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OB - The Michigan Daily - Tipoff283- Thursday, November 6, 2003
The Michigan Daily - Tipoff2003
ilar," said Hunter of Sims' play. "We
really don't liketo be(with our)
back to the basket. We both like to
step out and see the floor. He's a lit-
t longer, but our games are very
Brown also noticed the closeness in
styles that Hunter and Sims bring but
was quick to point out one difference.
The sophomore claimed that he had
never played against anyone who
could block his shot until Sims.
"(Sims) is a little longer, a little bet-
ter shot blocker," Brown said. (Hunter)
is more aggressive this year - you
can see his experience helping."
That experience for both Brown
and Hunter came from the Wolver-
ines' need for starters after Chris
Young's graduation left Michigan
without a center.
The 6-foot-9 Brown started 25
games for the Wolverines last sea-
son, while the 6-foot-1 1 Hunter
chipped in four starts. But both play-
ers saw action in all 30 Michigan
"We're just trying to teach these
guys in practice," Brown said. "The
freshmen need to learn where to go
and when to be there, but when they
do, we'll be really special."
While Brown and Hunter continue
to grow stronger after a year in the
Michigan system, the most experi-
enced of the big men is actually
Mathis, an athletically-built, 6-foot-
8 forward who played for two years
at Virginia before transferring to
The Brooklyn, N.Y. native ended
his time as a Cavalier with 4.1
points and 3.1 rebounds per game.
Thanks to his quickness and ath-
leticism under the basket, Mathis
said that he will help the Wolverines
most with rebounding and scoring
The 6-foot-9 Petway, who will
split time at power and small for-
ward, has the ability to jump out of
the gym, a feature that will be help-
ful when it comes to rebounding and
PHOTOS BY TONY DING (.eft) and RYAN WEINER (right)/Daily
Graham Brown and Chris Hunter will no longer be lonely in the paint
as Michigan sports one of the deepest frontcourts in the Big Ten
3y Chris Burke
)aiy Sports Editor
In late January of last season,
vlichigan headed to Champaign to
:ake on Illinois. Riding a 13-game
winning streak, the Wolverines sat in
'irst place in the Big Ten, and after a
>olid first half against the Illini,
ooked poised to grab a stranglehold
)n the conference lead.
Then, Michigan centers Graham
3rown and Chris Hunter got into
As the number of fouls on the
:wo big men grew, Michigan's 11-
>oint lead shrank, and Illinois for-
ards James Augustine and Brian
ook took over. The Wolverines fell,
The same problem surfaced just
three days later when Hunter and
Brown struggled with fouls in a loss at
Then the foul bug reared its ugly
head one last time in a loss to Indiana
at the Big Ten Tournament.
Michigan's frontcourt depth - or
lack thereof - proved too much to
But it's not a problem the Wolver-
ines expect to have this year.
That's because, thanks to coach
Tommy Amaker's recruitment of
Courtney Sims and Brent Petway, and
the eligibility of transfer J.C. Mathis
and redshirt freshman Amadou Ba,
the Wolverines are as deep as, well,
any team in the Big Ten.
"I don't know if anyone has as
much depth as us in the frontcourt,"
the 6-foot-11, ridiculously long-
armed Sims said.
Sims, a freshman from Roslin-
dale, Mass., may turn out to be the
prize catch of Amaker's 2003
recruiting class. The youngster did-
n't start playing basketball until his
freshman year of high school, when
his natural ability - and a seven-
inch growth spurt - demanded that
he do so.
He finished his career at Noble
and Greenough School with career
numbers of 23 points, 11 rebounds
and seven blocks per game. Those
numbers were good enough to make
him one of the nation's most highly
When all was said and done, Sims
decided to bring his Chris Hunter-
like game to Ann Arbor.
"I think (our games) are a lot sim-
The sixth and final member of
Michigan's big man combo - and
perhaps the biggest enigma and
best-kept secret on the Wolverines'
roster - is the 6-foot-10, 250-
pound Ba, who redshirted last year.
"He's blowing everybody's mind
this year," Hunter said of the Mauri-
tania, Africa native. "I didn't think
he'd do the things that he's doing.
But he's showing us a lot of foot-
work, speed and poise down in the
low post. He's showing me a lot of
things I didn't think he could do."
So while Ba, Petway and Sims
continue to develop, Brown, Hunter
and Mathis will be looked to for the
veteran leadership that is so crucial
to a Big Ten title run.
Having a six-man rotation up
front is something that Amaker is
excited about, but slightly wary of.
"We'll have more depth there, and
when you have more depth, it gives
you more options," Amaker said.
"That can be good and bad. It's
exciting to know that we have some
"A year ago, I sat here and talked
about how deep I thought we were
going to be on the perimeter. Time
will tell how many options we'll
have (up front) and how deep we'll
be, but as of now, it bodes well for
our team that we have options."
The seemingly endless supply of
bodies also means that the intensity
in practice has been taken up a
notch. Instead of Brown and Hunter
constantly matching up with each
other, everyone now is fighting for
that all-important spot in the
Wolverines' starting lineup.
"It gets pretty intense," Brown said.
"It's still pretty early right now. I can't
imagine how high the competition
will be when we get in the Big Ten."
Still, while much will be made of
how many big bodies the Wolverines
can plant in the paint, Sims remains
impressed with what Brown and
Hunter were able to accomplish in
their first seasons.
"I think they were underrated last
year in the post," Sims said. "Gra-
ham and Chris did a good job."
Regardless of how well they per-
formed after being forced to eat up
huge minutes last year, Brown and
Hunter will be the first to tell you
that there was room for improve-
ment. Brown says that he put on 15-
to-20 pounds in hopes of
establishing himself as a bigger
presence this year. Hunter also
added muscle and continued to
pound away at his inside-outside
But, despite the personal improve-
ment, the two are happy to have
some friends in the paint with them.
And both agree that the Wolverines'
frontcourt will keep some opposing
coaches up at night.
"I'd be afraid to think what you
would think when you see four, five
or six guys who can come in with no
drop off," Brown said. "We have
such a wide variety of players -
shot blockers, guys that can leap,
rebounders. I don't know what a
coach scouting us would tell his
players, you'd have to be ready for
so many different things."
Too many things, if all goes
according to plan.
Goin' to work
CAA sanctions? Gone. Poor
record? Bye bye. Losing
streak against Michigan State?
High expectations? Welcome back
to Ann Arbor.
For the first time since the forfeited
1997-98 season of Louis Bullock and
Robert Traylor, the Michigan basket-
ball program will enter a season in
which it is anticipated to be dancing
So, can these Wolverines, after they
snuck up on so many opponents last
season, be just as successful when
everyone's gunning for them?
Michigan coach Tommy Amaker
responds: "Whatever the expectations
may be for Michigan basketball, you
can rest assured that our standards are
as high or even higher."
Well, the Wolverines better be
thinking Final Four then. Every bas-
ketball fan in Ann Arbor began men-
tally planning out a trip to a
first-round NCAA Tournament site
the day that the NCAA sanctions were
This is the type of season that can
very definitively mark the progress
the hard part: 'M'must meet expectations
that a team has made. Most of the
time, the resurgent team goes one of
two ways - either it continues to
improve and conquers its new goals,
or it plummets back down to earth,
unable to live up to its heightened
Having to deal with those added
pressures is a Michigan team filled
with extreme youth.
There are seniors Bernard Robin-
son and Colin Dill and junior J.C.
Mathis, but every other member of
the Michigan team is a sophomore or
"I thought our youth, a year ago,
was as big of a reason that we were
able to have a winning season and
turn things around for our program as
any," Amaker said. "They didn't know
any different - they came from win-
ning environments, winning pro-
grams, and I thought that really bodes
well for our team."
The difference around here is that
everyone does know different. Every-
one remembers the back-to-back 18-
loss seasons prior to last year.
They remember the banners being
torn down, the 43-point loss to Duke
in the 2000-01 season and the 51-
point massacre at the hands of Michi-
gan State the year before.
And the reason that last year's
Michigan team received so much sup-
port from the fans is because, for one
winter, the Wolverines made us all
Michigan basketball, finally and
mercifully, was back.
Now the task - an even tougher
one - is to keep it there.
"I would want (the fans) to be dis-
appointed; we would want all of us to
be disappointed if we don't reach our
standards," Amaker said. "I don't
know what every fan's standard or
expectation may be, but I'm hoping
that we'll never become a program or
a situation where people aren't disap-
pointed when we don't do well."
That might be the best thing about
having Amaker as the Wolverines'
head man. He's well aware of where
the Wolverines are coming from.
He has more or less rebuilt this pro-
gram from the bottom up. He came to
Ann Arbor with a vision of what a
"Michigan man" should be, and never
wavered, no matter what the circum-
stances. He's helped make the Michi-
gan students a factor during home
And he's got the Wolverines on the
verge of being a perennial threat in
the Big Ten again, as last year's drive
for a title showed.
But before being thrown back into
the mix annually, the Wolverines must
show they can get the job done twice
in a row.
The answers to any lingering ques-
tions about the Michigan program,
though, are in place.
"Something that I really want to
emphasize is that our program at this
juncture is healthy," Amaker said. "I
think when you start thinking about
the future of this team and this pro-
gram, you can look back a little and
recognize that there was a lot of pas-
Senior Bernard Robinson is one of just
three upperclassmen on the roster.
sion and pride that was displayed last
season, and we never want to lose
"That's what we want Michigan
basketball to always be."
If this year ends successfully, the
Wolverines will be a lot closer to that
eternal optimism than they have been
in a long time.
Chris Burke can be reached at
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