BY CHRIS BURKE
Daily Sports Editor
Published November 6, 2003
Champaign to take on Illinois. Riding a 13-game winning streak, the
Wolverines sat in first place in the Big Ten, and after a solid
first half against the Illini, looked poised to grab a stranglehold
on the conference lead.
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Then, Michigan centers Graham Brown and Chris Hunter got into
As the number of fouls on the two big men grew, Michigan’s
11-point lead shrank, and Illinois forwards James Augustine and
Brian Cook took over. The Wolverines fell, 67-60.
The same problem surfaced just three days later when Hunter and
Brown struggled with fouls in a loss at Minnesota.
Then the foul bug reared its ugly head one last time in a loss
to Indiana at the Big Ten Tournament.
Michigan’s frontcourt depth — or lack thereof
— proved too much to overcome.
But it’s not a problem the Wolverines expect to have this
That’s because, thanks to coach Tommy Amaker’s
recruitment of Courtney Sims and Brent Petway, and the eligibility
of transfer J.C. Mathis and redshirt freshman Amadou Ba, the
Wolverines are as deep as, well, any team in the Big Ten.
“I don’t know if anyone has as much depth as us in
the frontcourt,” the 6-foot-11, ridiculously long-armed Sims
Sims, a freshman from Roslindale, Mass., may turn out to be the
prize catch of Amaker’s 2003 recruiting class. The youngster
didn’t start playing basketball until his freshman year of
high school, when his natural ability — and a seven-inch
growth spurt — demanded that he do so.
He finished his career at Noble and Greenough School with career
numbers of 23 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks per game. Those
numbers were good enough to make him one of the nation’s most
highly sought-after recruits.
When all was said and done, Sims decided to bring his Chris
Hunter-like game to Ann Arbor.
“I think (our games) are a lot similar,” said Hunter
of Sims’ play. “We really don’t like to be (with
our) back to the basket. We both like to step out and see the
floor. He’s a little longer, but our games are very
Brown also noticed the closeness in styles that Hunter and Sims
bring but was quick to point out one difference. The sophomore
claimed that he had never played against anyone who could block his
shot until Sims.
“(Sims) is a little longer, a little better shot
blocker,” Brown said. (Hunter) is more aggressive this year
— you can see his experience helping.”
That experience for both Brown and Hunter came from the
Wolverines’ need for starters after Chris Young’s
graduation left Michigan without a center.
The 6-foot-9 Brown started 25 games for the Wolverines last
season, while the 6-foot-11 Hunter chipped in four starts. But both
players saw action in all 30 Michigan games.
“We’re just trying to teach these guys in
practice,” Brown said. “The freshmen need to learn
where to go and when to be there, but when they do, we’ll be
While Brown and Hunter continue to grow stronger after a year in
the Michigan system, the most experienced of the big men is
actually Mathis, an athletically-built, 6-foot-8 forward who played
for two years at Virginia before transferring to Michigan.
The Brooklyn, N.Y. native ended his time as a Cavalier with 4.1
points and 3.1 rebounds per game.
Thanks to his quickness and athleticism under the basket, Mathis
said that he will help the Wolverines most with rebounding and
scoring up front.
The 6-foot-9 Petway, who will split time at power and small
forward, has the ability to jump out of the gym, a feature that
will be helpful when it comes to rebounding and shot-blocking.
The sixth and final member of Michigan’s big man combo
— and perhaps the biggest enigma and best-kept secret on the
Wolverines’ roster — is the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Ba,
who redshirted last year.
“He’s blowing everybody’s mind this
year,” Hunter said of the Mauritania, Africa native. “I
didn’t think he’d do the things that he’s doing.
But he’s showing us a lot of footwork, speed and poise down
in the low post. He’s showing me a lot of things I
didn’t think he could do.”
So while Ba, Petway and Sims continue to develop, Brown, Hunter
and Mathis will be looked to for the veteran leadership that is so
crucial to a Big Ten title run.
Having a six-man rotation up front is something that Amaker is
excited about, but slightly wary of.