When Michigan hired Tommy Amaker to run its basketball program, it was a decision met with nothing but jubilation except in East Lansing.
It was a decision that showed Michigan”s determination to find success on the hardwood, a realization that Michigan wasn”t willing to play second fiddle anymore.
Michigan fans were ready to buy back Crisler from its neighbors at State. More importantly, they were ready to celebrate in East Lansing.
Some probably circled Jan. 30 tomorrow on their calendars.
Well, here”s the thing: Michigan probably won”t win tomorrow. Michigan might not win in Breslin next year. Maybe not the next year, or the year after that.
But sometime, in the not too distant future, a trip to East Lansing won”t be a two-hour prison sentence.
Michigan fans, the NCAA Tournament is a pipe dream this year. Next year, it might be, too.
But sometime, in the not too distant future, Michigan fans will still be cheering well into March. And it won”t just be for the team playing Michigan State.
Back in April, when Amaker was making his welcome tour, speaking at every function in the greater Detroit area that would allow him, I asked him a question about the not too distant future. I commented that he was all smiles, offering nothing but excitement for the prospects of Michigan”s future. But could we expect that in February?
He told me that it would depend on the team”s record. But, he added, he was once told by an elderly woman whose name he didn”t even know, that she respected him because she could never tell by his face if he had won or lost.
Well February is just three days away. And Michigan State is just one. But knowing Amaker, the two should not be at all connected.
Amaker is a rock. He does things his way, and doesn”t give a damn what people think about him. He faces criticism for starting players with Hall-of-Fame heart but junior-varsity talent, and he doesn”t budge. People question his team”s performance, and he doesn”t make excuses.
He smiles because of his plan. His plan isn”t about this year, and it might not even be about next year. He smiles because of the not too distant future, and what his program it”s not just a team, but a program that he”s building will do.
Michigan might lose by 30 tomorrow. If things go well, it might lose by five. And if things go ridiculously well, it might even win.
But a win over Michigan State does not mean that Amaker”s work is done, just as a blowout loss doesn”t make him a failure.
Fans are always going to be fickle. The same students who avoided Crisler Arena like the plague over the past three years will be waiting in line for tickets if Michigan can get a win tomorrow night.
Fans view this as the game of Michigan”s season. There aren”t two this year, so this is the one. Even with an 8-9 overall record, this is a one-game season in the minds of many.
But in my mind, it”s the least important Michigan game in a long time. If the Wolverines win it doesn”t mean that a tournament invite is coming. If Michigan loses well, Michigan is supposed to lose. There”s no surer sign of a downtrodden program than comments like “but we did beat Michigan State” when asked to explain a sub-.500 season.
I hope that Amaker realizes this. I hope that after the game win or lose he”s still smiling, still thinking about the many tasks that lay ahead.
This team”s revitalization will come soon Amaker and all Michigan fans will accept nothing less.
It will come in the not too distant future. But not tomorrow.
Jon Schwartz can be reached at email@example.com.