It’s been 1,292 days since Spike Albrecht cemented himself into Michigan basketball lore with a 17-point first-half performance in the 2013 National Championship Game.
It seems hard to believe that after all the time has passed since that legendary night in Atlanta, the 23-year-old is gearing up for yet another season of college basketball. But an even more incredible sight will be Albrecht in a Purdue uniform rather than the Wolverine one he donned for the previous four years.
Albrecht was granted a release from Michigan in late March after coming to a decision with Michigan coach John Beilein that there were more ample opportunities for him to find regular playing time elsewhere.
Under the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule, Albrecht was eligible to play immediately without having to sit out a year, essentially making him a free agent. After reportedly considering schools such as Indiana, Wichita State, Texas A&M and Syracuse, the 5-foot-11 guard landed in West Lafayette, just an hour’s drive south of his hometown of Crown Point, Ind.
It wasn’t a hard sell for Purdue coach Matt Painter to convince Albrecht to join the Boilermakers. With only one point guard on the roster, Painter could offer Albrecht the playing time he desired.
“I think we needed him,” Painter said at last week’s Big Ten basketball media day. “We had one point guard in PJ Thompson, who we felt like could grow into a point guard, but right now we felt like he was more of a scorer. So we needed two good point guards. Obviously, (Albrecht) is familiar with us playing in the Big Ten. What you’d normally sell to somebody, he already knew about us. He knew our reputation. He knew our program. He had respect for our program.”
Since the announcement of his decision in May, Albrecht has been working with the Purdue staff to make strides toward full health. When the Boilermakers traveled to Spain to play four games over the summer, Albrecht saw his first minutes of competitive basketball since a hip injury last December prematurely ended his senior season with Michigan.
Painter still doesn’t think Albrecht is back to 100 percent, but has seen improvement since the trip to Spain.
“He’s been a lot better in practice now than he had been in practice in the summer,” Painter said. “He’s had a lot of rest, and it took him some time to get going. We lift a lot, and I think that was an adjustment for him. We’re not trying to get him to a magic level, we’re just trying to get him healthy and feel good about himself.”
While it remains to be seen if Albrecht will be healthy enough to make an impact on the court when Purdue opens its season Nov. 11, he’s already helped Painter establish a winning mindset in a young Boilermaker squad.
“He has a calming influence,” Painter said of Albrecht. “He’s confident in his abilities. He has a lot of experience. He’s been through adversity. But he’s about winning, and you can’t have enough guys that are about that.”
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It may seem at this point that Albrecht and Purdue form a perfect match, but some controversy over the inter-conference move and graduate transfer policy still lingers.
Albrecht is the second player in as many years who has left Michigan to play his final year of eligibility elsewhere in the Big Ten, following Max Bielfeldt’s move to Indiana in 2015.
The NCAA’s graduate transfer rule is highly scrutinized by many coaches, including Beilein and Painter, for creating a separate market for immediately eligible transfers that essentially makes seniors with a remaining year of eligibility free agents.
“I don’t like the rule, but I don’t make the rules. So I just abide by them,” Painter said. “I can’t change the rule, but if they put me in charge, I would. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with (fifth-year transfers) leaving, but I think they should sit a year like anybody else. It just makes it free agency. A lot of people look at us differently because we keep doing it. But the market sets itself. I don’t set the market. I don’t make the rules, but I’m going to do everything in my power within the rules to help Purdue.”
Painter has taken advantage of the policy, bringing in three players in three years to add depth to his squad. This time, the Purdue coach further capitalized on the rule when Beilein made the decision to lift restrictions that would have stopped Albrecht from going to another Big Ten school.
When asked why he chose to do so, Beilein made it very clear that, to him, Albrecht isn’t just another player choosing to walk out the door.
“There was a lot of uncertainty last year about his health and how much (Albrecht) wanted to play with (freshman guard) Xavier (Simpson) coming in and (senior guard) Derrick (Walton) coming back,” Beilein said. “You just got to go and make a call on that. You can’t waffle on that. Spike and I had a lot of discussion on that. We basically said, ‘Ok, we don’t like anything about this, but it’s the right thing to do for both programs right now. Especially for Spike.’ ”
Beilein’s admiration for Albrecht created a difficult situation for the Michigan coach. Losing someone as experienced as Albrecht to a conference foe could hurt the Wolverines in Big Ten play. But few players have earned as much respect from Beilein over his three-plus decades of coaching as Albrecht has, and he wanted nothing but the best for the guard no matter what decision he made.
When Painter was recruiting Albrecht, he saw the difficulty the Michigan graduate would face putting on a uniform for any other team.
That only made him want Albrecht more.
“The number one thing that was appealing to me about Spike was the respect he had for Michigan and for Coach Beilein,” Painter said. “He wanted to make sure that he was professional and handled his business correctly and did things the right way here. That to me stood out, because a lot of times when guys are moving on, they don’t care. He really cared, and it was important to him that everybody at Michigan knew. He stated, ‘I wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for the opportunity Michigan gave to me.’”
Albrecht will return to Ann Arbor with the Boilermakers on Feb. 25, Michigan’s Senior Day. And just like Michigan’s seniors, he too will have a chance to write his final chapter as a Michigan basketball legend that day.