Avery Queen’s recent dismissal from the basketball team has led many Michigan fans to start conspiracy theories on Internet message boards. They say that this is just part of coach Tommy Amaker’s plan to slowly rid his program of the “Ellerbe guys” so he can replace them with his hand-picked recruits.

Paul Wong
Steve Jackson

The reality is that Amaker doesn’t make distinctions like that. Two “Ellerbe guys” are co-captains, and they get plenty of minutes and public praise from Amaker.

Unlike Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight, Amaker didn’t come into his new job with a plan to rid the program of possibly problematic players. While Knight dismissed three scholarship players in his first seven days, Amaker gave his problem children a chance to buy into his message.

Amaker’s agenda has always been to build a classy program that wins consistently.

I’ll admit that I expected Michigan to lose another player before the start of next season. But those feelings were not based on any Amaker conspiracy. That prediction was built on the history of former coach Brian Ellerbe’s recruits, who have shown a remarkable penchant for leaving the program prematurely.

Ellerbe recruited 13 scholarship athletes to Michigan in three years, but only five of those (LaVell Blanchard, Gavin Groninger, Bernard Robinson, Dommanic Ingerson and Chuck Bailey) are still on the roster.

Leland Anderson was the only player to leave the program on his own. Ironically, he said he transferred to Providence because of a lack of playing time in Ann Arbor.

Jaquan Hart and Kelly Whitney never even qualified academically, and Josh Moore fouled… I mean, failed out of school. Before jumping to the pros after his freshman campaign, questions about Jamal Crawford’s amateur status caused the NCAA to suspend him two times for a total of 14 games. Queen and Maurice Searight were shown the door by Amaker for repeatedly violating team rules. But they were merely following in the footsteps of Kevin Gaines, who finally earned the boot from Ellerbe just before the start of his sophomore season. Gaines’ final acts as a Wolverine were to drive with a blood alcohol level of .17, then wrestle on the side of the highway with Queen and Robinson. Gaines eventually got kicked off another team, Houston, later in his college career.

These sorts of off-the-court problems have helped to create the “losing culture” that Amaker said he must overcome before the program turns the corner.

While all that is publicly known about Queen’s dismissal is that he “violated team rules,” it has been clear that Queen has been consistently falling short of Amaker’s goals for behavior when the cameras weren’t watching. Amaker started the hard-working and gritty Mike Gotfredson 20 times last year to help get that message across to Queen, who was clearly the team’s most talented option at the point.

If losing his starting spot wasn’t enough to get his attention, Queen was suspended twice for violating team rules during his first two years at Michigan and put on team probation for his role in the highway wrestling incident. All of this took place after he pled guilty to disorderly intoxication and being a minor in possession of alcohol during the fall of his freshman year.

Indeed, the man who was charged with assault and battery for allegedly hitting another high school student with a belt is no innocent victim.

But nevertheless, Queen’s play on the court will be missed. Queen was always supposed to be a backup point guard, but early departures forced him into more minutes over the last few years. During his short stay with the Wolverines, Queen worked hard on the court in games.

He knew that he was the shortest player in the Big Ten, not the most talented, and he played within himself – handling the ball well and making open shots when needed. Despite his limitations (listing him at 5-foot-7 was generous), Queen found ways to get after rebounds and loose balls. With nothing other than strength and heart, Queen led the Wolverines in rebounds (six) last year in a victory over Penn State.

Queen averaged 4.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 26.8 minutes of action per game during his three seasons at Michigan.

Amaker knew that dismissing Queen would make his bad basketball team even worse. This was not addition by subtraction in the short term, and this Saturday’s ugly offensive performance against Western Michigan is testament to that fact.

Amaker didn’t want Queen gone, or he would never have suited him up this season. Amaker, no matter what you think of his personnel decisions, is here to win basketball games and build this program up from ashes.

Amaker gave Queen every opportunity to buy into his philosophy, but eventually by ignoring that message, Queen became an active part of that losing culture.

That is when he had to go.

Steve Jackson can be reached at sjjackso@umich.edu.

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