Mike Gotfredson is not flashy. He’s far from human-highlight reel material when it comes to his play on the basketball court. And he’s not coming back for his “third” senior season for the Wolverines – no matter how much coach Tommy Amaker may want him to.
Fans could remember Gotfredson for his incessant slapping of the floor on defense to pump his team up, his insistent yelling of “ball, ball, ball” when guarding an opponent and for shooting just one shot from two-point range.
He’s also known for winning three straight Steve Grote Hustle Awards, participating in two senior nights, and giving two fairwell speeches at season-ending banquets.
But Gotfredson should also be remembered for being one of the hardest working and most mature athletes on Michigan’s storied athletic campus.
And while Chris Young will be remembered as the MVP, some of the other unheralded seniors such as Herb Gibson and Ron Garber will be missed – while Rotolu Adebeyi will be welcomed back. And for good reason.
Apart from Young, these seniors will not necessarily be missed for their play on the floor, but for being class acts in a program that needs all the positive stories it can find.
While Michigan quarterback John Navarre gets criticized for playing poorly, Gotfredson gets criticized for just playing. The Calvin College transfer, turned Michigan’s practice squad member, turned starting point guard, started 20 of 29 games in one of the most scrutinized positions at Michigan.
No matter how much criticism he took from the media for his lack of talent, and no matter how many jeers that came his way, Gotfredson gave his usual unassuming, warm smile and laughed it off. He still keeps an unyielding positive attitude when speaking about his tumultuous years at Michigan.
As one of the lone guys from Grosse Point with a blue-collar mentality, he’s very appreciative of what has been given to him.
And he knows how bad life can be.
He remembers vividly a summer when he played guard for Athletes in Action and savior for disease-ridded people in Cote d’Ivoire. Along with other athletes, he visited an AIDS-ravaged city, and his experiences there humbled him even more. Citizens of Cote d’Ivoire don’t have the basic necessities of life and are suffering through an incurable illness. Many don’t have enough clothes to cover themselves.
That’s where Gotfredson came in, volunteering everything that he had. He’s the polite, give-his shirt-off-his-back type of guy that will shake your hand after reading the negative article you wrote the day before. And when you ask him why he insists on swinging the ball to a less-open teammate instead of shooting it, he gives a straight up response.
“You know why I didn’t shoot more? Because I know my role,” Gotfredson said at the banquet.
Adebiyi, another former “Soul Patrol” practice squad member, didn’t give a fairwell speech. He will find himself in a familiar position next year. The Ann Arbor native will return for a fifth year – just like Gotfredson – to be one of the tri-captains of a young group of Wolverines.
Amaker needs example-setters, guys who undoubtedly buy into his system and can pass that message along to the melting pot of players on next year’s team – whether they are McDonald’s All-Americans or Amadou Ba.
Adebiyi “is a great leader,” Michigan assistant coach Chuck Swenson said earlier this season. “He’s a spokesperson in the lockerroom. And people listen to him because he doesn’t take any crap from anybody – he’ll say something to anybody, no matter if its LaVell or a freshman.”
If Adebiyi can demonstrate that leadership and help out fellow tri-captains Gavin Groninger and LaVell Blanchard – while showing the same class that Gotfredson did – this may be Amaker’s smartest move yet.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.