Now that Michigan point guard Daniel Horton pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence yesterday, his legal troubles appear to be coming to a close. He still faces up to 93 days in jail and a $500 fine when he is sentenced on March 9, but according to his lawyer, Gerald Evelyn, probation and counseling are much more likely.

Jess Cox

What does this all mean? Well, now it will bring to the forefront the matter that has been on the minds of everyone with an interest in the Michigan basketball team: Horton’s status with the team.

When the charges were first brought against Horton on Jan. 25, Michigan coach Tommy Amaker announced that he would suspend Horton “pending further review.” Since the suspension began, when asked about Horton’s status with the team, Amaker has continually said that nothing has changed.

Yesterday, pressed with the same questions, Amaker said that he would have to meet with Athletic Director Bill Martin and other University officials before a decision is made. But then he seemed to slip, saying that “we’ll be welcoming him back at some point.”

Now, it shouldn’t surprise anyone when (notice that I didn’t even bother to say “if”) Horton returns to the team. He wouldn’t be the first student-athlete to get a second chance in Ann Arbor, and he won’t be the last.

That said, I can’t think of a time when the correct course of action is less clear than it is now with Horton. Does it really make sense to suspend a player when charges are brought against him — when he is supposed to be “innocent until proven guilty” — and then have the suspension end when he pleads guilty? Of course not.

But then, there never seems to be any rhyme or reason with these cases involving athletes. So let’s answer two questions: (1) How important is Horton to the team? and (2) how important are the upcoming games?

The answer to the first question is easy. Horton is Michigan’s best player and clear-cut on-court leader. To understand his importance to the team, simply look at the last six games the Wolverines have played without him (all losses). For the first four games, the team was as lost and as hopeless as any team I can remember watching. Then, against Illinois and Michigan State last week, Amaker had no choice but to slow the pace down and literally guide the team through every possession.

The answer to the second question is a little trickier. When Amaker suspended Horton, Michigan still appeared to be in the hunt for a tournament bid, so Amaker should be commended for not letting that interfere with his decision. And now that the rest of this season’s games have little meaning, I expect him to remain suspended. But next year, Amaker will need Horton as much as Horton may need Michigan. While this season’s struggles are understandable, the fact remains that patience has to be close to running out. Michigan is going to miss out on the NCAA Tournament again, which would make next year “the year” for the third consecutive year. Amaker is being scrutinized more closely now than ever before, and that will only intensify next season.

So there you go. I’m expecting to hear the typical “this is Horton’s first brush with the law, he has paid the price and he has learned from his mistakes” comments in the future. If you somehow miss these comments, just stick around Ann Arbor. It’s only a matter of time before you’ll get another chance to hear it.

 

Sharad Mattu’s next column won’t be for another three weeks, but in the meantime he’ll be blogging like crazy. He’s not allowed to mention the web address here, so if you want it, contact him at smattu@umich.edu.

 

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