Often during the 2001-2002 season, the Michigan basketball team found itself out of options up front. With only one true big man, now-graduated center Chris Young, the Wolverines had to plug 6’7″ Chuck Bailey into a post position as a stopgap.
Because of their lack of inside depth coach Tommy Amaker was determined to upgrade the post positions for this season.
Enter 6-foot-11 freshman Chris Hunter and his fellow rookie counterparts, 6-foot-10 Amadou Ba and 6-foot-9 Graham Brown. The addition of those three players give the Wolverines a roster featuring eight players of 6-foot-6 or taller.
But even with the increased visibility of Michigan’s inside presence, there’s no question that the graduation of Young hurts in more ways than can be measured with a ruler.
“Losing Chris is a big loss for us, I think it’s obvious,” Amaker said. “You lose a kid that’s been in the program for four years and has been in a lot of types of roles, and he was even more valuable because he was one of our top scorers and rebounders.
“There were a lot of things that youngster brought to the table.”
With all of the intangibles that Young added to Michigan’s roster, Amaker is not making plans for an easy replacement.
“We are not going to be a team that replaces him with one player,” Amaker said. “We’re hoping other kids can develop in different ways – this team has to scrap and claw not having Chris in. We’re looking for all our front line guys to contribute in whatever capacity that they can.”
LaVell the leader?: Young’s departure also left the Wolverines without the player who stepped forward as the team’s leader – its heart and soul.
With a fairly young team taking the court this year, Michigan will turn to its veteran tri-captains – fifth-year senior Rotulu Adebiyi and seniors Gavin Groninger and LaVell Blanchard – to lead the way.
Blanchard, in particular, has been a constant focus of attention since arriving at Michigan from Ann Arbor Pioneer High School four years ago, and his effort this summer has Amaker convinced that Blanchard will be ready to take charge for the Wolverines.
“When you think of seniors, you think of players who probably have a greater sense of urgency and also a sense of purpose and we see that in LaVell,” Amaker said. “He’s been focused this summer and more dedicated. It’s exciting as his coach because the feeling about him is that he needs to be the best worker and best player.”
Back for more: As much as Amaker would love to see all of his freshmen players step into the lineup and immediately make an impact, he’s sure to expect the youngsters to struggle at first while they get comfortable.
The difficulty of starting off fresh is something that Amaker can relate to. Taking the reigns of Michigan’s program last year, Amaker used the season to get acquainted with his new position.
That approach has left Amaker feeling more at home entering his second season in Ann Arbor.
“(In your second year) you’re more ingrained, comfortable and have a better feel for things,” Amaker said. “Now going into (the season), you have an idea and point of reference and anytime you have that in this profession it’s crucial.”