Michigan basketball coach Tommy Amaker has been in his
players’ shoes before.

Janna Hutz
Michigan basketball coach Tommy Amaker has always been known for his ability to relate to players. (FILE PHOTO)

Amaker was a four-year starter at point guard at Duke from
1984-87. There, he led the Blue Devils to the national title game
in 1986 and was an All-American in 1987.

As someone who went through the rigors of a 30-plus-game season
combined with a 12-plus-credit schedule, Amaker knows when his
players are physically and mentally tired and need some time to
recuperate.

Over the course of his coaching career, Amaker has successfully
provided a suitable way of giving his players some time off.
Occasionally — but not often — Amaker has given his
squad a way to earn its way out of a day’s practice.

In his last year at Seton Hall, Amaker sensed one day that his
team would need one of those days off. But like any good coach, he
couldn’t just let his team go a day without any practice.

Luckily for Amaker, it was 6-foot-10 forward Charles
Manga’s birthday.

When his players arrived at practice, they went through their
stretches as usual. Then, Amaker told them that, because it was
Manga’s birthday, if the then-junior could hit both shots of
a one-and-one from the free throw line, they could all have the
afternoon off.

“That was unexpected,” said then-Seton Hall junior
Ty Shine, who spent last year in the NBDL. “Nobody expected
him to come in and say that.”

With the pressure on, Manga stepped up and drained his first
free throw, but he couldn’t get the second one to fall.

Knowing that his team could probably use the day’s rest,
Amaker decided to give Manga another chance.

After a few trips up and down the court running a three-man
weave drill, Manga again toed the foul line. With players hooting
and hollering in excitement, Manga connected on the front-end like
he had done before. But this time, he nailed the second shot as
well, and the players were free to take the day off or shoot around
— whatever they chose.

“Any time you get an unscheduled day off, it’s kind
of like getting a present at Christmas time,” said former
Seton Hall assistant Fred Hill Jr., who now coaches at Villanova.
“You get all excited about it.

“What Ty didn’t know was the coaching staff was
rooting for Charlie, too.”

Since taking over at Michigan, Amaker has implemented this
incentive for his players in moderation.

But, Amaker didn’t pick on a player on his birthday. In
fact, he didn’t pick on a player at all, instead opting for
one of the team’s student managers.

On a day last year when Amaker again sensed that his players
could use a break, he had Michael Oh, one of the managers, step up
to the line and take a one-and-one — his first time shooting
a basketball all day — to get the team out of practice.
Luckily for the squad, the manager came through, knocking down both
shots.

“I think guys were tired and sore, and coach definitely
had his eye on that,” Michigan senior co-captain Colin Dill
said. “It showed us that coach has a good feel for what
we’re going through.”

“I think they enjoy it, and I think we get something out
of it by putting them in pressure situations,” Amaker said.
“(The coaches) like to have fun, too, and we never want to
lose sight of the fact that we have kids (as players), and they
want to have fun. I think that they enjoy that we can be light at
moments.”

Coming off a 17-for-28 (61 percent) free-throw shooting
performance in its first exhibition against Michigan Tech on
Saturday, Michigan could benefit from some extra practice at the
line this week as it prepares to take on the NBDL’s
Fayetteville Patriots on Friday.

 

 

 

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