers, Canadian content and one of the best point guards in the country–what more do you want? Burke was named to the United States Basketball Writers Association’s first-team All-America squad on Monday, the first Wolverine since Webber to make the first team. The sophomore PG is also a strong candidate for the Wooden, Naismith and Robertson national player of the year awards.

Belein knows what he’ll get from Burke and Hardaway Jr. It’ll be the play of freshmen Stauskas and Robinson that determines how far they’ll go.

Via MLive’s Nick Baumgardner:

“If Glenn or Nik just come in and do what they’ve done so many times this year (we’ll be fine),” Beilein told ESPN’s Andy Katz on Monday during a segment on ESPNU. “Nik provides us with a great amount of perimeter (scoring) and he drives to the basket, gets to the foul line and he’s a tremendous foul shooter.

The Wolverines haven’t made the Sweet 16 since 1994. A four seed this year, they’ll fave South Dakota State at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Thursday night– a home game considering the location. Last year they were bounced in the first round by Ohio, when Michigan was also a fourth seed.

My allegiances are no longer as strong as they once were.  With that said, this year feels so much different than those gloomy days in the late 90′s. “No matter what happens in this NCAA tournament, we are moving forward.”

No kidding.