Last year”s worst defense in the Big Ten last has a new coach, Tommy Amaker, who happens to have been the best defensive player in the country 11 years ago. Will that do the trick? So far the Michigan basketball team has played two exhibition games against the EA Sports All Stars and Nike Elite and the defensive cobwebs of last season do not seem to have been cleared at all.

Paul Wong
Senior Chris Young (45) and Junior LaVell Blanchard (30) will be a crucial part of the Wolverines” quest for defensive improvement this season.<br><br>MARJORIE MARSHALL/Daily

“We didn”t rotate back to get guys back in position,” Amaker said of his team”s transition defense in last Sunday”s exhibition. “They scored a lot of easy baskets in transition.”

Nike Elite scored 79 points on the Wolverines, who allowed an average of 78.2 points per game last season. Nike Elite forward Rick Hughes scored 26 points and pulled in 16 rebounds, including five on the offensive end.

Hughes” counterpart in the maize and blue, senior Chris Young, managed only five rebounds, three of which were defensive. He was helped by freshman Chuck Bailey, who led the Wolverines with nine boards of his own.

But rebounding wasn”t the only defensive problem. Nike Elite had stretches especially in the first half, en route to a 14-point halftime lead when all its points were coming off of turnovers, and successfully converted fast breaks.

“We just weren”t getting back and the guards on the other squad were just getting fast break, fast break, fast break,” Young said. “We were sending maybe one to two guys to the glass today where normally we”re supposed to send our three, four and five man.”

Amaker and his team did virtually nothing once practice began over a month ago but work on defensive drills. There was an expectation that a strong offense would come from a well-executed defense. Amaker has been adamant about focusing on defense since the day he took the job.

The Wolverines, then, are completely defensive-oriented in preparing for this Friday”s game against Oakland the first of the team”s regular season.

Last year the Golden Grizzlies scorched Michigan from behind the 3-point arc. They shot nearly 51.7-percent on 3-pointers over the course of the game, and nearly 60-percent from the field in the second half. Michigan fell 97-90 to begin its 2000-01 campaign on a sour note.

“Their entire team can shoot the three-ball,” sophomore Bernard Robinson said of the Grizzles. “This entire week is going to be defense, defense, defense.”

There are plenty of things Michigan needs to work on in preparation for Oakland and the beginning of the season. On the defensive end, everything needs improvement: Rebounding, transition, the perimeter game. Amaker is trying to make sure that if nothing else, this team does not suffer the same defensive woes as it did in last year”s season opener.

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