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March 18, 2003 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily, 2003-03-18

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10 - The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Expectations high for next season

By Naweed Sikora
Daily Sports Editor

When you think of what makes up truly spe-
cial college basketball seasons, only a few things
usually come to mind. Miraculous wins, domi-
nant records and championships are all part of
what makes a season noteworthy.
The Michigan basketball team's 2002-03 sea-
son did not produce championship banners. It
didn't end with a dominant record (10-6 Big Ten,
17-13 overall), and it featured just a few miracu-
Slous victories (one being its 15-point comeback
against Wisconsin), but it was definitely special
- and the most significant season in more than
five years. After years of underachievement and
off-court difficulties, this campaign marked the
turning of the tide for Michigan basketball.
But now, it's time to look ahead.
"This season was a great learning experience
and will be good for next year," freshman Lester
Abram said. "I can foresee us being a top-20
team. Our added experience is going to be a cen-
tral factor for us."
There is a dark cloud in the form of the
NCAA Infractions Committee moving toward
the program right now, and the Wolverines are
hoping it will pass by without thundering
down upon them. The committee will make a
decision in the next few weeks as to how it
will penalize Michigan for the Ed Martin
scandal. It could decide to extend the Wolver-
ines' postseason ban, which would be detri-
mental to a team with a strong chance of

making the NCAA Tournament.
Of course, that's the worst-case scenario. The
committee could also decide to revoke scholar-
ships and increase the financial penalty, which
would at least allow the Wolverines to compete in
the postseason.
"I think we're all holding our breath right
now," Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said.
No matter what happens, Michigan has a lot to
build on for next season, and should once again
be a force in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines lose senior captain LaVell
Blanchard, who has led the team in scoring dur-
ing each of his four seasons. Blanchard was a
potent 3-point threat, and his departure leaves a
large scoring hole for Michigan to fill.
"I have never played without LaVell," junior
Bernard Robinson said. "It is going to be tough.
We will have to wait and see until next year how
it goes."
Luckily, the freshman class developed more
quickly than most people expected. Abram and
Horton emerged as a solid backcourt duo, one
that is capable of leading this team over the next
few seasons.
Centers Graham Brown and Chris Hunter also
matured in a hurry. Although Hunter was more
athletic, Brown showed a certain toughness and
heart that Amaker preached throughout the sea-
son and likes in his players. Both were instru-
mental to Michigan's success this season, and
their contributions are promising for the future.
And even in limited minutes, Sherrod Harrell
provided solid effort off the bench and should be

a key contributor to next season's guard corps.
"The freshman class grew a lot this season,"
Abram said. "We didn't have a choice but to
grow because our team needed us out there."
With Robinson emerging as a defensive
force, he has become Michigan's best all-
around player, and should continue to be so in
his final season.
"There were some special kids on this team,
and there will be some special kids coming back
next year," senior Gavin Groninger said.
But that's not all.
Next season, Michigan should answer its
depth problems, which became very visible as
the season wound down, with its incoming
recruiting class.
Guard Dion Harris from Detroit, forward
Brent Petway and forward/center Courtney Sims
should considerably improve Amaker's ability to
go to his bench. Plus, with J.C. Mathis - who
transferred from Virginia and sat out this season
- entering the rotation, the Wolverines will be
plenty deep up front.
Harris is a talented, moderately-sized guard
who will provide much-needed backcourt support
to Horton and Abram, who both averaged well
over 30 minutes per game this season.
Of course, it would be impossible to predict
exactly what will happen for Michigan next sea-
"Who knows what the future holds," Horton
said. "All I know is that we have a lot of work to
do before next season gets started."
But as for right now, things are looking up.

Losing just three seniors, Bernard Robinson will lead a team riding high from this season's success.
If not given more sanctions, the Wolverines are expected to make a run at the NCAA Tournament.

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