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Michigan jams with The Rock

Todd Needle/Daily
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By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 13, 2012

Not all 30-inch, 21-ounce composite orange spheres are made equal.

Yes, even in today’s progressive, 21st-century society, we still see discrimination. Basketball discrimination.

Between Nike, Adidas, Wilson, The Rock, Spalding and even renegade Wisconsin’s Sterling ball, college basketball teams are allowed to choose the type of ball they want going through their nets from a bevy of options. Until postseason play, when the Wilson Solution is used, each school gets to choose the ball it uses for home games.

The preference of Michigan coach John Beilein dates back 20-plus years.

“I just have a long association with The Rock,” he said. “I used it way back to LeMoyne and also at the Division-I level. I’ve used The Rock, I think, all the time. They have a good product.”

Though many teams choose to stick with their school’s sponsor for their choice of ball, Michigan passed over Adidas in favor of The Rock — a brand from Anaconda Sports.

“It feels very much like the Wilson, which we use in the NCAA Tournament,” Beilein said. “That’s why I like it.”

Beilein also uses the ball for other reasons — to support his moonlighting job as a salesman.

“I have a great association with them,” he said. “And I also have my own ball that I sell through The Rock, The Beilein Ball, with the line on it. It’s a relationship thing.”

The Beilein Ball is a training tool with thick black stripes bearing his last name that form a circumference around the ball. Its function is to help players analyze ball rotation on their shots and to help them position their hands correctly as they prepare to shoot. In short, this training mechanism is designed to help the players put nylon between The Rock and a hard place — the court.

Beilein invented the tool years ago, by simply drawing lines on the ball with black marker, but he struck retail gold, as the ball has gone mainstream in recent years.

“When I first saw the (Beilein Ball), I thought it was a joke because I had never seen a ball like that before,” former Michigan guard Ron Coleman told The Michigan Daily in 2007. “But it really helps a lot to get your hands in the seams, because you do shoot better.”

Throughout the year, when Michigan prepares to face its next road opponent, it practices with the same ball that team uses.

“We have every ball that we play against in storage,” Beilein said. “So when we play a Nike school, there will be 12 Nike balls on the rack.”

Nike seems to be the ball of choice in college basketball, as the majority of major-conference schools play with a ball branded with a swoosh. Seven of the 12 Big Ten schools use Nike, while Wisconsin is the only school in Division-I college basketball to use the Sterling ball.

“I think it’s fun a lot of times going into a new stadium and playing with a different ball,” said senior guard Stu Douglass. “I don’t know if ‘re-focus’ is the right word, but you want to shoot well, and it’s a big part of getting big road wins.”

Each ball has its own idiosyncrasies that can affect a player’s comfort level. Though each brand has eight panels to the ball, there are certain discrepancies: the depth of the seams, the toughness of the leather and the stickiness of the ball.

“The Adidas ball is different from the Nike balls,” Douglass said. “And we play with The Rock, so it’s different. Some of the things get a little monotonous, so it’s fun to kind of mix it up.”

The road — and foreign balls — haven’t been kind to the Wolverines this season. Michigan, which has gone 5-7 away from Crisler Center, is dominant at home with The Rock, going 14-0.

But if Michigan fans are worried about the Wolverines’ play without The Rock in the postseason, there is good news.

On Dec. 10, Michigan put up a season-high 90 points in a victory over Oakland at the Palace at Auburn Hills.

The ball? Wilson. The same brand used for March Madness.


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