With 20 seconds remaining in his final game at Crisler Arena, senior point guard Daniel Horton stepped to the line to do what he’s done so many times before – put the game away.
The nation’s leading free-throw shooter released the ball, then watched it bounce off the rim at conceivably every possible angle before it finally found its way through the hoop.
“I was about to say, it’s about time we got a good bounce and had some luck,” Horton said.
It didn’t exactly make up for everything the Cedar Hill, Texas, native has encountered in his four tumultuous years here, but at least it gave him the opportunity to look back and laugh.
Last night, Horton and his fellow seniors had a second chance to leave Crisler Arena on a positive note after their first attempt against Indiana was unsuccessful. And although the second opportunity to leave Crisler a winner came at the expense of missing the NCAA Tournament, this batch of seniors made the best of a bad situation.
Making the best of a bad situation? Sounds like the motto of Horton and his tenure here at Michigan.
Horton was thrust into the starting lineup at the beginning of his freshman year without the benefit of a role model to ease him into the position.
He faced the disheartening task of playing for a team that faced a postseason ban.
And even after a relatively successful end to his sophomore year with his NIT Most Valuable Player award, he faced the worst junior year anyone could imagine.
Horton suffered an ankle injury, watched his team fall apart as a result, took a big hit to his character after pleading guilty to domestic violence charges, and then had the unimaginable task of coping with the death of his day-old child last spring.
That’s a lot of downs for a single free throw to make up for.
This season, Horton came back and did whatever he could for the program.
On the court, he did everything in his power to bring the Wolverines to the Big Dance for the first time since 1998. Michigan being in the NIT has nothing to do with his first-team All-Big Ten play this season.
In the locker room, he’s said all the right things. Even after disappointments, he’s been a great leader for the program, never pointing a finger at his teammates or injuries.
And off the court, he’s shown that he is a new man. He’s the first person to admit that he made a mistake, but his actions also show that he’s learned from that.
The past two days, ESPN Classic has shown both the 1992 Elite Eight matchup between Michigan and Ohio State and the Wolverines’ Final Four game against Kentucky in 1993.
Since I was just a youngin’ when the Fab Five was making baggy shorts and black socks commonplace in the basketball community, watching the two games was a nice reminder of where Michigan’s program once was.
Announcers and the media alike were singing Chris Webber’s praises, saying he would leave a lasting impact on the Wolverines’ program. They were right, but the statement is more than ironic in hindsight.
But even after Webber’s timeout heard round the world and his departure from Ann Arbor soon thereafter, he was still considered a relative basketball god at Michigan.
That is, until good ol’ easy Eddie Martin came into the picture.
Two-hundred-and-eighty thousand dollars in received gifts, lying to a federal grand jury, and paving the way for sanctions that led to the collapse of Michigan basketball can have somewhat of a negative effect on someone’s image.
Webber made mistakes, ran away from them and left the teams that followed in complete shambles as a result of his selfishness.
Horton made a mistake, stayed in Ann Arbor and has now created optimism for future classes to follow.
“I think we have accomplished that goal,” said Horton of the seniors’ contribution to the program. “I think we have done a good job of turning this program around and leaving it to where it’s right on the brink of power and being really good. I think it’s up to these younger guys to carry that and maintain it.
“Every year, we have to (fill out) a little card where we write how we want to be remembered. I wanted to be remembered as one of the best competitors that has ever worn a Michigan uniform. I think I’ve done that. I’ve come in and competed every day in practice and in games. Hopefully, I set the example as far as being a competitor.”
Horton’s actions on the court both during games and practices have done the talking for how much Michigan has meant to him during his time here. But if that wasn’t enough, he attempted to put it into words following last night’s win over Miami.
“This program has meant a lot to me,” Horton said. “I’ve grown up a lot, and I’ve become a man in this program. . For me to leave and not say anything, it would be like me turning my back on (Michigan), and I can’t do that.”
There’s no doubt in my mind that Horton will be returning to Crisler Arena in the future. But maybe he’ll be returning in the best way possible – in the fashion that the Rudy Tomjanoviches and Glen Rices of Michigan past have come back: to see their jerseys retired.
That way, the No. 4 jersey of a player who has had a positive impact on the program will hang from the rafters in the building that Horton said goodbye to last night.
– Scott Bell’s last game at Crisler was bittersweet. He won’t miss the soggy hot dogs and stale popcorn, but will miss watching Horton play. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org