Students will finally be brought down to the Crisler Arena floor, in the form of 623 bleacher seats behind both the home and visitor”s bench.
And when they do, they may not recognize the place as Crisler has undergone a huge overhaul since new basketball coach Tommy Amaker has arrived on the scene.
The changes, discussed by Amaker, women”s basketball coach Sue Guevara and Athletic Director Bill Martin, are all a part of Amaker”s plan to both liven up Crisler and bring back the “timeless” and “traditional” nature of the program.
“I don”t think of Michigan being anything gimmicky or tricky,” Amaker said. “I think of it as traditional, of being classic, of being powerful, and of standards things that have lasted the test of time.”
Everything from the paint on the floor to the size of the bathroom stalls in the Michigan locker room have changed, and players say the change is good.
“I love it,” senior tri-captain Leon Jones said of the changes. “I feel like a freshman all over again.”
Work began on the project in late June and should be finished by early October.
The floor has been refinished for only the third time in the building”s 34-year history, with the floor being sanded to give it a lighter look. The keys won”t be painted blue anymore and the basketball will be removed from the top of the keys. The word “Michigan” will still be painted behind both baskets, but only in the northwest and southeast corners.
“It”s more of a traditional feel,” said Lisa Panetta-Alt, who is the manager of Crisler Arena. The floor is “very similar to the way (former basketball coach) Steve Fisher had it.” Panetta-Alt added that the bleachers are “high school styled” and will give Crisler a “totally different look.”
And that”s the way a lot of the players liked it.
“When I was young, the floor was very simple and plain and that”s some of the reason why I came here,” Jones said. “We”re going in different directions changes are clearly for the good.”
Bringing the fans closer to the floor was something Amaker also looked forward to doing, as he”s been making a big student push since he took over the reigns at Michigan.
“We want our players and student body to be as one,” Amaker said. “I”m hoping that they”ll have a connection with our basketball team. We”re not a separate entity from anyone on campus, and we want the students to support us along the way.”
Amaker held a “town-meeting” this past April. About 600 students showed up to ask questions and meet the new coach. Since then, he has personally written a letter to each student, asking them for support and stating the “NEED” for students to become a presence in Crisler and a loud one at that.
Michigan marketing director Tom Brooks mentioned that Michigan will be the only venue around the country that has bleachers behind both benches putting them “on top” of the action.
Students who apply for season ticket packages will be able to sit in these seats on priority basis. Brooks said this is to reward those who”ve stuck with the team throughout the past few rough years.
A taste of class: Amaker also noticed that the Michigan locker room in Crisler wasn”t up to standards with the other schools across the country, and wanted to do something about it.
So this past spring, Martin hired former Michigan graduate Alyce Riemenschneider to head the project to completely overhaul the locker rooms. The changes are not only for the comfort of the current players, but also help in recruiting.
The locker room “needed to reflect Michigan,” Riemenschneider said. “I wanted to create a sense of prominent solid material, integrated with an upscale effect.”
Instead of a plain, white wall leading into the locker room, there will instead be paneling made with an elegant material called curly maple. Atop the wall will be pictures of former Michigan All-Americans to give it a little bit of history and tradition.
When walking into the locker room, the first thing the players will notice is a full-scale mural painted of Rumeal Robinson shooting that fateful free throw to win Michigan”s only National Championship in 1989.
New carpeting and lockers will be added, with many customized touches such as an “M” stitched in each of the player”s navy leather stools by their lockers. Plus, to suit the sizes of the athletes, everything from the lockers to the toilets, mirrors and showers will be customized to become comfortable for them.
Riemenschneider said that a wall entertainment unit will conceal a new sound system, and above the players lockers will be a dome. This dome will be lighted at all times with the words “Passion,” “Preparation,” “Honesty,” “Fun” and “Be Michigan” engraved.
“At Michigan, we don”t have to have any bells and whistles,” Amaker said. “But we can be traditional. And how we present ourselves is through symbols. We can relay our message through our uniforms, locker rooms, etc.”