A high school gym is much different than Crisler Center. Understandably, the TV coverage, brighter lights and sizable crowd induce nerves into freshmen who are gearing up for their first season.
But for seasoned players like junior guard Jillian Dunston, Crisler is the norm.
“I didn’t say anything to (the freshmen) before the game because their nerves were inevitable,” Dunston said. “But afterwards I just said, ‘Welcome to college basketball.’ ”
The goal of the upperclassmen’s relationship with the new players, according to sophomore guard Nicole Munger, is to keep them positive. Especially for Munger and the rest of the sophomore class, they’re well aware of how intimidating freshman year is.
When the freshmen on the Michigan women’s basketball team returned to their locker room after their exhibition game against Wayne State on Thursday, they were able to finally know what it’s like to play for the Wolverines.
The freshman class consists of guards Kysre Gondrezick, Kayla Robbins and Akienreh Johnson, as well as forward KeAsja Peace. In the 93-41 domination of the Warriors, all four were able to see some playing time, with Johnson making a definite statement in just eight minutes on the court.
Johnson, who committed to Michigan almost four years ago — a Wolverine longer than some upperclassmen — scored a total of three points and garnered three rebounds. Her rebounds in the second half helped her teammates erase a somewhat disappointing first half in which Wayne State and Michigan were neck and neck.
Gondrezick, on the other hand, didn’t perform her free throws like she had been in practices, but the Wolverines aren’t concerned.
“She’s played pretty consistently up to this point,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I think she pressed a bit (on Thursday) and I think that’s probably a common thing for a freshman when they get an opportunity to get out on the court.
“Kysre is going to be a special player for us. But I think any time you have a local kid that’s a superstar, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure. She’s a far better player than everybody saw (on Thursday). I’m not worried about her. She just needs to let the game come to her sometimes. I’m confident that she will.”
Robbins scored two points for Michigan in field goals, but like Gondrezick, underperformed in her free throws. Peace went 1-for-4 in free throws to round out the freshmen’s contributions.
Part of the nerves — and excitement — for the freshmen came from being able to put on the Michigan uniform and compete in it. In her pre-game speech, Barnes Arico made sure to emphasize the honor of being able to defend the block ‘M’.
Though the freshmen may not have played up to their own expectations, Barnes Arico wanted them to know that the Wayne State exhibition game was just the beginning.
“(Their performance) was unbelievable,” Barnes Arico said. “There are local kids and they had their family and their fan section here tonight and they’ve been waiting to just get out there to get on that court.
“They’ve been watching for years other players come and play before them. For them to get out there was an exciting opportunity to get in and contribute.”