Thursday, March 12, 2009

One Hurdle Left

The first Michigan basketball game I ever attended was in the late '90's – '98, I think – and I don't remember all that much about it. It was a home game at Crisler and Louis Bullock was the face of the team. I think we were playing UCLA, for some reason, and Michigan won, but it was kind of a letdown. My love of college hoops had been fading for a while. It was a big deal when I was a second-grader allowed to stay up late so I could watch Michigan clinch its lone NCAA tournament crown back in 1989. I watched the Fab 5 slice and dice through the Big 10 all the way to the brink of two more championships. In 8th grade, when we were out of our house while it was being remodeled, I did my homework on my grandfather's screened-in porch while listening to the post-Webber crew on WJR.

But the game started to slip away from me. As so many others have said, the Robert Traylor Wolverines were an unloveable bunch. Little by little the extent of the Ed Martin scandal began to come out, and it became easy to drift away from basketball and over toward hockey. In my time as a student ('99-'04), I attended exactly zero regular-season basketball games. The Ellerbee teams were a joke, and the Amaker ones still had the cloud of post-season bans and scholarship reductions hanging over them. When they managed to get something right (Jamal Crawford), it wouldn't pan out.

I started paying more attention when Daniel Horton joined the team, following along with the Daily's coverage and watching on TV when I could. I was excited enough by the NIT berth that I attended the Missouri and Oklahoma home games, although I had to hit refresh on ESPN for the Hawaii score while I sat in the Media Union doing Controls homework. Even if it was only the race to be the 65th-best team in the country, the NIT championship win over Rutgers felt like Michigan basketball was finally back. Of course, we know how the Amaker era ended. We weren't back. It's only a trip to the NCAA tournament that can end this program's decade in the wilderness. It's a chance to put aside banners in storage and record-book asterisks. It's the chance to start a new era of Michigan basketball, founded on the backs of kids from Detroit and Flint and the cornfields of Indiana. But first we have Iowa.

Burn the ships.

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