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TIPOFF '06

- ~-

TIPOFF '06

6B - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Wednesday, November 8, 2006 - 3B

Fifth-
By Mark Giannotto ( Daily Sports Writer

A quick look around the Big Ten

By Daniel Levy | Daily Sports Writer

1

lash back to April 1, 2004. over Minnesota, Michigan had an impressive
You will see a sophomore cutting 14-3 record. The team then stumbled to a 5-7
down the nets at Madison Square Gar- mark to close the regular season and missed
den following an impressive 62-55 Michigan the NCAA Tournament for the eighth con-
victory over Rutgers to win the National Invi- secutive year.
tation Tournament. Over two years, that's a 17-3 record with
And this wasn't just your ordinary sopho- Abram, and a 15-25 record without him.
more. On a team filled with young talent, this The silver lining in all of this is that Abram
6-foot-6 wing averaged more than 13 points a is back for his fifth go-around with Michigan.
game, tops on the team. After that season-ending surgery in 2005, he
This was a player who was on the fast applied for, and was granted, a medical red-
track to stardom. Later that offseason, he was shirt. Which brings us back to last Friday,
named a tri-captain for a 2004-05 Michigan when the old Abram began a familiar journey.
squad that was expected to do big things. He is once again the captain of a Michigan
But thehighofthatNIT Championshipjust teamfresh off an NIT finals appearance, long-
made the fall back to reality hurt that much ing to be a part of the Big Dance.
more. Little did Lester Abram know, the next
two years would be the most difficult in his He can still'bring it', but for how long?
basketball career. Although he's a fifth-year senior on ateam
with seven freshmen, Abram said he doesn't
Atleasthelooked good onthe sidelines feel out of place. The other seniors - guard
Last Friday night in Michigan's open- Dion Harris, forward Brent Petway and center
ing exhibition game against Wayne State, it Courtney Sims - have been along for all the
looked like the Abram of old was back. He ups and downs, too. And with his continued
sunk threes with ease, took it to the hole with pursuit of a degree, Abram doesn't regret his
authority and established himself as one of decision to return for the 2006-07 campaign.
the premier scorers on this year's Wolverine "A lot of my friends who graduated always
squad. But when you think about it, the old tell me they wish they were still in school,"
Abram never really left. His body just didn't Abram said. "I'm like, 'School is fun to me.'
let him play basketball. I'd rather be in school playing basketball than
Entering the 2004-05 season, Abram was working right now."
supposed to be a key cog alongsidethen-junior Butjustcplaying basketball has been an issue
Daniel Horton, in the effort to lead Michi- given the amount of games he has missed the
gan back to the promised land of the NCAA past two seasons. And it was obviously a con-
Tournament. He started the first two contests cern for Amaker, because he surprised many
of the season, but would play just one more when he put Abram on the Big Ten Foreign
game the rest of the year. Following Abram's Tour Team that played games in Australia
brief appearance against Notre Dame four this summer. Ordinarily, the roster for such
games later, Michigan coach Tommy Amak- tours are comprised of younger players look-
er announced that the junior would need to ingto gain more experience.
undergo season-ending shoulder surgery. The coaching staff was worried that Abram
With Abram in the lineup that season, the lost some of the explosiveness he had prior to
Wolverines went 3-0. Without him, they went the ankle injury. It is his ability to slash into
10-18. the lane that injured his ankle in the first
After toiling away at rehab for months on place. But Abram eased some of those con-
end,itlooked like nothinghad changed -well, cerns with a strong showing, leading the Big
except his jersey number. Through 16 games Ten team in scoring.
as a tri-captain in 2005-06, he was averaging "In (Australia), I thought Lester was the
12 points, more than three rebounds per game Lester of old; fearless and attacking," Amaker
and shooting more than 45 percent from 3- said. "He showed no signs of being shy about
point range. He also got to wear his old No. the injuries that he's had the last two years. I
32 jersey, which he donned during his days at was very pleased with his production."
Pontiac Northern High School. It looked like Abram's performance in Australia, com-
a new beginning for Abram. His body was let- bined with his offseason workouts, convinced
ting him do what he does best: play ball. Amaker to appoint Abram as the sole captain
Butthenthere wasthe Jan.21 game against of this year's squad. Originally, Harris and
Minnesota. Abram knifed into the lane, made Petway were to be tri-captains as well.
a spectacular layup and drew a foul in the But don't expect Abram to change just
process. The ecstasy of the basket was short- because he's the only official leader. Just like
lived, as Abram lay on the floor, grasping his in his previous two stints as captain, he plans
ankle in pain. to lead by example on and off the court, leav-
And from there, frustration began to set in. ing the vocal stuff to others.
"I just wanted to go play ball, instead of "Lester is just a guy who everyone can look
... watching my teammates," Abram said. "I to," Petway said. "You can't really question
didn't want to be dressed in warm-ups and whether Lester is going to bring it, because he
street clothes looking good on the sidelines always does. You always know that Lester is
anymore." going to do what he has to do. ... If Lester is
Abram made two more brief appearances doing it I have to do it too. I'm going to step
the rest of the season, but he was never the up like Lester is stepping up. He's a real quiet
same. And neither wasshis team.With that win guy, but when you look at him performing,

he's always bringing it."
Abram is adamant that these two injury-
plagued seasons haven't changed his game.
But unlike the past two seasons, in which
Abram could always look to Horton to pick up
the scoring burden on the occasional off night,
it will now fall upon his surgically repaired
shoulders. Devastating injuries change one's
perspective.
"I think there's a hunger there for Lester,
and it should be," Amaker said. "(You have)
been out of doing something for two years
that yotireally love and you get
a chance to get back at it and
you have a senior year at
it, I'm sure there is a pur-
pose and a hunger about
that kid. ... He's been out
of the equation for a while
for us and it's nice to be
able, right now, to have
him back in there."
Every day Abram
takes the court, his
presence serves
as a reminder
of the potential
Amaker's vaunted
first recruiting
class had - and
because of Abram,'
still has. Horton and.
former forwards Gra-
ham Brown and Chris
Hunter came and went
without an NCAA Tour-
nament appearance. Now,
Abram has one last shot at
redemption for a class that has
taken its fair share of ridicule
over two disappointing seasons.
"I would like to have made (the
NCAA Tournament) while
they were here, but unfor-
tunately, we didn't make
it," Abram said. "It's
time to move on, and
I feel like we have a
real good chance
with the team we
have here now. It's
up to us to focus
every day and come
to practice, working
hard everyday."
Moving on from
injuries isn't just
about healing physi-
cally. Sometimes inju-
ries canhaveunforeseen
mental effects on a play-
er's game. And with the
slashing, physical style that
characterizes Abram's game,
there is a concern from outsid-
ers that he won't be the same
player he was before theinju-
ries. How will the Abram of
old deal with these new

mental challenges ahead? Well, the Abram of
old doesn't worry about stuff like that.
"You can't have fears playing basketball,"
Abram said. "You can't be scared. I just try to
go out there and play and whatever happens,
happens."
No one at Michigan is sure if Abram will
last a full season. He hasn't done it in two sea-
sons. No longer a naive sophomore, this griz-
zled veteran is ready to put the past two years
behind him and let his play do the talking.
one thing is for sure: The old Lester can't
flourish if he can't play.
"I wish I was made out of titanium, so I
couldn't break," Abram said. "It would be
impossible for me to get injured. But I'm only
human. Sometimes things happen, and it's
up to you to overcome them."

Bo Ryan's squads have usually
enjoyed the luxury of sneaking up
on teams, but this year the Bad-
gers will be taking everyone's best
shots. Wisconsin joins Ohio State
as the only Big Ten teams ranked
in the preseason polls (N. 9 in
both). With last season's Big Ten
Player of the Year Alando Tucker
back for his senior season, many
are picking the Badgers to win the
conference.

The question on everyone's mind
is how big of an impact freshman
Greg Oden will make for the Buck-
eyes. The experts have already
given their endorsement, with Ohio
State coming in at No. 4 and No. 7
in the preseason ESPN/USA Today
and AP polls, respectively. But fans
will have to wait until Jan. 2 -
Oden's expected return date after
undergoing offseason surgery on
his wrist - to get some answers.

3

The loss of Dee Brown and James
Augustine means the Fighting Illini
need to find new leadership, a new
primaryballhandler and anewgo-to
guy down the stretch. Chester Tay-
lor, Jamar Smith and Rich McBride
will have to run the offense, but
Illinois' success depends on Shaun
Pruitt down low. His activity should
force defenses to collapse, leaving
shooters like McBride and Smith
open to do damage.
Keep an eye out for how much
of an impact Indiana coach Kelvin
Sampson has on the attitude of this
team in his first year at head coach.
Seniors Roderick Wilmont and Earl
Calloway will pester opponents on
both ends of the floor, but the Hoo-
siers' success ultimately rests with
the health of their big man, D.J.
White, who played in just five games
last season due to a foot injury.

2006-07 Michigan Basketball Schedule
Date Opponent Time Date Opponent Time
11/10 C. ConnecticutSt. 8pm 2/6 Ohio State 7pm
11/11 Davidson 4 pm 2/10 Minnesota 8 pm
11/12 Eastern Michigan 4 pm 2/13 Michigan State 9 pm
11/15 UW-Milwaukee 7 pm 2/17 Indiana 4 pm
11/17 Harvard 7 pm 2/21 Illinois 8 pm
11/22 Youngstown St. 7 pm 2/24 Minnesota 1:32 pm
11/25 Maryland-Baltimore 7 pm 2/27-28 Michigan State TBA
County
11/27 N.C. State 7 pm 3/3 Ohio State TBA
12/7 Miami (Ohio) 9 pm Postseason
12/9 Delaware State 2 pm Big Ten Tournament
12/16 Northern Illinois 2 pm 3/8 First Round
12/23 UCLA 11 am 3/9 Quarterfinal TBA
12/28 Army 8 pm 3/10 Semifinal TBA
12/30 Georgetown 12pm 3/11 Championship 2:30 pm
1/3 Illinois 8 pm NCAA Tournament
1/6 Northwestern 1:32 pm 3/13 Play-In Game TBA
1/13 Purdue 8 pm 3/15-17 First/Second rounds TBA
1/17 Penn State 8 pm 3/16-18 First/Second rounds TBA

1/20

Purdue

12 pm 3/22-24

1/24 Wisconsin 8 pm 3/23-25

So
Ea

outh/West Reg. TBA
st/Midwest Reg. TBA
nal Four TBA
atI Championship TBA

1/27 Indiana
1/31 Iowa

12 pm 3/31 Fin
8 pm 4/2 Nu
Home games in bold

5 6

ly
e

The Spartans lost the most talent
in the conference (Maurice Ager,
Shannon Brown and Paul Davis
were all selected in last summer's
NBA draft). Subsequently, Michigan
State enters this season and looking
up at the conference's top teams.
The Spartans will depend on Drew
Neitzel to run their offense while
they tryto find their identity.

Purdue finished last in the Big
Ten last season (3-13) thanks to a
slew of injuries - seniors David
Teague and Carl Landry both tore
ACLs. Now the Boilermakers are
healthy and looking to make a move
in the Big Ten. Purdue returns 10
players from last year and will lean
on Teague and Landry as they try to
erase all memories of last season.

Penn State returns four of its five
starters from last season, led by
Jamelle Cornley and Geary Clax-
ton. That experience has made the
Nittany Lions the trendy pick to be
this year's sleeper in the Big Ten.
But Penn State coach Ed DeChellis
might find it's much tougher to beat
teams when they don't overlook the
Nittany Lions anymore.

84.9 10

RODRIGO GAYA/Daily

Iowa is young this year with eight
freshman and sophomores on its
roster. That makes the play of senior
Adam Haluska even more impor-
tant. The Hawkeyes will need him
to show the youngsters the ropes
through the tough Big Ten season.

Northwestern has never received
a NCAA Tournament bid. This year
won't be its first. The Wildcats lost
Vedran Vukusic (last season's Big
Ten scoring leader) and Mohamed
Hachad (Northwestern's second
scoring option) to graduation.

Minnesota coach Dan Munson
denied reports of his pending res-
ignation last season, and this year
could be worse. The Gophers lost
their do-everythingslasherVincent
Grier, who graduated, leaving a big
void on an alreadvweak team.

Drew Neitzel keys Michigan State's attack in a wide-open Big Ten race.

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