INDIANAPOLIS – Sitting on the bench, his season just seconds away from ending, freshman Kelvin Grady didn’t want to think about the troubles that have plagued his team all season.
He didn’t want to think about the Michigan men’s basketball team’s having another poor shooting game – 10-for-50, leading to 34 points, which set a Big Ten Tournament record for fewest points in a game and was Michigan’s lowest output since scoring 32 at Michigan State in 1951.
He didn’t want to think about how the Wolverines reverted back to their sloppy old habits, turning the ball over 14 times.
And he didn’t want to think about how Michigan (5-13 Big Ten, 10-22 overall) broke the program record for losses in a season with a 51-34 loss to No. 8 Wisconsin (16-2, 27-4) in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.
So the point guard turned to redshirt freshman Anthony Wright, who was sitting next to him, and said, “We’ll be right back next year.”
“You don’t want it to sink in that you lost,” Grady said. “You want to have the thought in your mind on your way back that we’ll be back. Why not have a positive thought instead of a negative thought?”
And there were plenty of negatives – like the fact that Wright was the only Wolverine to make a basket in the second half.
But when he hit a 3-pointer after a timeout midway through the second frame, Beilein found a positive in the shipwreck of a game. He turned to his bench and, like he often does during a game, explained what he saw on the court.
“Heck of a read, right?” Beilein said. “In years to come, guys will just see that on their own. I won’t have to call it.”
But before Michigan can focus on future seasons, it’s reflecting on this one.
“Awful, the worst season of my life,” sophomore Ekpe Udoh said. “It was a base – the base for the Beilein foundation. But it was awful.”
Said Wright: “A great one. This is going to be one of those ‘I’ll laugh about it later’ things, like ‘I can’t believe I did this’ or ‘Why did we do that play when we easily had this or that?’ “
And it was even a remarkable season for the coach of 30 years.
“I learned that, if you have a season like this, it does not put you in your grave,” Beilein said. “If you just put it in the right perspective, and see it from the growth experience, that you can survive it.”
For Beilein, the “right perspective” was to minimize the importance of wins and losses and focus on the growth of his team’s understanding of his system. He anticipates that being the case again next year, because the freshman and sophomores dominate dominate the lineup right now.
“I grew up on the apple farm,” Beilein said. “And every spring, right? You’d go out and you would just prune the heck out of those trees – and just prune ’em, and prune ’em and prune ’em. And it looked ugly. But by the time the beautiful blossoms would come out shortly after that, and then the little apples.
“Then, by October or September, you’d get these big beautiful apples that when you crunched ’em, you could hear ’em a mile away. We got pruned a lot this year. The coach got pruned. The players got pruned. Everybody got pruned. But that is how you grow back to be a better team.”