Tommy Amaker came to Michigan to build a basketball program. Yesterday, when Michigan announced its self-imposed sanctions as a result of the Ed Martin scandal, his job become a little harder. But amid the disappointment and the frustration resulting from the sanctions, Amaker is ready to move on.
Wednesday night, Amaker called his players together for a team meeting, and informed them of the sanctions that would be placed on the team this season. No one outside that room will know what went on in the meeting, but Amaker’s players came together and affirmed their commitment to Michigan.
“Our kids were very strong in their conviction of wanting to do something very positive with this opportunity,” Amaker said. “And certainly we look at it as an opportunity to show that we are an up and coming program, and an up-and-coming team. And our kids have made some very strong statements in that regard.”
It was an emotional meeting for the 16 Wolverines who comprise this year’s team, but amid the negative feelings brought about by the sanctions, there were glimmers of hope, and the team was able to take a few positive things away from the meeting.
“I think our kids feel some relief, disappointment, anger, all the gambit of emotions,” Amaker said. “But also some relief to know that this is moving forward and we are getting past it and we are going to do things the right way.”
There is also a sense of relief now that the team does not have to wonder as much about what the future will hold.
“It beats the uncertainty,” Amaker said. “Now there is some clear direction.”
But even though there were some positives that arose from the meeting, there is still a sting as a result. The pain of the sanctions has hurt three players more than any. For seniors LaVell Blanchard, Gavin Groninger and Rotolu Adebiyi, there will be no postseason berth in their final campaign as Wolverines. The three will have no opportunity to represent their school once the Big Ten season is done.
“It is disappointing for our current team, and our seniors, especially disappointing for a kid like LaVell Blanchard,” Amaker said.
This is the time of year when every team is setting goals and expectations for what they hope to accomplish this season. But for these Wolverines, some of those goals as now unattainable, through no fault of their own. Instead of bemoaning lost opportunities, the Wolverines are looking forward to what is still within their reach. After being informed of the news that the team would not be able to play in the postseason, the first question Amaker was asked by his players was whether or not they could play in the Big Ten Tournament.
“I knew right away that we were moving on, right to the next phase of ‘What can we do?’ and ‘What are the possibilities of this team, at this time?’ And that told me how mature we are and what kind of chemistry and heart we had in that lockerroom (Wednesday) night,” Amaker said.
Even though he and his team were not responsible for the incidents that ultimately led to the sanctions announced yesterday, Amaker, who received an automatic two-year contract extension in light of recent developments, accepts their validity, as he said, “We recognize that we represent the basketball program today.”
The championship banners won by the teams involved in the scandal have been removed from Crisler Arena, a blow that strikes deep in to the hearts of fans, players and coaches alike. Amaker, who played at Duke from 1984-1987 and earned a Final Four banner in the process, knows the importance they carry.
“As a former player and a coach you recognize the significance of seeing a banner,” Amaker said. “You recognize that that signals success, that signals winnings, that signals pride. And so anytime you are talking about making some of those types of penalties for sanctions, as a player and as a coach, you’re tugging at your heart because you realize that’s what you are playing for.”
Amaker’s players share his steadfast commitment to Michigan as well. After Wednesday night’s meeting, the team is ready to move on and the players understand their responsibility to the school and to the program.
“They realize why they come to the University of Michigan for a variety of reasons,” Amaker said. “And today is one of those reasons. To stand firm, stand strong and keep our heads held high and represent this school the way we know how. And that’s what we’ve done and that’s what we are going to continue to do.”