April 16, 2014

Borton's Blog: Banner-laden bye-bye

Now that Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III have confirmed they won't hit the big three (years) for Michigan, questions swirl about the future. Where will they be drafted? What will Michigan do to recover?

And so on. But a day removed from the biggest blow to Michigan basketball since Aaron Harrison took dead aim, a quick glance back seems more than worthwhile.

After all, the future's going to take care of itself soon enough. Stauskas and Robinson can dream of bright lights, dollar signs, and the over-the-rainbow journey they've been wistfully pondering since someone first placed a Nerf ball in their hands (or in Stauskas' case, a hockey puck that he promptly deflected).

Michigan will survive, and thrive, like it has shown the heartening capacity to do under John Beilein. While Beilein is genuinely thrilled for Stauskas and Robinson, when pressed about his own squad going forward, Beilein sounded like a mechanic sizing up the ride he just put on the lift.

"It's about, all right, who have we got? Let's go," Beilein said. "And I'm excited."

And he should be. If the last three years have demonstrated anything about the match made in heaven between Michigan's name and resources and Beilein's basketball genius, it's that disappointments are quickly overcome.

The departure of Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims meant the Wolverines were about to slip into oblivion, relying on "a couple of guys they found at the local YMCA," like Zack Novak loved to joke. Instead, they came up two points shy of a Sweet 16, behind point guard Darius Morris.

When Morris bolted, they were relying on Novak, Stu Douglass and a rookie point guard out of Columbus, whom everybody hoped to heck was underrated. Turns out, Trey Burke was good enough - in Beilein's system - to team with the seniors for a Big Ten championship, then lead a freshman-laden crew to the Final Four.

When Burke and the practically prehistoric Tim Hardaway, Jr. bolted after getting within a half of a national championship, it was really over. Fun ride while it lasted. But without the consensus national Player of the Year, Michigan would regress like John Candy climbing a mud-slicked mountain.

Only that didn't happen, either.

Stauskas, Robinson, and a cast of characters increasingly immersed in the new Michigan basketball culture came within a bounce of the ball of another Final Four. Stauskas went from disappointment in his play to end the 2013 tournament to hotter than Canadian bacon fresh off the skillet in 2014.

Robinson's path wasn't as seamless as that of Michigan's second straight Big Ten Player of the Year, but when it counted, so did he. The sophomore did enough to get the green light from the NBA advisory board, and plenty of additional green from a prospective employer.

Here's just a part of what Michigan fans will remember …

  • Stauskas and the swagger, the three-glasses, the I'm-going-to-keep-dropping-them, get-used-to-it strut back downcourt that probably pushed the limits of Beilein's decorum dictates. "Oh Canada" hasn't sounded as good in these parts since Steve Yzerman was gathering Stanley Cups like they were a collectables set at Arby's.

  • Robinson's high-flying leap to snag a rainbow pass at Purdue, one that appeared headed for the business end of a sideline megaphone. Robinson snagged it, leaned in and banked in a buzzer-beater to stun Purdue after a comeback from 19 down on the road, with the Big Ten championship still very much in doubt.

  • Stauskas' increasing ability to do more than bomb teams into submission. His drives and dunks spiced up games when opponents started infringing on the Canadian border.

  • Robinson's higher-flying slams, when it appeared as if he were looking down on the rim at rattlin' time. For long-timers in Crisler Center, those felt like a throwback to an era when some notable Wolverines were taking on the sophomore's dad.

  • Stauskas' six three-pointers against Florida on the road to the Final Four. The freshman himself running back upcourt, having made a million of them in his lifetime, but giving it the wide-eyed look that shouted: "This is pretty cool."

  • Robinson putting the dagger three-pointer into his home-state Hoosiers, when it came time to salt away a Senior Day (soon to be as anachronistic as rotary dial phones at Crisler?). One year after the home heartbreak versus Indiana, Robinson made sure it wouldn't happen again.

    And so on … and on … and on. Michigan fans will fill in the bullet points for years to come, just like those two and many others filled a smiles void at Crisler.

    Two seasons, featuring 59 victories, the most of any such stretch for any two Michigan basketball teams, ever. The Final Four. The Elite Eight. The outright Big Ten championship.

    For those who still think a couple of college kids still owe them more, give a listen. Stauskas has carried this dream far longer than his breakout collegiate season.

    "It was the first time I picked up a basketball, when I was about seven years old," he admitted. "The first time I really played an organized game. I said I wanted to be an NBA player.

    "From that day on, I pretty much committed myself to doing whatever it took to get to this point. I don't think many Canadian kids had that same dream. I think most were trying to go to the NHL or something like that."

    Robinson also harbored professional aspirations long before loping into Ann Arbor. At the same time, he reflected nothing but appreciation for his present surroundings, every step of the way.

    "To be able to be a part of a winning team like Michigan, having the most wins in two years, is crazy to think about, with all the type of players that have come through Michigan, and the teams," Robinson said. "I'm just blessed to have this opportunity and play on a great team."

    Michigan's coaches, while they certainly wouldn't have turned down another run by the redoubtable Class of 2012, went beyond graciousness to genuine pride.

    "Here are two players that, at the infancy stages of their recruitment, came out of relative obscurity," assistant coach Bacari Alexander offered. "Now, through their sweat equity and hard work, they've ascended to this level, and now they're in position to pursue their dream. That's something that excites us."

    Of course, the thought of a senior Burke, backed in the Michigan lineup by juniors Stauskas, Robinson, Mitch McGary and Caris LeVert, with talents such as Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton, Jr., Spike Albrecht, etc., coming off the bench, tends to cause quivers in Crisler denizens. But it isn't reality.

    Here's what's real: three straight banner-hanging seasons, with more to come. The perimeter corps of LeVert, Irvin and Walton returning, a trio that will rival or surpass any the Big Ten has to offer. The possibility of a McGary return, a move that would instantly vault the Wolverines into position to win the Big Ten again and make a major move in another NCAA Tournament.

    That can't be said elsewhere in the Big Ten, where even a couple of late pick-ups from the South Bronx wouldn't allow for enough muggings to put some into contention.

    No, life will still be good at Crisler. Instead of punching desks, they're punching back in to work.

    "There are a lot of people that have been a big part of this," Beilein said. "There certainly has been some great success in the development of these young men, and our staff having a good eye for talent. But it's these guys really believing in us and believing in the University of Michigan.

    "I would never have believed that would have happened. I believe [U-M basketball sports information contact] Tom Wywrot did some research. We hadn't had anyone drafted in almost a decade until Darius Morris was drafted. Now, to have Darius, and Trey, and Tim, and these two … the future is bright as well."

    So for Beilein, it's best of luck to the newest pros … and taking as much luck out of the equation as possible moving forward.

    ...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!