As the shades of gray in the Michigan sky become brighter tones of blue, John Beilein walks the streets of Ann Arbor with an extra bounce in his step.

The Michigan coach has defied all expectations this year, leading one of the youngest teams in America to a fourth-place finish in the mighty Big Ten and a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. No matter what happens Friday against No. 9 seed Tennessee — win or lose — Beilein and his assistant coaches should be proud of what they’ve accomplished.

But I have four words of advice for the fourth-year coach: Don’t screw this up.

As tempting as it may be, the stage is too big and the spotlight is too bright for complacency. All eyes are on Beilein’s Wolverines. And for a coach who talks an awful lot about building Michigan into a perennial Division-I powerhouse, winning Friday’s contest would be a crucial step.

That’s not to say that Beilein hasn’t been here with Michigan once before. The University’s upperclassmen fondly recall his run to the tournament in 2009, when Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims led the team to a first-round upset over Clemson before being sent home by No. 2 seed Oklahoma (a game that’s mostly remembered for Blake Griffin’s posterizing dunk over fun-sized forward Zack Novak).

But that was hardly Beilein’s crew — most of the players were not his recruits. And we all know how the following year panned out, practically erasing any progress the tournament run made for the program.

This year, Beilein has an opportunity to show the world what he can do with the first Wolverine team made up entirely of his recruits.

And you better believe that up-and-coming high school and AAU basketball stars in the state of Michigan will be watching closely. On the heels of a season sweep of Michigan State, potential top recruits are confused. Do they go play for Spartan coach Tom Izzo, who’s proven time and time again that he wins in the postseason? Or, do they play for Beilein, who’s coaching a team with a decidedly bright future?

Who knows. I’m not taking any shots in the dark. But I do know this — potential recruits will be watching what happens this weekend.

And at the very least, their interest has been piqued by Sunday’s airing of “The Fab Five,” — now ESPN’s highest-rated documentary — which detailed the glory days of Michigan basketball in the early 1990s (to whomever decided to televise the film a week before the NCAA Tournament — kudos).

If Michigan can bounce a Tennessee squad that’s making it’s sixth-straight Tournament appearance, likely earning a Sunday showdown with top-seeded Duke in the following round (sorry, Hampton fans), don’t be surprised if you start hearing whispers of maize and blue on the recruiting landscape.

So, be happy, Beilein — you deserve it. You’ve given hope to fans who have endured one of the worst stretches in the history of Michigan sports.

Since Selection Sunday, David Brandon has gotten his best sleep since being appointed athletic director. And the folks in Ann Arbor have something to do this March other than read up on spring football developments.

But that’s just the first step. Win on Friday, and you may be knocking on the door of the nation’s elite. Lose, and you’re still working to get off that first step.

The ball’s in your court, Beilein.

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