The State of the Program (Part Three)

Tommy Amaker

In first two parts of our feature examining the Michigan Basketball program, we took a look why it fell short of expectations. In the final installment in the series, we analyze where the program goes from here.

Where does the program go from here?

It's no secret that that the Michigan Athletic Department has to be willing to loosen the purse strings not only to secure its next coach, but also to provide that coach the tools to do what Tommy Amaker could not… make Michigan basketball elite again.

In a perfect world the administration would hire the best coach available and prepare to break ground on a practice facility (and other structural upgrades) in the very near future. While it now appears that Michigan is indeed willing to spend more money on a coaching hire than many previously expected (present company included), it has been made abundantly clear that a practice facility won't be erected in Ann Arbor anytime soon.

While that is clearly a hindrance, it doesn't have to derail the program from reaching its goals.  The key is not to let the discussion stop at "you can't have"… because the big time programs do have.  When it comes to a practice facility, the next stage in talks (aside from fundraising) should be determining what short term stop-gaps there are that could mimic some of the functionality of a practice gym.  (Let me reiterate… SHORT-TERM STOP GAPS).  Is anyone working to that end? 

At other schools players have 24/7 access to their practice gyms. Crisler Arena is locked in the evenings.  As everyone that has been to college knows, students have unconventional hours.  A player may want to get into the gym at 3 AM (which at certain points of the year the only part of their free time in which there is no conflict).  Most players came up in high school doing that very thing…getting in the gym at four or five in the morning to work on their games before school.  There is some recourse for players looking to do the same in Ann Arbor.  They can call one of the student manager's or one of Crisler's facilities workers and ask to them to come to campus and sit there until the workout is over.

So here you've got a student manager or a facilities worker that has already turned in a full day and may need to sleep or study, wondering "when are we out of here?"  After a while, kids don't want to call to inconvenience people any more.  They just stop going as much.

There are, of course, the campus rec buildings that open as early as 6 AM and close as late as 2 AM a few days out of the week.  The problem there is the building is for all students... not just athletes.  Players can't commandeer those courts nor do they have there practice tools at their disposal… and again, the hours are limited.

Can players get around all of those obstacles and get their time in?  Sure.  Some have formed the kind of relationships that made them comfortable with inconveniencing managers and facilities workers in the wee hours of the morning.  Daniel Horton and Jamal Crawford come immediately to mind.  Furthermore, as Horton has pointed out in the past, there have been players that didn't always take advantage of gym time when it was available.  Neither, however, makes the current state of affairs okay.

The wrong environment is being cultivated…one that discourages the kind of extra work that players have to put in to maximize their potential.  There are players that come in with reputations as gym rats.  As time progresses they go in on their own less and less.  Many fans will use that to indict the kid's commitment.  The fact of the matter is a big time program does not operate that way.  A big time program does not make it a task for its players to do something as rudimentary as getting into the gym when they want to.

What could some temporary alternatives to a practice facility be?  How about providing the players with key fobs or swipe cards that can get them into Crisler or one of the rec facilities after hours?  If safety is an issue, hire a person whose job it is to be on call to get into the gym whenever the players want to get in.  Or how about setting aside time on the rec courts during regular hours for the players?  Come up with some sort of solution that mimics part of the functionality and usefulness of a practice facility until you can afford to build one.

With strength and conditioning, if a coach is not going to be allowed to hire his own guy, allow him to bring in a consultant to assess the current program.  There's an expert right here in our own state.  The Pistons Arnie Kander is arguably the NBA's top trainer.  Not only did he get Rasheed Wallace over his plantar fasciitis during the course of a single postseason (the same injury Dion Harris dealt with for over a year), he set an NBA record last year when the Pistons' starting line up played 73 consecutive regular season games in an 82 game schedule

According to a My 25, 2006 New York Times Article...

Since Feb. 19, 2004, when the Pistons acquired Rasheed Wallace, their top five have started 161 regular-season games and 61 playoff games.

No Pistons starter missed more than four straight games during that span.

All five Pistons starters ranked in the top 26 in the league in games started since 2003, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. (No other N.B.A. team has more than two players in the top 26.)

Those are just mere suggestions without any idea of how practical they are.  The point is, there are ways commitment can be shown without cutting a big check.  We're told that there is no money in place for the big ticket upgrades that are needed.  Fine.  How about some cheaper alternatives in the interim?  Does simply changing the coach automatically rectify issues like these?  Will a new coach not have to deal with those same obstacles if there is not a fundamental change in commitment level in Ann Arbor?

A top program is a collaborative effort and Michigan is now at a crossroads.  It could go from being an also-ran to being elite depending how the administration proceeds in the coming weeks and months.  The hire of the new coach could be the first step toward the home run fans are looking for.  Imagine a better coach/recruiter, with a talented staff at his side, with a committed administration behind him.  It Michigan doesn't take a passive approach to the program AFTER it hires a coach, Wolverine fans will soon be looking upon the powerhouse again.  One truly deserving of the description "Leaders and Best."  If it maintains the attitude that allowed its basketball program to go stale, it stands a good chance of seeing it stay that way.

Stay tuned to GoBlueWolverine for latest on coaching candidates.

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