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November 12, 2009 - Image 16

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2009-11-12

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I Thursday, November 12, 2009 - Tipoff -The Michigan Daily 5C

t's easy to let your guard
down when talking to John
In many ways, he
doesn't seem like the face
of the revived Michigan
men's basketball program.
The way he learns your name, the
sometimes-crooked smile, the sto-
rytelling ability - it's almost more
paternal than anything. He's at ease,
and he makes those around him feel
comfortable. It's not hard to under-
stand why Beilein, 56, enjoyed teach-
ing high school history classes more
than 30 years ago.
On the court, the lesson plan is
strictly basketball. That's where
Beilein's intensity and Midas Touch
appear. That's where - for four dif-
ferent programs that he has coached
- unexpected runs to the NCAA
Tournament have become realities.
Last season, it was the Wolverines'
turn, when they earned a tournament
bid for the first time in more than a
It's easy to trust Beilein when he
sits you down and tells you he's turn-
ing around a program.
"The first time I talked to (him), I
could hear it in his voice - the con-
fidence of how he was going to turn
this team around," freshman forward
Blake McLimans said.
That confidence - and the comfort
- in Beilein's words is one of the oft-
overlooked parts of his magic.
Andit's ahuge reasonwhyBeilein's
Wolverines are ready to step into the
limelight, stand up to the expecta-
tions and redefine themselves as one
of the nation's top basketball pro-
Everyone's got a different answer
to the same question: When did the
Michigan basketball program really
turn the corner?
The media and nationwide fan-
base went crazy after the Wolverines
upsetNo. 4 UCLA and No.4 Duke last
fall - signature wins that put Michi-
gan in the 2009 NCAA Tournament
But junior guard Manny Harris
said the seeds of the turnaround were
planted in another contest against the
Bruins, one with a different result.
On Dec. 22, 2007, Michigan suffered
a 15-point loss to then-No. 8 UCLA at
home in the midst of a rough first sea-
son under Beilein.
"Even though we lost, that's a
game that kind of had me like, 'This
team is going to be good in a few
years to come,' " Harris said. "That's
one game that people look past, but I
thought we played real well. ... That's
kind of when it all clicked for me."
Harris wasn't alone. Former Fab

Fiver and current Michigan radio
broadcaster Jimmy King also saw
signs of progress scattered through-
out Beilein's first season - one where
the Wolverines finished a program-
worst 10-22.
"I saw it the first year when you
saw injuries, you had transfers,
you had guys getting used to a new
coach," King said. "How he interact-
ed with the team, how he coached the
team, what he was instilling in the
team. Even though it didn't resonate
in wins, I knew that he was going to
build a great program like he has in a
short amount of time."
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, in
his 15th yearat the helm in East Lan-
sing, thinks it was even earlier.
"I'll be honest with you - I saw
it coming when (former Michigan
coach) Tommy Amaker was there,"
Izzo said at last month's Big Ten
Media Day. "John Beilein has done
a great job bringing his system in,
incorporating everything. It has con-
stantly been growing.... I (have seen)
it emerging the last four or five years,
and John has put frosting on the
Izzo pointed to some of the high-
profile recruits that Amaker brought
to Ann Arbor - like Harris and senior
forward DeShawn Sims, whom Izzo
called "two bona fide pros."
"I thought he made some serious
progress, and I think John has elevat-
ed it one more level," Izzo said.
That's the part nobody can deny
- Beilein is a major piece of the puz-
zle of Michigan's re-emergence on
the national stage. And he has done
this sort of thing everywhere he has
Beilein's first Division I coaching
gig was at Canisius College in Buffalo,
N.Y., where he took a team that went
8-22 in his first season to the NCAA
Tournament once and the NIT twice
in his five-year tenure.
He moved to Richmond for anoth-
er five-year stint, leading the small
school to the tournament once and
two NIT appearances, too.
Then came West Virginia, yet
another repeat of the Beilein pattern:
A five-year stretch with two NCAA
Tournament appearances (including
an Elite Eight finish in his third sea-
son) and an NIT championship.
Really, what's going on at Michi-
gan is more of the same - except he's
finding success a little quicker than
"Coach Beilein talks about build-
ingup a program, that's what he loves
to do," said freshman guard Matt
Vogrich, who committed to Michi-
gan before the Wolverines earned
their NCAA Tournamentbid last sea-
son. "In West Virginia, he did it. And
Richmond, he did it. Everywhere he's

been, he did it. So I thought it was
awesome that I listened to him and
I believed in him and I knew that he
could do it, but I didn't know it would
be so quick. So quickly the team
Dealing with hype is a good prob-
lem to have. But for a program that,
for the first time in more than a
decade, is now dealing with expecta-
tions higher than making the NIT, it
can be overwhelming.
Instead of being distracted by
thoughts of where the Wolverines
will be in March, the players have
decided to focus on this week's prac-
tice. And then their first game. And
then the practices after that.
"We can't hang on to last year
much longer," Beilein said. "Hopeful-
ly, we get used to that type of image
that there are high expectations here.
No one has higher expectations than
I do."
Some of those expectations center
around in-conference performance,
and others on a potential seed in the
NCAA Tournament. And for the first
time since the Fab Five in the early
1990s, reaching the tournament is
more than just a reasonable goal. It's
an expectation. There's an excite-

the Wolverines have been ranked ina
preseason poll in 12 years.
When asked about addressing pre-
season rankings during team meet-
ings or at any point before the season,
Beilein was adamant.
"I probably won't say one word
about it," he said. "I'll just say, 'All
right, we just do what we always do
and try to.' If I see them playing like
they think they're better than they
really are, then they'll hear about it. I
don't expect to even address it."
The upperclassman leaders have
addressed the rankings. Well, kind
"They just said to play hard, and
we'll see what happens," said Vog-
rich, the freshman. "Don't look at the
rankings. Don't read about yourself.
Don't read about the team. Don't read
about what everybody else is saying.
All that matters is how we end up at
the end of the year and how the team
plays together and develops."
Before his players started classes
this fall, Beilein sent them a letter. He
couldn't wait to call a team meeting
in person, and he couldn't sit around
and wait through the waning days of
August - the message was too impor-
tant. He didn't want his team to be

"The whole message was about
being focused," Sims said. "Don't let
nothing get us off our initial goal,
which is to become a better team."
And when that goal is something
players can visualize on a daily basis,
it makes it easier to reach. A sampling
of success - but not all of it - can do
that, too.
"We hungry, we definitely hungry,"
Harris said. "By losing that last game,
making it to the tournament, seeing
what it was like, that makes us even
more hungry."
Off-season workouts and body
transformation seem to validate that
claim. Players like Novak and red-
shirt sophomore Laval Lucas-Perry
are thinner than they were last sea-
son, and many players have talked at
length about adding muscle.
"If I worked a little harder, it could
only equal more success and oppor-
tunities for me and my team," Sims
said. "A lot of guys took that mindset
because they're hungry for more."
Beilein phrases it like this: Last
season, the players whetted their
Now, it's time for the main course.
Fans would love to fast-forward to
the Sweet Sixteen, or some part of the
NCAA Tournament. The tournament
is the testing ground where expecta-
tions are met or exceeded.
But for 11 teams, that's not where
they'll define their success this sea-
Welcome to the Big Ten.
How tough is it? Just this week,
ESPN's Andy Katz pegged it as the
nation's top conference.
Michigan was the seventh-place
team in the Big Ten last season and
made the NCAA Tournament. This
year, some Big Ten coaches think
there could be as many as eight or
nine bids to teams in the conference.
From the cornfields of Iowa to the
happy valley of Penn State, the Wol-
verines know their proving ground
- and what they need to achieve to
reach the next level.
"(If) they get a break or two,
they can win the league," Izzo said.
"Where I think you evaluate a pro-
gram is 'Are they contenders?' In Feb-
ruary, do they have a chance to win
the league?"
Izzo said it doesn't necessarily
matter ifa team actually wins a con-
ference title or not.
"You should be evaluated on
whether or not are you in a position,
have you put your team in a position
to be knocking on the door," Izzo said.
"If you're knocking enough, some-
body's going to answer. That's where
I think Michigan is. They've put their

"It doesn't matter who
scores ... they just want to
win. That's what's going to
take them from the middle of
the pack to the front."
- Jimmy King, former Fab Fiver

ment around the team that's hard to
deny. Student season ticket sales sky-
rocketed from 480 last year to 2,537
sold for this season.
"We love that," sophomore guard
Zack Novak said. "It's fun to play in
front of your friends and the kids you
go to school with. If they're excited
about it, that just makes us more
excited about it."
It's not just the fanbase, either. It's
the national media and the country's
top coaches. Michigan came in at No.
15 in both the writers' and coaches'
preseason polls, the first time that

content with last season's surprising
"Last year was last year," Beilein
said, describing the content of the
note. "Now, let's keep hunting wins.
... As long as I'm coaching here, we're
always hunting, no matter who the
opponent is."
That message has already taken
hold of the program in the weeks and
months since the letter was deliv-
The playersbringup the note often,
and they keep the same refrain: be the
hunter, get hungry, stay focused.

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