The Michigan Daily - Tipoff
n 2001, Tommy Amaker took the helm of a
Michigan basketball program in disarray. The
Wolverines had just suffered through three
consecutive miserable seasons and were brac-
ing for impending NCAA sanctions. The situ-
ation looked desperate.
But after Amaker's 2001-02 squad -
inherited from former coach Brian Ellerbe
- struggled to an 11-18 record, hope re-emerged in
Ann Arbor in the form of a highly-regarded six-man
recruiting class. Michigan's heralded young head
coach brought in three top-100 recruits - Chris Hunt-
er, Daniel Horton and Lester Abram - while Graham
Brown, Amadou Ba and Sherrod Harrell rounded out
the deep class. It was immediately evident that the
group would set the tone - good or bad - for a new
era of Michigan basketball.
"We came on board here together," Amaker said
of the 2002 recruiting class. "We talked about it from
day one that they were going to be the foundation of
the program for the future. We brought in a class we
thought of solid talent - and great character - and
we still feel that way."
Three years, one NIT championship and zero
NCAA Tournament bids later, the class's legacy is still
up in the air. On one hand, the Michigan basketball
program is obviously in much better shape than it was
four years ago. But despite their impressive talent, the
Wolverines still haven't yet returned to the Big Dance.
"The (NCAA Tournament) seems to always be the
measuring stick for so many people in so many ways,
and we understand that," Amaker said. "You start the
year off with the hope, the dream, to be in March Mad-
ness - that's the way our sport is structured."
For four members of the 2002 recruiting class, this
season represents the final opportunity to make the
Tournament. But no matter how this year turns out, one
thing's for certain - it's been a wild ride for Tommy
Amaker's first group of recruits.
Scandal and sanctions
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when
Michigan was the place to be for aspiring hardwood
stars. From the 1989 championship team, to the Fab
Five, to Robert "Tractor" Traylor's squads, Crisler
Arena was a breeding ground for first-round NBA tal-
ent. But with success came scandal, and the excesses of
the previous decade came home to roost during the late
'90s and early years of the new millennium. Through a
series of investigations and indictments, it became pub-
lic knowledge that Michigan booster Ed Martin had
given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Michigan
basketball stars during the 1990s, a clear violation of
NCAA rules. By the early years of the next decade, the
scandal took on a life of its own, revealing a tangled
web of NCAA violations that would bring the Michi-
gan basketball program to its knees.
By the 2002 recruiting cycle, it was abundantly
clear that some form of sanctions were on their way.
The specter of impending sanctions may have caused
some potential recruits to shy away from the M
basketball program. But for a select few, it w
potential challenge to overcome.
"When I first came in, I knew there was
be some kind of probation or sanctions or som
Brown said. "But I didn't know exactly how lo
On Nov. 7, 2002, prior to the tipoff of th
03 season, Michigan went public, announci
imposed sanctions. The inevitable had finally o
So the Wolverines took down their champions
ners, wiped 113 wins off the books, deleted
names from Michigan lore and banned the
from postseason play for one year. The drei
potential NCAA Tournament bid in their first y
dead, but Michigan's young freshmen took t
"The sanctions and stuff never really
bothered us," Abram said. "It bothered
people on the outside, but it never really
bothered us. We never talked about it as
a team really. We just went out there and
played basketball. That's all we could do.
We just let our play on the floor just take
care of everything."
On the court, Michigan's young fresh-
men had a different kind of legacy to
overcome. In Ellerbe's final three seasons
and Amaker's first year, the Wolverines
amassed a horrendous 20-44 Big Ten
record, Michigan's worst four-season
stretch since 1959-63. The Wolverines'
newest freshmen, therefore, wouldn't just
be responsible for reviving Michigan bas-
ketball's good name. They also would be
expected to play a major role in returning
the Wolverines' once-illustrious basketball
program to national prominence.
The roller coaster begins
Given the circumstances coming into the
season, none of Michigan's incoming recruits e
an easy four years of college basketball.
"We knew it was going to be a challenge co
when we all decided to come here," Horton sa
it's been everything we've expected - good a
The beginning certainly wasn't easy. With
Abram and Horton immediately inserted into t
ing lineup, Michigan dropped all three of its g
the U.S. Virgin Islands' Paradise Jam tournam
inexperienced Wolverines then lost their ne
games and seemed to be staring at yet anothe
But even without the carrot of postseas
dangling in front of them, the group displ
soon-to-be-trademark resilience. Horton's
performance against Bowling Green sparked a 1
winning streak, which featured major contr
from the freshmen. The revitalizing run cuh
with Michigan's 60-58 victory over Michigan
Crisler Arena - which, to this day, is the last'
Michigan Wolverines topped their in-state archrivals.
as just a When it was all said and done, Michigan finished
with a 17-13 record, including an impressive 10-6
going to Big Ten total - good enough to secure a third-place
iething," conference finish. And after digging themselves out
>ng." of such a deep early-season hole, the Michigan fresh-
e 2002- men learned one of many lessons about dealing with
ng self- adversity.
ccurred. "We knew coming in here that we had to build this
hip ban- program," Ba said. "We have been successful at some
multiple times, and other times we have faced adversity. But we
:mselves just never gave up. We just keep fighting every time."
am of a While Michigan took care of business on the court,
year was it had no control over the tumultuous off-court events
he news that would once again grip the program. In February
2003, Martin died of a heart attack, closing one chapter
I'm very proud to have the
chance to walk this walk
with those guys. We came in.
We came on board here together. We
talked about it from day one that
they were going to be the founda-
tion of the program for the future.
We brought in a class we thought
of solid talent - and great charac-
ter- and we still feel that way."
- Coach Tommy A maker
of the Michigan booster scandal. But another would
soon unfold. On May 8, the NCAA announced addi-
tional sanctions, including another season-long ban on
2002-03 postseason play. Once again, it appeared the Wolver-
xpected ines' season would have to end in the Big Ten Tourna-
ming in Suddenly, against all odds, Michigan's hopes were
id. "And revived. Just before to the 2003-04 season, the NCAA's
nd bad." infraction appeals committee reversed Michigan's
Hunter, postseason ban. After the outstanding finish to the pre-
he start- vious season, the Wolverines could realistically dream
ames in of March Madness glory.
xt three Peaks and Valleys
r miser- But a trip to the Big Dance wasn't in the cards.
Michigan flirted with the NCAA Tournament bubble
on play all season, entering Selection Sunday with an 18-11
ayed its record. And when Greg Gumbel and the CBS crew
26-point announced the bracket pairings, Michigan's name
3-game wasn't included - just like every season since 1998.
ibutions "(Making the NCAA Tournament is) something
minated you've always been looking forward to doing," Brown
State at said. "Trying to get there every season, we fight as hard
time the as we can, but we always fall a little short."
So, instead of booking tickets for the greatest tour-
nament in American sports, the Wolverines grudgingly
accepted a bid to the National Invitational Tournament.
The disappointment of missing out on the Big Dance
was palpable, but Amaker's squad again proved its
ability to stare down adversity and bounce back. Five
wins later, the Wolverines were cutting down the nets
at Madison Square Garden, riding Horton's MVP per-
formance to an NIT Championship.
The next year, Michigan returned every key player
with the exception of outgoing senior Bernard Robin-
son, Jr. Expectations were high in Ann Arbor - with
another year of experience under their belts, most
observers felt it had to be the Wolverines' season.
Fate had other plans. A combination of injuries
and off-the-court woes plagued the team, and only
three Michigan players - Sims,
Ron Coleman and Dion Harris
- played in every game. With
Brown, Abram and Hunter bat-
tling injuries, and Horton suspend-
ed due to legal troubles stemming
from a domestic dispute, Amaker
was forced to play walk-ons in
key situations throughout the lat-
ter half of the season. The depth
simply didn't exist, and Michigan
dropped 13 of its last 14 games,
while limping home with a dismal
4-12 Big Ten record.
"I never expected an NIT
Championship, but I never,
expected last year, as it would be,"
Brown said. "But we're just trying
to do whatever we can to build on
what we learned last year - and
the experience we learned from our sophomore year
From any perspective, Michigan's 2004-05 season
represented an enormous step backward. In what was
supposed to be a crowning season for the revamped.
Michigan basketball program, the team not only suf-
fered through an awful year on the court but also once
again found itself dealing with difficulties off it.
Despite last year's troubling results, the seniors are
the definition of cool. They've been through the fire
"We've had a lot to go through," Harrell said.
"We've had a lot of successes, a lot of failures, a lot of
downfalls. And really you have to accept it all in good
spirits because if you don't, you can't get past them.
If you're still thinking about something that happened
two or three years ago, you're not going to go any-
where. So we've learned from them, we've dealt with
them - that's what makes us a better team."
Cementing a legacy
For Horton, Hunter, Brown and Harrell, this year is
the final opportunity to fulfill a dream that's been a
long time coming. Abram and Ba each have an extra
year of eligil
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"Prosperity is a great teacher; adversity a greater." - William Hazlitt, 19th Century Literary Critic
After a bumpy ride in Ann Arbor, Michigan's 2002 recruits have visions of the Big Dance.
By Matt Singer I Daily Sports Editor
Photos by Jason Cooper, Rodrigo Gaya, Tommaso Gomez and Ryan Weiner
"We've had a lot to
go through. We've
had a lot of success-
es, a lot of failures, a
lot of downfalls. And
really, you have to
accept It all In good
spirits because, if
you don't, you can't
get past them."
Cedar Hill, Texas
"The last couple years,
we had the chance to
be a very good team. I
think we've been very
good, but we were
still growing. It was a
leaming process. This
is the last chance for
this group of guys to
be able to accomplish
some of the things
we've been wanting to
"I think we need to
set the tone for the
program. I think we
kind of showed every-
body that Michigan's
back on the map.a
Michigan's gonna go
out there and fight
as hard as they can
every game and put
their heart on the line
On the opportunity to
make the NCAA Tour-
nament: "That would
be good - that would
have been good every
year I've been here.
But I think this Is the
year we'll get that
team Is just too good
not to make it to the
"I think the chemis-
try is great. Even with
the incoming fresh-
men, they already
seem like part of the
family. I know guys
have worked hard, I
know about eight or
nine guys stayed up
the whole summer,
didn't go home, lifted
every day and ran a