What if I were to tell you that Michigan had an experienced leader who was having the worst season of his career? Would that be something you might be interested in?
That is the case for Lester Abram.
The soft-spoken, mild-mannered wing out of Pontiac became the program’s first-ever three-time captain this season.
It was the logical choice at the time. Brent Petway’s fiery emotion is great for igniting the team, but he missed half of last season for academic reasons. Courtney Sims’s never-ending battle with inconsistency leaves a lot to be desired. And Dion Harris already had enough to worry about trying to run the offense after the graduation of Daniel Horton.
That left Abram. As a fifth-year senior – he missed the 2004-05 season following surgery to his left shoulder and was granted a medical redshirt – he seemed to be just what this team needed. The senior was a guy who could be counted on to contribute night in and night out.
A typical Abram stat line used to read something like this: 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting, 3-for-3 from the foul line, two rebounds, an assist and a number of right-place, right-time plays. He wasn’t the type of guy who opponents had to gear up to stop, but his contributions carried more weight because he did it with seemingly little effort, putting up points while taking few shots.
But Abram has struggled to make a similar impact this year. He has scored more than 15 points just once (a win over Illinois). More important, he has totaled less than seven points a shocking nine times – hardly a model of consistency.
Yes, I know Michigan coach Tommy Amaker and his players will tell you they want to share the ball. And after a few hours of drilling, I’m sure all the players have the “We-want-the-open-guy-to-be-the-go-to-guy” speech down pat.
“Our team is based on team-oriented basketball,” Abram said. “It’s not up to just one person to get off tons of shots.”
That is true. In what Michigan painfully tries to pass off as the motion offense, Amaker wants his players to cut and move to create open looks instead of clearing out for one guy to go to work.
But I’m not talking about a 25-point scorer who allows the other four players to sit around and watch. I’m not talking about the one player opponents lose sleep trying to plan against.
I’m talking about a player the team can count on for consistent production. A guy who is good for a few scores each game after the play has fallen apart – a familiar sight for the Wolverines this season.
Abram has been this guy before. As a sophomore, the Michigan captain led the team in scoring and cracked 15 points 10 times while scoring less than seven just twice en route to an NIT championship. And he continued that pace last year before a severe ankle sprain derailed his season.
So what happened to Abram?
He has career lows in just about every relevant stat. His scoring average has fallen to single digits, his shooting percentages are at an all-time low and his turnovers have risen.
“I’ve never really considered myself a 3-point shooter or a slasher,” Abram said.” “I just play basketball.”
Abram isn’t doing much of either this season. His 3-point percentage has dropped from over 40 percent to under 30, and his attacks to the rim are few and far between.
Maybe it’s lacking confidence after missing so much time because of an injury. Or a funk he can’t shake after seeing his shots fall out game after game.
“I just take the shots that’s given to me,” said Abram, after pausing to search for an answer. He then quickly shifted the focus off himself to Saturday’s matchup with Indiana.
Abram might not want to talk about it, but his teammates are aware of his frustrations.
“Sometimes, he starts pressing when he doesn’t think he’s playing well,” Petway said. “When you do that, it just gets worse.”
For Abram and Michigan, it can’t get much worse. Abram has missed his last seven 3-point attempts and has clearly passed up other open looks. And once again, the Wolverines are on a crash course for the NIT.
Maybe Abram will regain his form and spice up the story that has been his career. But for Michigan, it will be too little, too late.