Anyone who watched the Michigan men’s basketball team this past season knows that the program was far from a well-oiled machine.
Inconsistent play down the stretch, tanking important games with postseason implications and a very disappointing spring in terms of recruiting are what the 2005-2006 Wolverines will be remembered for. That’s not exactly the legacy I’d want from a season that could have been so positive.
Early signs pointed to prosperity rather than suffering:
A showcase win over rival Michigan State near the beginning of the conference season.
A 16-3 start, along with a top-25 ranking in the national polls.
And a stud senior class that seemed to finally be gelling together.
But we all remember the season ending in the oh-so-familiar setting of the NIT.
All fans know the NIT isn’t acceptable, and though Michigan coach Tommy Amaker and most of the players put on a brave face during the postseason, everyone saw through it. Michigan fans knew that the players and the coaching staff wished they were playing in the real March Madness tournament.
Now I’ve never run a basketball program, so I guess what is about to follow isn’t exactly expert advice. But, I do consider myself pretty fluent in something called common sense.
Common sense tells me that if something is broken, fix it.
Sounds simple enough, right?
I’m not saying that Amaker and co. didn’t try fixing its basketball program – a program that hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since I was in middle school. They did try. But this is Division I basketball, and you won’t get rewarded for just trying.
If just trying counted for something, next year’s team would look pretty promising. I spent endless hours on message boards this year reading about the next player Amaker seemed to be wooing into coming to Ann Arbor. It even seemed to be working when he reeled in big-time in-state recruit DeShawn Sims in the fall.
But after losing high-profile guard recruit Patrick Beverley, having the gem of its 2007 recruiting class, Alex Legion, decommit and seeing other valuable guard recruits opt for more storied programs, it’s safe to say Michigan didn’t keep that early-season momentum rolling.
How important was obtaining a strong recruiting class for next season?
To say desperately is an understatement.
Next year’s team will be without its playmaker (Daniel Horton), its intangibles guy (Graham Brown) and its x-factor (Chris Hunter).
So after a year of recruiting, who will be replacing these important pieces of the puzzle (along with four others who graduated with them)?
DeShawn Sims: The lone incoming freshman who will probably have an impact on next year’s team. All indications are that he should be the real deal, giving Michigan some flexibility at the forward position. For those of you hoping for an optimistic look at this recruiting class, you might want to stop reading here.
K’Len Morris: Signed with the Wolverines when Sims did. At the time, he was also in the Rivals Top 150, but after an average senior season, he dropped out of the rankings when they were reconfigured in the spring.
Anthony Wright: The good news: He attended Oak Hill Academy for high school, a school that has produced superstars like Carmello Anthony, Rajon Rondo, Josh Smith and Jerry Stackhouse. The not-so-good news: He didn’t even start for the team in high school. Hey, I’m all about good pedigrees, but if someone didn’t start in high school, I’m not too keen on the prospect of that person making an impact on the collegiate level.
Epke Udoh: He’s 6-foot-10, so anytime size can be added to a roster, that’s definitely a plus. But a career 12.5 point per game average and questions surrounding his health are what made him a prime candidate for a year of prep school – his original plan of action until he changed his mind and decided to go to Michigan at the last minute.
Zack Gibson: If Udoh makes you feel uneasy, then Gibson might give you a stroke. He, too, is 6-foot-10, and he also has some “offensive issues.” The newest member of Michigan’s basketball team – he agreed to transfer from Rutgers to Michigan and will be eligible to play after sitting out a redshirt season next year – averaged a whopping 1.1 points per game at Rutgers last season.
Not exactly the second coming of the Fab Five.
Before I sound like a complete scrooge, there’s obviously the chance that I could be wrong – it certainly wouldn’t be the first time. With the outgoing class of 2002, Horton was the lone high-profile recruit. Brown and Hunter both flew under the radar and ended up being diamonds in the rough for this team. So maybe the 2006 recruiting class could be the same.
But then that crazy concept of common sense keeps rearing its ugly head again.
– Bell can be reached at email@example.com.