What can I say that hasn’t already been said?
It’s been a long, tough season for everyone involved.
The Michigan basketball team has now lost 10 straight games. Lester Abram is gone for the season after shoulder surgery. Daniel Horton is suspended for the rest of the season after pleading guilty to a domestic violence charge. The Wolverines are not going to the NCAA Tournament. So where do we go from here?
How about giving them and Tommy Amaker a break.
Ask anyone who knows me and they’d tell you I wouldn’t have written this column a month ago. I was disappointed and frustrated with this team earlier this season, I thought the team wasn’t winning because a lack of heart as opposed to players being out with injuries. It seemed to me that the players just didn’t seem interested in trying to end the streak and just went through the motions.
Now I’ve come full circle, and I feel bad for these guys, especially after yesterday’s loss to Indiana. They’re trying their best, and, at this point in the season, it’s just not good enough anymore. The effort is there; it’s just that this is as good as Michigan can be with its current roster.
I’ll give you a perfect example. I decided to play Michigan against the top three teams in the Big Ten on EA Sports’ NCAA March Madness 2005 last week, but I removed Daniel Horton and Lester Abram from the simulated lineup. Needless to say, I lost all three games, but I was well outside the margin of defeat by the real club — I lost by over 25 in each game. So if Coach Schick can’t do as well in virtual reality as well as Coach Amaker did in actual reality, I shouldn’t be so bitter and cynical, and maybe I should just shut up.
This revelation helped me see that Tommy Amaker has done a pretty damn good job recently, and he deserves a break from all the naysayers on campus asking for his firing already.
At times I questioned his coaching skills, especially after the 29-point loss to Purdue, when Amaker decided to use the players he thought were playing hard and not the ones who gave Michigan the best chance to win. At the time, I thought that the players weren’t responding to Amaker’s coaching, and I wrote a pretty scathing column afterwards.
But now, I realize that was a great coaching move, as Amaker used a blowout as a teaching opportunity to show that he holds all the cards. He sent a message to his starting players that going through the motions isn’t good enough to play for this team — you need to have heart and passion as well.
Now his players have responded. Yesterday’s game showed the growth since that time, as five players — Dion Harris, Courtney Sims, Ron Coleman, Graham Brown and John Andrews — finished with point totals higher than their current season average. This was also the first time Michigan scored above 60 points since it played Wisconsin on Jan. 22.
It seems that the Purdue loss was rock bottom for the Wolverines this season, and recently we’ve seen a revival of the spirits of Michigan. I’m not saying the players are happy to be losing all the time, but I think they’ve accepted that the stars just aren’t aligned this season and that’s not a reason to not give 100 percent in recent games.
“We all really know what we all need to,” forward Brent Petway said. “We are not really looking at it as a struggle. We just have to turn this thing around.”
For a group of players that has basically nothing to play for except pride, the Wolverines sure have made an epic turnaround. It seemed that Michigan was shaping up to play progressively worse down the stretch, but now it seems there is a renewed sense of commitment to playing with pride — what Amaker has wanted all along.
Amaker didn’t make this year’s injuries happen, so stop blaming him for the equivalent of 73 games lost to injuries this season. With the roster he was given, he’s done the best he can, and that’s commendable. All I want is the team to be competitive, and, if that means a loss, I’ll take it. I won’t be happy, but I’ll accept it.
I definitely think that hasn’t been said before.
Brian Schick can be reached at email@example.com.