When most current Michigan students think about you and the
Michigan basketball program 10 or 15 years down the road, they will
remember you as the coach who pulled the program out of the depths
They will remember a coach who set things straight with the
players, who was forced to deal with the ghosts of the past and
succeeded and who reached out to the student section by changing
the dynamics of Crisler Arena. Hopefully, they will also remember a
few NCAA tournament runs as well.
I will also remember all of those things. As a student and a
basketball fan, your devotion and desire to bring Michigan back to
the upper echelon of college basketball is certainly
But there is one story I will remember more than anything
Last year I covered the basketball team. One afternoon, before
the season had even begun, I was walking down Hoover Street toward
Crisler Arena for the weekly press conference when a black car
drove by me. I didn’t give it a second thought, until it
stopped about 10 feet ahead of me and pulled over.
I didn’t know anyone who owned a car like that, and I
certainly didn’t recognize the license plate. I walked by it,
glanced inside, and to my surprise, you were sitting there.
“Naweed, need a ride?” you asked.
“Sure,” I said, and hopped into the car.
We were almost at Crisler, so the ride wasn’t going to
last long. What burning questions did I have that I could ask right
now, when nobody else would be able to interfere?
But to my surprise, you fired the first question.
“So how are your classes going?” you asked.
I told you they were going well, and that finals were rapidly
“So how’s everyone looking this year?” I
You talked about how the players were busy with classes, but
were excited about the season. You said that if the team stayed
healthy, it would be a good year. I told you about the vibe on
campus surrounding the team and about how a lot more students were
excited about the upcoming season.
“Hopefully we can get some wins so we get students down
here for the games,” he said.
“Yeah, I hope so,” I replied.
We got out of the car and headed into Crisler, where you once
again became Coach Amaker, and I became a reporter.
Of course, the team went on to get hit with postseason
sanctions, and then lost its first six games. Not exactly the start
you were hoping for, I’m sure.
I don’t know if you remember that day, but I do. The
reason I remember it is because it allowed me to see you as your
players do — not just as a basketball coach, but as a
I’m glad you’re the coach here at Michigan, not
because of your recruiting ability or your accurate free-throw
shooting, but because you possess a character that players respond
to. You came in and established yourself, and anyone who
wasn’t happy could leave.
The first question you asked me was how my classes were going.
To me, this shows that you understand the students at Michigan, and
you’re working hard to bring pride back to this school.
As I watched the Wolverines close out Penn State yesterday
afternoon, I couldn’t help but think about the change the
Michigan basketball program has gone through over the past couple
I know there are still plenty of concerns out there about how
ineffective the offense can be, and that the lack of offensive
structure limits Michigan’s ability to win on an off-shooting
I have similar concerns. I cringe when Daniel Horton misses a
shot, or Bernard Robinson Jr. loses the ball. But you’re
guiding them in the right direction.
Although these past few weeks have been frustrating, the
Wolverines finally have a legitimate chance of going to the
tournament — something that hasn’t been the case in a
very long time.
Whether that tournament berth comes or not, I hope that you are
remembered for the effort you put in to save this program, rather
than the effort you put in to take it to the very top. Foundation
is always the key to growth, and you have put in a solid one.
So thanks Tommy, for all that you have done for Michigan.
In the press conference room that day, you jokingly told me that
the ride wasn’t free. Well, I don’t know if I’ve
paid you back for it yet, but I do know one thing: I’ll see
you Wednesday for Iowa.
Naweed Sikora can be reached at