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November 11, 2004 - Image 15

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The Michigan Daily, 2004-11-11

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8B - The Michigan Daily - Tipoff 2004 - Thursday, November 11, 2004

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By Josh Holman * Daily Sports Writer

t wasn't a last-minute shot. It wasn't a
rim-shattering dunk or even a season-
27-point performance. Lester
Abram had as successful a year as any one
of the Wolverines last year, but the lasting
image for some may be the sight of Abram
starting a game on the bench.
With then-freshman Dion Harris strug-
gling, Abram approached Michigan coach
Tommy Amaker before Michigan's final
regular-season game at Northwestern,
requesting that Harris start in his place. It
was the ultimate act of unselfishness,
"I was just looking out for what's best for
the team,"said Abram, now a junior. "Dion
was struggling for a stretch, and I was kind
of getting tired of it."
It's an interesting way to take on a prob-
lem that's been burdening your team. Some
leaders might take that burden and hoist it
upon their own shoulders. If a teammate
like Harris isn't pulling his weight, some
people might expect a go-to player like
Abram to contribute a little more.
But instead, Abram took a step back.
He was tired of Harris struggling, and he
wanted to fix the problem by kick-starting
the young shooter.-
"Lester is a winner," Harris said. "What
he wants to do is win. He saw a way that he
can make our team better, and I think he
just took it upon himself to make it happen.
I talked to him before, and he thought it
would be best that I start to just get it going
Abram's idea paid dividends for the
Wolverines. Harris scored 10 points in 34
minutes of play at Northwestern.
Abram still played his part, too. In just
24 minutes, he drained 14 points and pulled
down five rebounds in the 63-56 victory.
"Ever since that game, I kind of regained
my old form a little bit," Harris said. "And I
think it helped a lot."
Harris started the remainder of the
season for Abram and went on to score in
double digits in every game following the
matchup against the Wildcats.
Such an act coming from Abram was
nothing unexpected to the teammates and
coaches that have spent time around him.
"I was incredibly blown away by it and
impressed by it," Amaker said. "But in
all honesty, coming from him, I wasn't
surprised by it. I thought that was a true
testament of who he is and what he feels
about his teammates, what he feels about
this program, what he feels about his team,

what he feels about winning."
It was that kind of unselfishness that
inspired Abram's teammates to elect him
as a tri-captain for this season.
"It means a lot for the simple fact that I
know I have the respect of my teammates
by picking me as a captain," Abram said. "I
didn't expect to be a captain, but the players
picked it, so it was a good feeling."
There's no doubt,
that Abram has
earned every bit
of respect granted
to him. His team-
mates can't find a
negative thing to
say about him.
"He'll pass the
ball," said his fellow
junior tri-captain
Sherrod Harrell.
"He'll pass up
shots. He'll give up
that opportunity to
start a game to bet-
ter help our team.
That's the kind of
guy he is."
Abram seems to
do all those little, -
quiet things that°
fans barely notice.5
They might not
notice those extra;
passes he makes
or the bad shots he
refuses to force up.
Sometimes, they
won't even notice
his points. Abram
led the team in
scoring - averag-
ing 13.1 points per
game - during
a season in which
Bernard Robinson
and Daniel Horton Junior Lester Abramh
were expected to
take leading roles. But even with Abram's
scoring, Robinson and Horton remained in
the starring roles.
Abram was the leading scorer in just 12
of Michigan's 34 games. He rarely domi-
nated a game with a massive scoring out-
put - save for his 27-point performance at
home against Northwestern - but he never
disappeared with a miserable outing, either.
He would simply show up, drop in a baker's

dozen and go home. Every game.
"Lester is a warrior," Horton said. "He
plays hard. He's going to do what it takes
for his team to win. He's very consistent.
You know what you're going to get from
Lester every game."
The style of Abram's game isn't his only
quiet aspect, either. He is a naturally quiet
person as-well - not necessarily your ste-

agree with the choice more.
"I love playing with Lester so much,"
Horton said. "Anytime I know it's going to
be a tough game and you're going to have
to dig it out, Lester's going to be right-there
with you."
With a new season about to unfold,
Abram is trying on his captain's wings for
size. He may not be the most vocal leader

ever to don a maize
and blue jersey, but
those surrounding
him are ready to
put their confidence
in him.
"We have a say-
ing in our program
that the first sign of
someone being a
leader is someone
that can lead them-
self," Amaker said.
"And he's done that
probably as well or
better than anybody
that I've been a part
of in coaching. Not
just at Michigan
- in coaching in
Michigan's corps
of captains is a mix
of personalities.
Brown is more of an
enthusiastic player
on the court and
show his excitement
when the situation
calls for it. Harrell,
on the other hand,
is that quiet type of
cheerleader. Most
of his work comes
behind the scenes,
quietly cheering
on a teammate or
informing him of
aspects of his game

shouldn't have to say a word. In fact, he'd
prefer not to.
"I just want to play,'Abram said. "I don't
want to be out there telling people what to
do: 'Blah blah blah.' (Brown and Harrell)
do that better than I do"
In fact, there are very few things Abram
thinks he's the best at. It's that hint of
humility that makes him so appealing as
a leader.
The most obvious example comes in
Abram's self-comparison to Robinson,
Michigan's wing that could do it all.
"I'm nothing like Bernard," Abram said.
"Bernard did a little bit of everything."
Indeed, Robinson did lead the Wolver-
ines in a number of statistical categories
- rebounds, steals and assists. And now,
in his absence, Abram seems like a logi-
cal choice to succeed him. They both carry
the same demeanor on the court, that stern
game face that desires nothing more than
getting down to business. And they both
keep the celebrations to a minimum.
But, Abram repeatedly reminds every-
one that he is not Robinson and doesn't
want to be.
"(Robinson) brought a lot of things to
the table," Abram said. "All I can do is just
improve in every little thing that I did last
year - scoring, rebounding, assists."
But even as Abram says it, it's hard to
believe it. He wants to pick up the pieces
that Robinson will leave behind. He wants
to have even bigger, yet quiet, games in all
those little statistical categories that Robin-
son excelled in.
It all comes down to Abram wanting to
make the team better. Even if he can't do
everything - even if he's not an outspo-
ken vocal leader or a mega-versatile player
- he wants to do anything he's capable of
if he knows it can help the team.
"I think he's secure in who he is, and
he wants us to be the best that we can be,"
Amaker said. "And whatever way we can
make that happen, with him being a starter
or a star or a role player, it doesn't matter.:
So Abram will take the reins of a Michi-
gan team waiting to break out and produce
its most successful campaign in years. He
probably won't give it much direction but
rather let it ride steady until it needs a kick
- just the style he prefers.
And if all goes perfectly to plan, maybe
the lasting image of Abram's season this
year won't be of him sitting on a bench, but
of him cutting down a net somewhere.


has been getting the job done in his own quiet style.

reotypical selection as a captain.
"Les is a little more (of a) quiet leader,"
said Graham Brown, the other junior tri-
captain. "He'll let you know when you've
got to do something"
The prototypical captain might actually
be someone like Horton, who is outspoken
and has a clear court presence from his
point-guard position. But Horton is not a
captain, while Abram is. And Horton can't

that he needs to work on.
Abram fits just in the middle of those
two. He'll do his job on the court and let his
play speak loudest.
"I try to lead by example," Abram said.
"If I see somebody messing up and not
playing how they're supposed to be play-
ing, I will say something. I'm not a mute. I
open my mouth sometimes."
But when things are rolling, Abram

Continued from page 3B
Orton said that after his freshman year, Amaker wanted him
to focus more on playing defense and on getting swingman
Lester Abram and newcomers Dion Harris and Courtney
Sims, among others, more involved on offense.
"I just remember, at times, it was really frustrating trying to
meet the challenges that coach put in front of me," Horton said. "It
was really tough. But I think I met those challenges and became a
better player, a more complete player for doing it. But at times, it
was really hard, it was really frustrating.I
"The tough part came on offense, trying to be more of a quar-
terback and not being a guy who his team needed to score a lot of
points like we did my freshman year."
And then quite suddenly, at the end of the 2004 regular season,
Horton's game improved dramatically - just in time for the NIT.
He started taking more shots - three more per game - than
he did during the Big Ten season. Michigan ran off its longest

winning streak since the 13-game run during Horton's freshman
year. The team traveled to Madison Square Garden in New York
for the semifinal game against the Oregon Ducks and - as if
Horton wrote the script - Ernie Kent, the coach who had cut him
over the summer.
Horton came face-to-face with a past that his father said he took
personally. It would be an opportunity for closure.
Kent watched Horton play the kind of game that he said Horton
wasn't playing when he cut him from the Junior World Champi-
onship team. Horton played perhaps his most complete game in
a Michigan uniform: 15 points. Six rebounds. Nine assists. One
turnover. Michigan 78, Oregon 53.
Horton went on to earn NIT MVP honors, and Michigan was
able to hang up a much-needed championship banner. More impor-
tantly, Horton was able to merge his freshman scoring ability with
the well-rounded game that Amaker wanted from him in his soph-
omore year. Maybe Horton finally found a balance?
"As well as he played in the NIT, I know he can play even better,"
Daryl said. "I know he can."

Even better.
"Knowing Daniel personally, I know it's been rough for him,"
Michigan State's Kelvin Torbert said. "But he has handled it well.
He's been down at times and up at times, but that will pay off a lot
for him. I think this year, you will see the real Daniel Horton."
Horton says he's much more comfortable with his new identity
and even embraces it.
"I can say now that I enjoy this role a lot more than (my role
freshman year)," Horton said. "But what it all comes down to, I'm
still going to do whatever it takes for this team to win. If there
comes a time when I do have to step up and score more and play the
way I did like I did two years ago, then that's what I have to do.
"If it means me taking no shots and getting Dion and Lester
or Courtney the ball because they are playing at a higher level,
than I'll do that, too. I think that's how coach has made me a bet-
ter player, knowing when and when not to do those things. I'll do
whatever it takes for us to win."
Try to forget about Horton's first two years, because chances are,
this season will be the most memorable.

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