They'd never played one second of a tournament they'd grown up watching. Michigan's five freshmen reacted to that situation with all the timidity of Africanized honeybees.
Three of them - forwards Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson, III, along with guard Nik Stauskas - started in Michigan's 15-point win over South Dakota State. Caris LeVert came off the bench and provided defense, and the least heralded of them, Spike Albrecht, faced perhaps the most nerve-wracking situation of all.
When Sports Illustrated national Player of the Year Trey Burke crashed forcefully to the hardcourt in the second half and was led away to the locker room, Albrecht got the call. For some, that might be like the maestro dropping the baton and Bugs Bunny picking it up.
Only Albrecht didn't see it that way. And his nerves weren't wracked, or wrecked, or even mildly jostled. He was just playing ball, like his classmates.
"We've got a next-guy-up mentality, and I knew I was going in," Albrecht said. "I got ready and Coach called my number."
Michigan fans might have held their breath over Burke checking out in that situation, but Albrecht didn't. He directed the show for a couple of solid minutes, and the Wolverines remained in good hands.
The freshman never gave it a second thought.
"I'm just out there," Albrecht said. "I'm not thinking about that. We're all out there playing, just trying to win."
Of course, he didn't have to guess when Burke made his return, Albrecht recalled with a grin.
"I heard the crowd roar, so I knew he was back," he said.
And that was that. Obviously, Albrecht's solid handful of minutes didn't represent the headline grabber among the frosh. Robinson tied for game scoring honors with 21 points, putting together a near perfect line - 8-for-9 from the field, 3-for-3 from three-point range, 2-for-2 from the free throw line, six rebounds, one steal.
If there were any nerves in Robinson's Big Dance debut, he hid them pretty well.
"It was a lot of fun," he said. "I can't even describe the experience. I had so much fun out there, especially playing with this group of guys. The people on the bench were up, clapping, cheering. It was just great."
That same group has been urging Robinson to shoot the ball when he's open. Robinson took those words to heart, with huge effect.
"I just play the way I'm meant to play the game," he said. "Execute off of everything, and if I'm open, shoot the ball. Shoot it with confidence. That's something I've been hearing a lot. That's what I did tonight."
"He needs to be more aggressive, because he's a really good player," Albrecht said. "We need him to be aggressive like that."
McGary moved into the starting lineup, and responded with 13 points, nine rebounds, two steals, one block and a boatload of crowd-pleasing energy. The fact that the nation peeked in, on college basketball's largest stage, didn't shake him up much.
"I didn't have any jitters," McGary offered with a shrug. "First game of the NCAA Tournament, I just wanted to go out there and play the same way. It's still the same game of basketball. Try to stay modest with it, and I was having fun out there."
Stauskas exudes confidence as easily as he breathes, and NCAA Tournament game No. 1 proved no different. Stauskas couldn't quite get his bombs-away efforts to drop, going 1-for-4 from three-point range in the game and winding up with eight points, two assists and a steal.
But Stauskas appears to doubt himself about as often as Jalen Rose, so he'll be just fine.
"I can't imagine what it would feel like ending our season on today's game," Stauskas noted, harkening back to Michigan's early exit from the tournament last year. "I can just imagine how much it hurt for them. We all came in with the idea that there was no way our season was ending today.
"It's definitely a cool atmosphere. We had a lot of Michigan fans in the crowd. We all soaked it up and enjoyed it."
The fifth rookie, LeVert, soaked it up as well, while delivering a quiet six minutes, highlighted by defense and an assist. They all know it's just the beginning, but the 71-56 win at The Palace gave them the start they desired.
While it didn't shake them up, the setting definitely got their attention.
"Oh, yeah," Albrecht said of his pre-game peek at the arena. "I'm not going to lie. I was looking around. We had a lot of support. I love our fans, and it was great to see them all there."
They're going to love seeing all the rookies grow together, for as long as they possibly can.
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