BY JASON KOHLER
Daily Sports Writer
Published January 11, 2009
After yesterday's 64-49 win over Iowa, redshirt freshman guard Laval Lucas-Perry called Michigan a "nobody."
Heading into the season, the Wolverines were pegged to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten. After all, they had set a program record with 22 losses the season before.
How much could they have changed in one offseason? They were nobodies.
But with wins against then-No. 4 UCLA and then-No. 4 Duke on its resumé, there are no longer many people writing off Michigan as a nobody.
That is, except for the Wolverines themselves.
"You got to keep the underdog mentality," sophomore forward Manny Harris said, backing up Lucas-Perry's statement. "We're nobody right now. That's how we like it, and that's what we want people to think."
Everyone except the freshmen remember what it feels like to be pushed around night after night, and to be the team that is expected to lose.
Even though Michigan isn't a consistent underdog anymore, you wouldn't know the difference by talking with the team. The Wolverines still feel like they have everything to prove.
"Whenever any of our teams had any success, that was my biggest worry — that that chip would disappear from our shoulder," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "We have a lot of high-profile players out there, but we have some guys the Big Ten didn't recruit, and they should be playing out there with a chip on their shoulder every minute."
One of those unheralded recruits, fifth-year senior C.J. Lee, exemplifies the tenacity Beilein wants from his players. In the second half against Iowa, Lee sailed out of bounds to save the ball and keep a Michigan possession alive.
"We got to have a sense of urgency and plays like that let you know that we're trying to win games," Lee said. "We don't have any time to waste at this time point in our season."
Though the Wolverines are 3-1 in conference play, none of those wins are against ranked opponents.
Michigan faced a big challenge last Wednesday when the Wolverines fell behind 20 points to Indiana, this year's Big Ten bottom-dwellers. But Michigan showed it's not the same team from last year and overcame the deficit in front of a hostile crowd at Assembly Hall.
Few teams would have had the poise to mount that kind of comeback, but the Wolverines are using the lows from last season to push themselves through this year's struggles.
"It gave us a bigger head on our shoulders, knowing that the ball could've went any way," Harris said. "We could've been sitting here with a 2-2 record if we lose to Indiana. We got off the hook that game, and we didn't want to be in that position again."
Although Michigan might not be a "nobody" anymore, it certainly has a lot to prove before it's considered a major player nationally.
And it won't be easy — four of the next six games are on the road. Even Beilein will acknowledge how it's nearly impossible to pick up wins on the road in the Big Ten.
Those next few games will be the true test of where this team stands.
Michigan has proved it is a good team and no longer a nobody. Now it's time to see if the Wolverines are something special.