Thursday, November 11, 2010
I have been thinking of the rut that Michigan basketball has been in since the Ed Martin scandal exploded. The program obviously hasn't been the same since. It just wasn't the Martin scandal that kept it down. There's been the ascension of Michigan State as the top dog here in Michigan and state players going elsewhere.
I hate to make a story of this, but I will anyway. It all began in February of 1996 when thr infamous rollover accident happened. That opened Pandora's box. Nothing initially came of it, until Robert Traylor was spotted rolling in a tricked out Suburban. That's when the NCAA started sniffing around, which eventually led a trail to Ed Martin. A figure that had been around the program since the 80s. They tied him to coach Steve Fisher and Fisher was canned by Athletic Director Tom Goss shortly after.
In my eyes, as far as basketball waas concerned Goss was the worse thing that happened to the basketball program. Brian Ellerbe was named interim coach and won the first Big Ten Tournament title. With Fisher's players. That earned him the head coaching gig and to me he was in over his head. I hate to be blunt or put anyone down, but Ellerbe had no business being there. Right around that same time Goss came out and said he wanted Michigan to "be the Duke of the north". That was a stretch. That also meant he was turning his back on the lifeblood of Michigan hoops. Detroit and inner city players that the Wolverines were always in on. Two points right there that set the program back. Meanwhile, a lot of those same players that used to consider Michigan headed to East Lansing to play for Michigan State and other schools around the nation.
Right when it seemed everything was about to get back on track it went south again. Ellerbe did bring in a solid recruiting class that featured guards Kevin Gaines and Jamal Crawford and Michigan Mr. Basketball runner-up LaVell Blanchard. This was supposed to get the train rolling again. I remember a game where they gave a Duke team that featured Jay Williams, and I believe Shane Battier among others, all they could handle before falling 102-97. Crawford put on a show for about 27 points and the Wolverines looked to be in good hands. They started 12-3, then the walls caved in on them. Crawford's past with a close family friend was scrutinized and he was essentially suspended for the rest of the season. Fresh off the Martin scandal, Michigan felt they had to do it to avoid the NCAA's mighty hammer. After Ellerbe brought in supposedly talented players (Josh Moore, Avery Queen) and the losses mounted. Soon enough Ellerbe was shown the door.
The Tommy Amaker era started much like the Ellerbe era ended. In year two there was some promise and they finished 17-13. They might have made the NCAA's or the NIT, but they were on probation. Amaker was a good recruiter and brought in some quality players. But it was two recruiting misses that pretty much doomed him. Joe Crawford and Al Horford. These two would've joined Ron Coleman, instead it turned out to be a one man class (Coleman). A lot of people forget this. Horford and Crawford both verbally committed to Michigan. Coleman and Crawford played AAU together and talked about playing college ball together. Crawford and Horford would've greatly helped this team. Instead they both bailed on the Wolverines and joined Kentucky and Florida instead. Considering how Horford's career turned out, you have to think what might have been. About three years later and more NIT appearances than they would've liked Amaker was shown the door.
I have hope for John Beilein, but last year was a major disappointment. Recruiting will be key in the next few years if Michigan ever wants to regain their status as a player on the basketball scene. If he can't get things rolling in Ann Arbor, he might be gone sooner than anyone expects.