In a 2009 interview with Sporting News, Ron Artest made a stunning revelation that he had a troubling halftime habit.
“I used to drink Hennessy … at halftime. I (kept it) in my locker. I’d just walk to the liquor store and get it.”
In Ann Arbor, another star has a troubling habit — sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. has a tendency to be drunk on his own emotions before sobering up at halftime.
Hardaway’s half-to-half change in production has been well-documented, especially in big games. None was more notable than last year, when Michigan State visited Michigan in the regular-season finale.
Hardaway was held scoreless in the first half, as the Spartans took momentum into halftime despite trailing. But the Miami native played perhaps his best half in a Wolverine uniform, scoring 20 second-half points to lead Michigan to a victory — and a season sweep — over Michigan State.
His sometimes-inconsistent play last year can be written off as freshman struggles, but this year’s struggles are more concerning. Though his point totals this year are up from last year, his shooting struggles over the past month have been, as Charles Barkley would say, “turrible.”
In the nine games Michigan has played since a Dec. 17 matchup with Alabama A&M, Hardaway has connected on just 11-of-59 3-pointers, an abominable 18.6 percent. Frequently, Hardaway has spent first halves chucking up out-of-rhythm deep bombs before being reminded at halftime to settle down, play within the offense and attack the basket, where he can often score at will. Despite inconsistent first halves, Hardaway has used second-half scoring to keep his point-per-game average above 15.
Even in his most modest post-game dialect, Michigan coach John Beilein has sometimes showed signs of frustration with Hardaway’s penchant for forcing his 3-pointers. Players — even Hardaway himself — have acknowledged the guard is often too hard on himself during games. Beilein has recently been telling a moping Hardaway to keep on a “yes face.”
But despite his own mental struggles, Hardaway was confident when asked Monday what he would tell freshman point guard Trey Burke in preparation for Michigan State.
“Just the same advice that I’ve been giving to him before every Big Ten game,” Hardaway said. “This game is going to be bigger than probably any other game we’ve played all season, just because it’s an in-state rivalry and everyone knows each other pretty well.
“Just go out there and have fun and try not to get emotionally drunk.”
But when Tuesday’s first half rolled around, it was Burke who looked like the veteran everyone expected Hardaway to be, while Hardaway was the one who looked like he was playing under the influence of the big stage.
While Burke almost single-handedly gave Michigan a seven-point halftime lead, Hardaway was held to just four points and without a field goal.
“Myself and my teammates really realized that I was down, I really wasn’t into the game,” Hardaway said after the game. “I let my emotions get the best of me and I was the one talking about being emotionally drunk. “
At halftime, Artest would turn to liquor to get his head straight. Hardaway sought a much simpler option: his teammates and coaches.
“My teammates did a great job at halftime,” Hardaway said. “(At) halftime, (senior guards) Corey Person, Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, they all came up to me and said, ‘That’s why it’s two halves,’ and, ‘You’ve just got to keep your head up and turn it around because it’s a long game still.’
“Coach Beilein also (talked) to me, telling me to, ‘Keep (on) a yes face.’ ”
So in the opening minute of the second stanza, Hardaway found himself with the ball in transition on a one-on-one. He did what he does best, soaring to the basket, clutching in midair before hammering down a one-handed slam.
Within the next several sequences, he made his presence felt on defense, drawing two offensive charges in the paint, where Michigan State otherwise seemed to have its way.
Michigan found itself trailing by three points at the final official timeout of the game with less than four minutes remaining, and the Wolverines would get the ball out of the break.
The play was drawn up for Hardaway to get a shot. The same Hardaway who was shooting 1-for-7 in the game and who hadn’t scored a point in almost 16 minutes.
Naturally, like he’s done in so many late-game spots, he drilled it. Moments later, after two Spartan free throws, Hardaway drove along the baseline and scored on a layup in traffic. And just minutes later, Hardaway and his teammates were dancing at midcourt.
Hardaway hasn’t lived up to the player he was expected to be this year. Preseason worriers that said he might go pro after the season have gone silent. He’s not even Michigan’s best player anymore.
Hardaway’s game — his first half — need a lot of work. But even if his emotions still get the best of him early on, Hardaway doesn’t need any liquid courage to turn his veins to ice late in games.
Wasserman’s halftime drink of choice at Crisler Center is a cold can of Sprite. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @d_wasserman