The Michigan basketball team found out early on how much things have chan ged since Tommy Amaker was hired as the head coach.

Paul Wong
Senior guard Leon Jones will be one of three team captains this year.<br><br>MARJORIE MARSHALL/Daily

Early in the morning, that is.

When players showed up for 6 a.m. workouts during the spring, they found Amaker waiting for them in the weight room.

Amaker”s enthusiasm to get started has spread throughout the entire team, and didn”t end in the summer. While Michigan”s first official practice with the coaches is Oct. 13, the Wolverines have been battling through rigorous workouts on their own several times a week.

“The system now is intense,” fifth-year senior Mike Gotfredson said. “There are a lot of workouts that are at a very high energy. There”s also a positiveness going around that everyone is excited to play and work out. It”s been a fun feeling so far this fall.”

While the atmosphere is lighter, it doesn”t make the workouts any less grueling. Gotfredson said the Wolverines scrimmage two days a week, lift weights three days, have conditioning two days and participate in individual workouts twice a week.

Gotfredson, an important member of the “Soul Patrol” on Michigan”s scout team two years ago, saw action in 13 games last season and even started three times. Gotfredson has been here for the past two frustrating seasons including a 10-18 finish last year but sees a light at the end of the tunnel with a fresh attitude from the Wolverines.

And he said it stems from the new coaching staff.

“I think it”s basically a new energy of the coaches,” Gotfredson said. “So I think the players were sort of waiting for that type of enthusiasm and I think these coaches are really providing it.”

A “Tight” Ship: While the conditioning and workouts prepare the players for the grind of the Big Ten schedule, the Wolverines are also trying to find a way to strengthen something almost as important team chemistry.

“A lot of winning is knowing your teammates,” said senior tri-captain Leon Jones.

The players are learning more about each other by hanging out, working out and spending time at Amaker”s house for cookouts. Having such good chemistry is what can help teams through the tough times, especially the hardships that Michigan has dealt with the past few years with several off-court distractions and a coaching change.

To remedy this, Amaker and the Wolverines have implemented a few new things. The first innovation being more meetings between the coaches and players.

“We have a lot of team meetings just to make sure we”re on the right track,” Gotfredson said. “And if we feel there”s anyone slipping off the track, we”ve already had some meetings to say “Lets stay focused and get ready for the season.” “

With six seniors, much of the focus in terms of chemistry has been on the three freshmen Dommanic Ingerson, Marcus Bennett and Chuck Bailey. In past seasons, there have been issues with underclassmen having trouble adjusting to college life and the freedom that comes with it.

Last year, then-sophomore Kevin Gaines was dismissed from the team prior to the first day of classes after being arrested for driving under the influence.

Later in the year, Bernard Robinson and Avery Queen violated team rules dealing with curfew, and this season Maurice Searight was kicked off the team by Amaker after a tumultuous freshman campaign.

To remedy the situation, the Wolverines have set into place a “big brother” system, where an upperclassman takes a younger player under his wing to help them along.

“We kind of explain to him what it really takes,” Gotfredson said. “We tell them they can come to us if they need to.”

Amaker said that this year”s freshman class has fit in well with the team, and shouldn”t have a problem in the adjustment process.

Not to be forgotten is that Michigan returns all but one player from last year”s team, which is just one reason tri-captain Chris Young says that this year”s Wolverines are even closer than before.

“We”re getting very tight,” Young said. “So tight you won”t be able to notice the difference between us by the end of the year.”

Recruiting Update: While one of the top recruiting targets on Michigan”s wish list for the 2002 season 6-foot-11 power forward Chris Bosh was nabbed by Georgia Tech this past week, the Wolverines have reportedly landed verbal committments from two big men that round out a solid first recruiting class for Amaker.

Two power forwards, Chris Hunter (6-foot-11, 205 pounds) from Gary, Ind. and Amadou Ba (6-foot-10, 240) were in town on an official visit this weekend. Rivals.com reported yesterday that both gave verbal committments by the time the weekend was over.

Hunter, ranked No. 64 nationally by Prep Spotlight, reportedly is a good shotblocker with a nice upside to his game. He picked Michigan over Ohio State and Seton Hall.

Ba is the sleeper of the 2002 class that also includes highly-touted guard Daniel Horton, lanky swingman Lester Abram and power forward Graham Brown.

With Michigan landing the two big men, it may have answered a lingering absence of a post-presence for next year especially with the impending graduation of senior Chris Young.

While these committments round out the class of 2002, another contributor to the Wolverines may be Flint Northern”s two-sport star Matt Trannon who also has Michigan high on his list. The only problem is that Michigan State is also recruiting Trannon.

While it”s more likely that Trannon, also a playmaking wide receiver with great leaping ability, will receive a football scholarship, he is interested in playing basketball as well.

WTKA reported late last week that Trannon was close to committing with Michigan, but nothing has been confirmed yet. Trannon was spotted at the Michigan football game on Saturday and said that he was not on an official visit but just watching the game. He said that he hasn”t made a final decision yet.

Even with Michigan State coach Tom Izzo”s recruiting success in the basketball haven of Flint, national recruiting analyst Clint Jackson doesn”t think Amaker is that far behind when it comes to in-state talent.

“Izzo definitely has the more impressive resume, but Amaker has tremendous eye for talent and is a great relationship manager,” said Jackson. “He knows how to treat kids and kids love Amaker. He”ll give Izzo a run for his money.”

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