Bacari Alexander finds new motivational tool for Saturday's pregame vs. Syracuse

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By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Editor
Published April 5, 2013

ATLANTA — First the caged Jayhawk, then Pringles, and now orange juice?

Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander has been the main source of pre-game motivation in the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament run with his humorous pep talks before each game.

Alexander told the players to put the Jayhawks in a cage before they took on Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen, and he wanted them to play with a chip on their shoulders — via placing a Pringle on the shoulder of each player’s jersey — before Michigan played Florida. He even called the team "nutcrackers" in his Feb. 5 pregame speech before the Wolverines played Ohio State.

Though his strategy may seem a bit quirky, there's legitimate explanation behind his method.

“You’re dealing with 17-to-23 year olds at the collegiate level and you get into the NCAA Tournament and you start advancing and the stakes start to raise and the media attention starts to intensify, you have to find something to ease the mood,” Alexander said. “One of the approaches we take is allowing the assistant coaches to address the team in any way that they see fit.

“One of the things I try to emphasize when talking to the kids is giving them something that’s not only humorous to get them to relax, but informative with regards to what we’re trying to accomplish in that particular game.”

Alexander isn’t the only one motivating the team — Michigan players are becoming motivational tools themselves.

With all the hype surrounding Burke winning the John R. Wooden Player of the Year award, the Oscar Robertson Player of the Year award and the Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year award, the sophomore has been very level-headed, and is trying to use his calmness as an example for younger players on the team.

Burke says he tries to model his game off of NBA guards like Tony Parker, Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo because those players are true leaders on the court and demand respect from their teammates. Michigan coach John Beilein has even considered Burke as an extension of himself on the court.

“It’s been that way for most of his career here,” Beilein said. “I think in the first couple months, he was reading me. He was putting deposits in my trust bank more and more every time—that’s really important. The more deposits he made, the more I knew I could trust him.

“So there’s been this mutual respect for each other, and I mean it.”

And in turn, the freshmen are helping the few veterans on the team keep the game in perspective.

“The freshmen are really doing a good job making it easier for us veterans out there,” Hardaway said. “They’re playing like they’ve been on this stage before and they’re growing up in front of our eyes … They’re not freshmen no more, they know what it takes to win, and they’re doing a great job of going out there and having fun.”

While the Wolverines are keeping themselves humbled and hungry, Alexander has to think of a motivational tool for when Michigan faces Syracuse in one of Saturday’s national semifinal games.

The choice seems obvious to him — orange juice.

“You know that did happen two years ago when we played Syracuse, (a 53-50 loss), out in Atlantic City, and Evan Smotrycz, who was on our roster at the time, was quite upset that I soiled his jersey,” Alexander said. “I hope Evan forgives me. Evan, if you’re out there watching, I’m sorry.”