INDIANAPOLIS — At one end of the bench sits an All-American; on the other, a 19-year old that needs his uniform to convince you that he’s on the Michigan men’s basketball team.
The injured Mitch McGary — clad in a suit and tie for now — sits next to the coaches while Andrew Dakich is almost out of earshot from them. Symbolically, it couldn’t be more fitting. Yet moments after almost every single meaningful bucket Michigan scored at the Big Ten Tournament, the two came together — for a high five, a dance, a handshake — to form basketball’s unlikeliest, and most endearing bromance.
It’s March after all, the month synonymous with madness. It’s a time when as a nation we fall in love with unknowns from Spokane, Wash. or Davidson, N.C. — Adam Morrison and Stephen Curry — and turn them into household names.
McGary, an injured sophomore forward, made a name for himself on the recruiting trail before coming to Michigan, but it wasn’t until last March — when he played in 184 of the Wolverines’ 240 NCAA Tournament minutes — that he cemented his superstar status.
The freshman guard Dakich, on the other hand, will likely never play a single minute of meaningful basketball in his collegiate career. Despite playing just three minutes this month — each in the final moments of lopsided contests — his sideline celebrations have firmly established himself as Ann Arbor’s latest cult hero.
Dakich said the celebrations began midway through the season when team chemistry reached a point when he no longer felt he had to be an under-the-radar freshman. The dice roll, he says, is his favorite, but normally, “I just do something with my hands where I wiggle them around and just see what I can come up with.”
None of the Wolverines saw the first highlight reel, which has more than 14,600 hits, until someone stumbled upon it on Twitter while the team was on the bus en route to Indianapolis last week. Players and coach alike loved it, but no one more than McGary. Together, the pair has begun calling themselves the ‘Bench Mob.’
“Once he saw that, he wanted to be a part of it,” Dakich said. “We came up with some handshakes, some skits we can do. … We don’t try to be like the stereotypical guys who just clap. We try to mix it up a little bit.”
On almost every Wolverine jump shot attempted over the weekend, Dakich and bench mate, freshman guard Sean Lonergan, would stand in anticipation of a make, a bit problematic since more than 55 percent of the time they’d immediately sit back down. But on makes, Dakich would make his way over to McGary or even past him, in front of the coaches, to celebrate with dice rolls or dance steps.
So far, none of the coaches have seemed to mind. In fact, Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander encourages Dakich to get “the moonwalk in my repertoire.”
“I honestly don’t even know if (Michigan coach John) Beilein even knows they are doing it half the time, because he is so involved in the game,” said sophomore point guard Spike Albrecht. “It’s hilarious to sit next to them and listen to some of the things they say — they’re out of control.
“I love it when (Dakich) literally … ends up six chairs down, right in front of Coach. I’m like, ‘Dude, where the hell are you going?’ ”
Though Dakich’s moves have been the more impressive of the pair, it’s McGary’s ability to even jump out of his seat and dance that’s lending excitement to some fans holding out hope that the forward will make a surprise return later this month.
“If I get too excited, coaches start yelling at me, telling me to sit down,” McGary said. “But right now, where my body and my back is, I think I’m alright to start jumping around a little more.”
Thus far, the sophomore hasn’t indicated a postseason return is even being considered, but the fact that neither he nor Beilein has shot down the idea completely has given some fuel to the fire. Regardless of whether he suits up this year or next, and even if he will play another game as a Wolverine, there’s no question in his mind that he’ll be a better player whenever he returns.
“From the mental aspect, I’ll be five-times, 10-times greater, just because I see what’s going on,” McGary said. “I’ve had a whole season to sit out to and watch the game, learn from it, learn from the coaches.”
His time in a suit and tie has been so rewarding that it has reshaped his future plans.
“I definitely see a coaching career in my future,” he said. “I never really even thought of it, but just because of my presence and my attitude, I’m good at talking to people, I would love to coach in the future.”
Alexander started calling the sophomore ‘Coach McGary,’ to which McGary responds, “It’s weird. I say I’m still a player.”
But for the time being, he’ll remain bound by the bench, at least until someone on the floor makes a big play and the bromance rekindles on the Michigan sideline.
And the deeper the Wolverines go in their pursuit of another Final Four run, the brighter the Bench Mob’s spotlight will be. Dakich pointed to another YouTube sensation, the Colby College basketball team, as an inspiration for what lies ahead.
“We’re trying to steal some of their stuff,” he admitted, but beyond that, he remained coy on any future moves.