After the self-imposed sanctions on the Michigan basketball team were announced, I considered asking for my money back. Certainly I understood when I bought my season ticket package that this team was not going to be playing the highest caliber of NCAA Division I basketball, but I felt cheated out of the opportunity to root for my Michigan team to even make some noise; to begin its rise from the ashes and hustle and fight its way into the N.I.T.
I was eventually convinced – by friends and coach Tommy Amaker – that I ought to rally behind this team. It takes real fans to stick with a team like this at a time like this, and if Michigan was going to be rebuilt it needed my support this year. Fine. You’re right. I’ll root for the Maize and Blue even if there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’ve supported this team for four years, and I ought to rough it out like everyone else. No regrets for purchase. I’m in.
Then they started losing. A trip to the Virgin Islands left Michigan 0-3 before the end of Thanksgiving break. I didn’t care. I’ll support a losing team (I’ve been a Mets fan for most of my 21 years).
Then Avery Queen got booted for violating team policies.
Avery Queen was probably my favorite Michigan basketball player. During my sophomore year my friends made yellow t-shirts that displayed the Superman logo, but with a ‘Q’ instead of an ‘S.’ SuperQueen Superfans. He was a hero in miniature; a diminutive point guard in the proud Washtenaw County tradition of Earl Boykins. Queen, I was fond of saying, would be the best point guard in the Big Ten if he were a foot taller. What he lacked in court vision he almost made up for in hustle. Almost. But regardless of his shortcomings (and the fact that he was being replaced by an Amaker-recruited McDonald’s All-American) Queen remained my fave – he was a guy for whom I had cheered, and for whom I happily paid to see play.
Then last Tuesday, a day before I would finally use the first of my season tickets (to see Central Michigan take on my Wolverines), the word came down that another crowd pleaser was leaving the team. Dommanic Ingerson – Dom Bomb – announced his intention to transfer from Michigan. Ingerson’s game was inconsistent, but when he got hot he was as good a shooter as anyone in the conference. He had the raw talent to be something spectacular, and was the only Wolverine with a style and attitude comparable to the Fab Five. But like C-Webb and the boys, Dom is destined to become yet another ghost of Crisler Arena.
My two favorite players were gone and I had yet to see a game live. Still, I could deal. I mean, those were Ellerbe’s guys, and the reality is that they weren’t winning us any Big Ten titles. Amaker’s got his own troops, and he is giving them playing time, and he thinks that by doing so he is truly building for the future of this program. Fine. I trust him.
Then I watched the game.
Freshmen Graham Brown and Chris Hunter – Amaker’s two big men – were non-existent. I would say that they got pushed around and bullied, but I hardly even noticed that they were out there at all. They had a difficult time posting up and were nothing if not always out of position. Central Michigan center Chris Kaman connected on 11-of-13 field goal attempts on his way to 30 points, 21 rebounds and five blocks.
Meanwhile, my friends and I wondered how freshman point guard Daniel Horton could be a McDonald’s All-American. The kid who was supposed to be one of the best guards coming out of high school last year committed three times as many turnovers as he was given credit for, picked up his dribble at half court, couldn’t efficiently or consistently beat the press and still managed to lead Michigan in scoring. That last fact speaks to the Wolverines’ lack of true on-court leadership or offensive imagination.
Beyond that, Amaker’s squad looked confused while trying to execute its half-court trap when it trailed late in the game and shot 57 percent from the free-throw line in the second half. To me, those are signs of a poorly coached team.
Yet I was still ready to excuse. They’re young. They lost a crucial piece of the puzzle last year (departed center Chris Young) and are still finding and defining themselves. They’re playing under sanctions, and are victims of what Amaker calls “a culture of losing.” That culture extends upward from the court to the stands at Crisler, where even in the student section late in the second half you could hear a pin drop (or a banner fall).
Excuses. Justifications. I’m a Michigan basketball fan and I have yet to see Michigan basketball. My two favorite players are gone, and what I have seen on the court has been painful to watch. But I have supported this team since I saw freshmen Jamal Crawford and LaVell Blanchard give Duke a run for its money during my own freshman year, and I’m with this team still.
But to Amaker and the players: Show me something soon. The fans will rally behind this team, Tommy? You need to show me why, before regret really sets in.
David Horn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.