2B - March 21, 2011
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Underclassmen provide hope for
future at NCAA Championships
By MATT SPELICH
Daily Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA - The
Michigan wrestlingteam - with
the exception of redshirt junior
Kellen Russell - came up short
of its personal expectations this
weekend at the NCAA Champi-
But all eight members of
this very young championship
team came away with much
more than they could have ever
expected - experience on the
national stage to prepare for
what looks to be a promising
Each of the players remarked
that what set this tournament
apart, aside from the high-cali-
ber talent across the board, was
The team competed in front of
the largest crowd of the season.
The Wells Fargo Center was
packed to the brim with rabid
wrestling enthusiasts, streak-
ing the aisles with their school's
S colors all the way up to the nose-
bleed section of the massive
While maize and blue were
greatly underrepresented, it
didn't seem to bother redshirt
freshman Eric Grajales.
"It's really a unique experi-
ence to compete out here," Gra-
jales said. "I've learned that out
here I have to fight through all
adversity, and put any blame on
myself and no one else.
"Sure, I would have loved
to be on the podium, but that's
extremely rare for a freshman
to do. I'm just really excited that
I have three more years, and
hopefully I'll find myself at the
top of the podium every year."
Grajales led the charge for
the underclassmen this week-
end by making it all the way to
the quarterfinals, coming up
just one win short of the All-
Redshirt freshman Eric Grajales gained invaluable experience last weekend at the NCAA Championships.
Redshirt freshman Dan Yates
had a much tougher time with
his competition, losing both his
matches to extremely talented
opponents by two-point mar-
Instead of dwelling on the
loss, Yates is already hard at
work structuring a plan to get
him ready for next season.
"First of all, I need to focus
on getting stronger," Yates said.
"I'm planning to stay around
Ann Arbor this summer to work
with our strength coach. I'm also
going to focus on adding new
styles to my arsenal. I've stuck
to one style for my entire career,
because it always worked for me.
Out here, you need to be ready
for anything and everything.
I need to be one step ahead of
every one of these guys in order
to compete where I want to."
In wrestling, as in most
sports, experience and suc-
cess tend to go hand-in-hand.
National champion Russell, like
Grajales, had a 2-2 NCAA Cham-
pionship his freshman year.
At his final press conference
of the season, Russell echoed the
importance of experience and
"One of the biggest things is
being familiar with where you're
wrestling at," Russell said. "I
thought I had been to big tour-
naments before, but after step-
ping foot on the mat for the first
time my freshman year here, it
was a huge shock to the system
... I would tell (my younger team-
mates) to come and be familiar
with here and be confident in
Michigan coach Joe McFar-
land was extremely proud of his
team this weekend and shares
the high hopes and expectations
for next year.
"One of the biggest things we
tried to concentrate on this sea-
son was making sure our young
guys competed how we wanted
them to compete, and I think we
saw a lot of that this weekend,"
McFarland said. "The cham-
pionship experience has been
really important for these guys.
"It's a great starting point.
Kellen didn't place his freshman
year, and look at how much he
"This experience was key to
that continued success. I'm real-
ly proud of how our young guys
competed overall this year."
The buildup had been
A week after the
release of ESPN's highest-rated
documentary ever, one that put
the Fab Five
as poets and
ies of college
old feuds and
sparking an RYAN
old rivalry, KARTJE
and Stu Douglass and there were
black shoes, black socks.
The symbol seems feeble,
maybe, to someone who hadn't
felt that buildup: The 0-6 stretch
at midseason. The meeting called
by Darius Morris. The close
defeats. Then, the win streaks,
the late-season victories, the
dominant performance in the
first round of The Big Dance.
But the Fab Five represented
something for Michigan basket-
ball that many probably wouldn't
understand. For those of us who
were too youngto remember
them ourselves, they were a myth
- a sign of when Michigan bas-
ketball was named in the same
vein as the Kansases, the Dukes,
or the Kentuckys.
No one will make the mistake
of comparing the two teams.
Webber/Jackson were in their
own class of greatness, cultural
icons if you will. Novak/Doug-
gan seemed like the definition of
But as they walked out of the
tunnel on Sunday afternoon, the
slightest tinge of that Fab Five
swagger - something Michigan
has been searching for since the
Ed Martin Scandal - came onto
the floor in Charlotte.
These guys weren't ragtag at
all. These guys felt like heroes,
They were taking on the Yan-
kees, the Lakers of college bas-
ketball. Not many people will tell
you they root for the Duke Blue
Devils unless they have some ties
to the team or the university. And
they were going to kill the giants
with the swagger from their old
At halftime, I reread Grant
Hill's piece in the New York
Times; awell-written letter that
took a sophisticated and well-
thought-through approach and
handled the situation with class.
It was a publicist's dream of a
Until that last line.
"I am proud of my family. Iam
proud of my Duke championships
and all my Duke teammates. And,
I am proud I never lost a game
against the Fab Five."
Sure, he didn't call the Fab
Five "Uncle Toms" or insult them
like they probably insulted him
on the court duringtheir meet-
ings in the early 1990s. But that
one line was enough to feel the
swagger boilingbackup a little
Juxtaposed with the docu-
mentary, those black shoes, black
socks were a reminder - prob-
ably an unintentional one - that
the Fab Five are more than a
myth. And thatthis loss will
be the last time for a while that
Michigan comes in as the con-
summate, overwhelming under-
And just like the Fab Five,
their run has had its fair share of
heartache. The shoes and socks
couldn't transform this year's
team into a Fabulous copy of
their 1992-93 counterparts. It
wouldn't make Darius Morris'
final teardrop basket roll in.
Watching Chris Webber walk
off the court following his errant
timeout call, you felt the uncen-
sored heartbreak. And watching
Darius Morris collapse on the
court felt very much the same.
But there's something different
this time around.
Morris may not be quite Fabu-
lous yet. Hardaway might not be
either. And who knows if Novak,
Douglass or Morgan will ever be
But they're different. They'll
presumably be back together
next year. All five of them.
And in the brief glimpse we
got at the Fab Five, we were
never able to say that for sure.
We felt the swagger, we saw the
talent, we embraced the villainy.
But it was always fleeting, and
that final timeout against North
Carolina was the end.
Morris' missed jumper is not
And maybe these guys will
never have the pedigree or the
swagger or the iconic status of
the Fab Five. Butsomething is on
the horizon, a new age of Michi-
gan basketball feels like it's about
And it's looking awful fabu-
-Kartje can be reached
If you are weighing your career options, consider
this: U.S. News & World Report places pharmacy on
its 2010 short list of Best Careers
-and ranks the University of
E I Michigan College of Pharmacy
one of the best in the nation.
Junior guard Stu Douglass and the rest of the Michigan men's basketball team
has a bright future ahead of themselves.
J\ - - *AX ~