Friday, February 24, 2012

The Seniors That Built Michigan Basketball

What if I were to tell you that Michigan had just fired its head basketball coach?  That neither he nor Michigan had made the NCAA Tournament in over 9 years.  That the basketball program was still shadowed by a scandal that not only removed its most cherished history and success, but fired one of its most famous coaches and plagued the program with vicious scholarship reductions that made the team almost incapable of competing.

This actually happened to Michigan and the year was 2007.  Surprisingly, Stu Douglass was about to commit to Michigan to play for John Beilein.  Beilein had some success over his career, primarily at West Virginia, but had never made a Final Four, nor coached in the Big Ten.  Few, if any, truly believed this coach could change the culture shock Ann Arbor had received from the Fab 5 Scandal, but two little known recruits believed that Beilein could change what had recently been a disastrous run for Michigan.

The task Beilein, Douglass, and Zack Novak (who committed in the beginning of 2008) were undertaking would be pretty substantial.  Somehow, these three had to convince not only recruits, but the entire fanbase and country that Michigan was ready to play basketball again.  From 1998-2007, Michigan's basketball team was, frankly, horrendous.  Not only did they seem incapable of competing at a high level, but they also lost to bad basketball schools and teams on a routine basis.  A return to glory wasn't exactly going to be something easy.

However, Douglass and Novak bought into what Beilein was preaching.  They would not only be Beilein's biggest pickups in his 2008 recruiting class, but they would be the ones that finally restored Michigan to its winning ways.  To be honest, Douglass and Novak didn't exactly excite many in the public.  Few big time programs bought into these two recruits.  In fact, most of the schools that did heavy recruiting on Douglass and Novak were MAC schools.  Kinda surprising in hindsight, huh?

Regardless of their recruiting hype, Beilein bought into these two players.  He recruited and ultimately brought them to play in Ann Arbor  But Beilein had a season to play before Douglass and Novak would become Wolverines.  The season went pretty badly.  Michigan finished with 10-22 and only 5-13 in Big Ten play.  Not exactly a great start for Beilein at Michigan.  However, Douglass and Novak still planned on coming to Ann Arbor, despite this setback.

By the time Douglass and Novak were getting ready to play Big Ten basketball Beilein had been working hard to turn things around.  He had already secured commitments from several plays including a 4* player named Darius Morris and an in-state forward named Jordan Morgan.  Michigan still had a long way to go both on the court and the recruiting trail, but it was at least a start.

That season Michigan would finally turn the corner.  Not only did the team compete, but after eight games into the season, Michigan had already beaten UCLA and Duke who had both been ranked in the Top 5 at the time.  For a program who had not been to a tournament in over 10 seasons, beating two Top 5 teams in eight games was pretty substantial.  Eventually, that same team would finish 20-13 and lose in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament.

In just one season Michigan had more than doubled its win total and snapped a 10 season tournament-less streak.  The culture had thoroughly been shocked.  However, Douglass, Novak, and Beilein didn't stop there.    In the 2010 season, the team would not only sweep in-state rival Michigan State, but make it to the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament in a close battle with Duke.

This year the Wolverines have done even better.  Michigan has been ranked all season, recorded wins over Memphis, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan State, and Ohio State, and is poised for a great season and tournament finish.  So, what changed?  How did Michigan go from a train-wreck of a basketball program and team to one of the elite teams in the Big Ten competing for a conference title and high-seed in the NCAA Tournament?

Belief.  Stu Douglass and Zack Novak believed in John Beilein and Beilein believed in Douglass and Novak.  The coach and the players took a chance on each other and look how it turned out.  This Saturday will be Senior Day in Crisler Arena when the Wolverines face-off against Purdue.  Something special will be ending in Ann Arbor.  Douglass and Novak should be credited as the foundation of this new basketball program.  Cazzie Russell may have been the one who Crisler was built upon, but the Fab 5' scandal left that legacy in ruins.  Only with Douglass and Novak has that legacy been restored.

Stu and Zack are the ones who have resurrected Michigan basketball.  I'll miss seeing Stu's insane three attempt (that works once in a while haha) and Novak's endless fire and passion.  These guys built this program through dedication, hard work, and most importantly, belief.  Michigan may not win the Big Ten or NCAA Championship this year, but they're going to win a lot of games over the next few seasons and everyone will have Stu and Zack to thank.  We here at Hoke's Mad Magicians wish them the best of luck and thank them for their contributions to rebuilding what is and will continue to be a great basketball program.  It's been a great ride, now beat Purdue!

Photo Credit: ESPN

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