Guest blog: Author of forthcoming book on Michigan Basketball on the team’s journey to the Final Four and awaiting the final chapter

by Emily on April 4, 2013

Sports writer Mike Rosenbaum is the author of the forthcoming book Restoring the Tradition: Michigan Basketball’s Journey from Cazzie Russell to Trey Burke, which will be published by the University of Michigan Press in Fall 2013.

On Jan. 17, 2009, Glen Rice, Rumeal Robinson, and most of their Michigan basketball teammates returned to Ann Arbor for a reunion. The group had won U-M’s first NCAA basketball championship 20 years earlier, in Seattle, to literally become “the champions of the west.” In their day Michigan was expected to compete for Big Ten and NCAA championships every year. But when they walked onto Crisler Arena’s floor 20 years later, Michigan had missed 10 straight NCAA fields, a dry spell that hadn’t occurred at U-M since the 1950s and ‘60s, before Cazzie Russell’s first team made a run to the Final Four in 1964. But few, if any, in the sellout crowd were thinking about a Final Four run in 2009, let alone another national title. Instead, U-M fans were simply hoping, praying, begging the basketball gods that this was the year the Wolverines would finally return to the NCAA tournament.

Michigan fans got their wish in 2009. Second-year coach John Beilein, sharp-shooting freshmen Zack Novak and Stu Douglass and the rest of the squad made the tournament as a 10th seed, and even won an NCAA game. There’ve been a few bumps in the road since, but Michigan’s program has basically advanced upward in the past four years, tying for the Big Ten title in 2012 and now reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1993, when the Fab Five were sophomores.

You can divide this basketball season into three sections. U-M began the year by winning 20 of its first 21 games and climbing to No. 1 in the national polls. The program’s best-ever start was thrilling, but the young team, with five true freshmen all playing key minutes, had no chance to learn the lessons that sometimes only losing can teach. Lesson time, Big Ten style, then began, as Michigan split its next 12 games and entered the NCAA tournament as a fourth seed.

With a chance to catch its collective breath before meeting South Dakota State in the NCAA opener, the lessons forged in defeat seemed to sink in. Four victories later, the Wolverines hope to fulfill the team’s pre-season goal – which they boldly speak aloud at the end of every practice – of becoming the national champion.

Michigan’s four-year rise following the 1989 reunion has coincided with my own four-year project, writing a book chronicling U-M’s basketball history from 1960 to the present. The book, Restoring the Tradition: Michigan Basketball’s Journey from Cazzie Russell to Trey Burke, will be published this year and will include this season, so it’s been interesting to watch the project’s final chapter being written before my eyes.

Despite its talent, this team’s most appealing characteristic may be its cohesiveness. Veterans Matt Vogrich and Jordan Morgan lost playing time to freshmen with no visible resentment. Players such as Josh Bartelstein and Corey Person, with no hope of seeing significant minutes, are among the team’s key leaders. The spotlight will shine on Burke and his fellow starters when the Wolverines tip off against Syracuse this Saturday. But if Michigan prevails and earns a national title, all 15 players on the roster will contribute in some way, on or off the court.

 

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