One week ago, new Michigan coach Tommy Amaker conducted his first public order of business for the 2001-02 season by formally introducing himself and his team to the press on media day. He described the experience as “another new beginning.”

Paul Wong
The Daily Grind<br><br>Benjamin Singer

There have been plenty of firsts for Amaker already and there will be plenty more to come. His first team meeting surely was significant to the players, his first verbal commitment meant something to his coaching staff and his first burp while sitting at his desk in his office likely meant nothing to no one. (I have absolutely no idea if Amaker has ever in fact burped in his office, it”s just an assumption).

But today”s first will be the one most salient to the fans, and as such, perhaps the most important. One of Amaker”s goals is to endear himself and the team to the student body in an attempt to rebuild the program. He is taking his first step in bridging the gap with the fans.

It won”t be at midnight, but the Michigan basketball team is opening Crisler”s doors at 3 p.m. tomorrow to allow fans to come watch the Wolverines practice for the first time.

No one went to watch them play actual games, last year. Now people are supposed to go watch them practice?

Yes.

It may sound a little backwards, asking fans to make the trek down to Crisler before Michigan has proven itself. But in an extended metaphor that would make my 11th grade English teacher proud, Amaker explains why it is that he is asking for excitement from the students before the Wolverines have earned it.

“My grandmother once said that people need love and understanding, most probably when they least deserve it,” Amaker said. “It”s kind of like when you think of a game, an opponent is making a run and we struggled maybe the last five possessions. Turned the ball over or missed shots. Sometimes you hear the crowd get more involved in it to try to help the team get going. That”s one of those moments for us now. We need the students to help us get going.”

The Wolverines had plenty of those moments on the court last year. Sometimes those droughts lasted for an entire half (see last year”s game at Duke). Now Amaker”s challenge is getting enough people in the stands to be able to pick them up.

Traditionally, schools with strong followings (and more often than not, poor football teams) start their basketball frenzy as soon as the clock strikes 12 on the first day of official practice. Amaker passed on that chance last week. He did have a midnight practice for his team, but no Midnight Madness. He said a Midnight Madness didn”t fit “our situation.”

What he didn”t say was “our situation” meant a basketball team that can”t win a game and can only muster interest from a little less than two percent of the student body. And with the homecoming football game against Purdue scheduled for 12 hours after the start of the would-be Midnight Madness, it was reasonable to fear that most students would opt to get a good night”s rest for their long day of drinking and screaming.

A Midnight Madness would have looked pretty silly without the madness.

While Michigan students may always play favorites, giving special attention to football, there”s no reason that basketball has to be the neglected son. There”s enough drinking and screaming to spread around for both children.

(Somehow I feel like this analogy has gone awry I guess Amaker is better at this whole metaphor thing than I am.)

Michigan basketball is making its first strides in reconnecting with the fans, and if there is going to be any immediate impact, the students have to meet the Wolverines halfway. If you are going to sit around and wait for Michigan to be a power again before you go to Crisler, you may be waiting awhile. After all, Amaker did say the goal for this year was showing improvement. That”s the same thing Northwestern”s Bill Carmody said. If you want the first and only Midnight Madness since the freshman year of the Fab Five in 1991, you don”t have to pack the house tomorrow, but a presence should be felt.

Amaker said the power in the Big Ten was “outside of Ann Arbor.” That may be true as long as the fans are outside of Crisler Arena.

Benjamin Singer can be reached at basinger@umich.edu.

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