Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan seniors LaVell Blanchard and Rotolu Adebiyi couldn’t wait to become Wolverines. Now they wish they didn’t have to leave.
The two seniors, along with Michigan’s third senior Gavin Groninger, will be playing their final two regular- season games for Michigan this week. And with the self-imposed sanctions in effect, their Michigan careers will end after the Big Ten Tournament.
“This season means a lot to LaVell,” said Adebiyi, who is finishing his fifth season with the team. “I’ve known him since the ninth grade, we grew up in Ann Arbor together; and we played together all the time, and basketball is very important to him.”
Adebiyi says the two haven’t talked about post-graduation and what awaits both of them in the future.
“We know it’s going to come, so we just leave it alone,” said Adebiyi. “Right now we are just trying to focus on basketball.”
Living in Ann Arbor, Michigan basketball was always a big part of the two players’ lives. Besides playing in high school, they loved watching the Wolverines compete on the court.
“Growing up here, you see it all the time,” said Adebiyi. “I was good friends with (former Michigan coach Steve) Fisher’s son, so I was always around the atmosphere and we were always cheering for the team. To say I was a part of it and a captain is special for me.”
Since arriving on campus four years ago, Blanchard has been Michigan’s most dependable player. Even though his years at Michigan were during tough times for the program, Michigan coach Tommy Amaker feels his captain’s devotion has helped build a strong foundation for the future – even though he won’t be here.
“It’s LaVell’s team,” Amaker said. “He’s played outstanding basketball for us all season. He’s been part of some significant wins this season, and I’m proud of his development here.
“I think the freshman look to him and respect him. He really likes the younger players in terms of friendship, and I think he sees himself in them.”
Blanchard, who has been considered a candidate for the All-Big Ten Team and Big Ten Player of the Year, was quick to praise his coach for how much he has improved.
“He’s taught me so much,” Blanchard said. “Before, I was mainly a scorer and a rebounder, but he really emphasized to me that you have to play the whole game. He’s a great person, and he’s done so much for me.”
Blanchard also said that he hasn’t focused on life after school and basketball just yet.
“Right now, I’m focused on being in college and enjoying my life, because it’s getting down to just a few weeks now,” Blanchard said.
On the loose: Michigan freshman Lester Abram has found his rhythm, and it shows. Abram has averaged 15 points over his last four games, and is becoming the consistent producer that he was supposed to be. The freshman credits his success to being more aggressive with his shot and finding scoring opportunities during games.
“During the 13-game winning streak, everything was working so I wasn’t looking for my shot as much,” Abram said. “But as soon was we lost a couple, I realized that I could be more aggressive on offense and take my defender to the basket more often.”
Amaker says that Abram has had an outstanding freshman season, and his toughness on the boards down the stretch has been instrumental for Michigan’s success this season.
Ronald says no!: Incoming freshman Dion Harris, who is a candidate for Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan, was left off the McDonald’s All-American roster. Both Blanchard and freshman Daniel Horton were McDonalds All-Americans.
Abram, who played against Harris growing up in Michigan, found the decision surprising.
“It was strange, because I thought he was the best player in the state,” Abram said. “He might be Mr. Basketball, which means he would be the best player in the state, but get left out of the All-American game.”
Two Michigan high schoolers, Brandon Cotton (St. Martin Deporres) and Olu Famutimi (Northwestern Edison) made the roster. Cotton will be attending Michigan State next season.