After a turbulent four-year relationship, the fans in Ann Arbor finally said good-bye to their hometown hero, LaVell Blanchard. The high school McDonald’s All-American, who played his last game at Crisler Arena Saturday, received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd.
Blanchard clung to a bouquet of flowers as he hugged his teammates one by one and then his parents in a ceremony honoring Michigan’s seniors. Joining the Ann Arbor native in the pre-game honors were fellow tri-captains Gavin Groninger and Rotolu Adebiyi, a redshirt senior.
Blanchard and Groninger represent the remnants of the first Brian Ellerbe recruiting class. Departed from their class, a group that was supposed to resurrect the Michigan basketball program, are Jamal Crawford, Kevin Gaines and Leland Anderson.
Michigan coach Tommy Amaker recognized all of the seniors by placing them in the starting lineup together. Adebiyi and Groninger remained in the game for a minute and a half. For Adebiyi, it was the third start of his career and his first of the season.
Despite the high emotion running though his mind as he reflected on moments from the past four years, Blanchard never got teary-eyed.
“It was a special moment, and I just wanted to give them hugs because of what they have done over the entire year,” said Blanchard of his teammates. “As a senior you realize that you don’t see the guys that you used to know after they leave. When you leave these guys, it is like losing your brothers.”
With his first bucket of the game, a 3-pointer with 5:23 left in the first half, Blanchard passed Jalen Rose to become the seventh-leading scorer in Michigan history with 1,797 points. Blanchard is also seventh on the list in rebounds, and is likely to become the first player ever to lead the team in rebounding and scoring four years in a row. Rudy Tomjanovich (1968-70) and Roy Tarpley (1984-86) both held the distinction for three consecutive years.
Unfortunately, Blanchard was hampered with a sprained ankle suffered when he collided with a player Wednesday against Penn State. The injury, which limited his time against the Nittany Lions, slowed him down and caused him to limp at times on Saturday. The senior was restricted to 11 points and three rebounds.
Several teammates were not only sorry to have their time with the seniors in its twilight, but also that they were unable to win their last game at Crisler.
“It’s frustrating to send these guys out like this,” freshman Chris Hunter said. “It is tough to sit here and know that you didn’t send these guys out the right way. We think of these guys highly and wanted to send them out in the right fashion, but we still have a tournament to win.”
Aggressive restraint: After a loss at Illinois in late January, in which foul problems limited him to 23 minutes, freshman Lester Abram changed his attitude. The guard, known for his tenacious style of play, realized that he needed to maintain his aggressiveness while not committing needless fouls.
Nine games later, he has largely avoided foul trouble and has averaged nearly 14 points a game, raising his season average to 10.5.
But Abrams’ foul trouble got the best of him as he fouled out of the game with two minutes to go. It was the first time he fouled out since Michigan played at UCLA in December.
“I go for a loose ball, me and some guy collide and they call the foul on me,” Abram said. “It’s frustrating because some fouls you think are questionable and some fouls you know are fouls that you shouldn’t have taken.”
Abram cited a foul in transition when he took the ball on the wing and committed a charge. In hindsight, he said it would have been wiser for him to have gone to the baseline and looked to pass the ball or gone around the defender instead of attacking him.
Family affair: Daniel Horton’s younger brother Jason, a junior in high school, made the trip from Cedar Hill, Texas this weekend to visit his older brother for the first time this year.
While he has not been offered a scholarship, Jason, who like his brother plays point guard, says that he would love to play in Ann Arbor.
Throughout this year, Daniel has said that he has no desire to influence his brother’s decision and wants him to decide what college to attend for himself.