On the court, it was pretty clear last year’s version of the Michigan men’s basketball team was a disharmonious bunch. The team finished the season ranked ninth and 10th in the Big Ten in turnover margin and assist/turnover ratio, respectively – two statistics that tell you if a team is on the same page or not.
So it should come as no surprise when current players describe last year’s locker room as divided, especially between the seniors – Lester Abram, Dion Harris, Courtney Sims and Brent Petway – and the underclassmen on the team.
“(The seniors) lost their hunger over the course of their careers,” said sophomore DeShawn Sims at the team’s Media Day last week. “We came in playing hard, trying to fight for minutes and win. I think they took that as if we were trying to steal their spots,but we were really just trying to give a spark and win.”
DeShawn Sims also talked about the obligation former coach Tommy Amaker felt to play all four seniors. Sims said whether they were merely playing because of reputation or because of merit caused much of the friction within the team.
But DeShawn Sims wasn’t alone in mentioning the lack of chemistry. Several players discussed the drastic difference between early preseason workouts this fall and what transpired in the past.
“We’ve been more together since day one this year,” sophomore K’Len Morris said. “The whole locker room atmosphere – last year we would have little divisions of conversation, and now the locker room is one giant conversation. And everyone gets along really well. It’s 110 times better than last year.”
Last season, the tensions from inside the locker room transferred to the floor, where the Wolverines struggled, especially once they finished their easy non-conference schedule.
After starting the season 11-1, Michigan faltered down the stretch with an 11-12 record the rest of the way.
The team’s lack of unity likely cost them a spot in the NCAA Tournament. When Michigan needed a late-season road win to solidify its tournament position, the team repeatedly responded with sloppy, turnover-laden losses.
In road defeats to Michigan State and Illinois last February, the Wolverines had
20 giveaways. At the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan committed 16 turnovers at the hands of Ohio State, cementing its ninth-consecutive season without an NCAA Tournament appearance.
In all three losses, players could never explain exactly what went wrong. But in hindsight, some think it might have come down to the lack of accountability demanded by Amaker.
“Attitude and effort were definitely missing last year,” Sims said. “A lot was demanded from us, but there weren’t really any consequences. Coach Beilein came in right away and did things that will lead up to us winning – very little things. Last year, it wasn’t established that way, so our mindsets are totally changed.”
New Michigan coach John Beilein provides this year’s Wolverines a chance for a fresh start, and the opportunity to leave the turmoil from last year behind.
With such an inexperienced team, Michigan will have to rely on its upperclassmen even more than in the past. New leaders like senior Ron Coleman and juniors Jerret Smith and Jevohn Shepherd have already emerged, but it is yet to be seen if they can avoid slipping back into old habits.
“I want to instill winning most importantly,” Shepherd said. “In previous years,upperclassmen didn’t assume that role. They had other, individual goals more than team-oriented goals. Things are different now with coach Beilein.”