Friday, November 21, 2008

Welcome Back!

I remember exactly where and when I last cared as much about Michigan basketball as I do right now. It was the morning of October 11, 1997 and my dad and I were on our way to Michigan Stadium to see the 4-0 Michigan football team play Northwestern, a team that had beaten them two years in a row. The pregame show on the radio announced that Steve Fisher had been fired as Men's basketball coach, just a few weeks before practices were to begin, because of the investigation into the activities of one Ed Martin At the time I was furious at the lack of loyalty shown by the University towards the man who had brought them their only national championship, and had brought in the Fab 5. All through the football game, all we talked about was Fisher, Martin, and the basketball team.

Of course, as more info came out, my opinion on Steve Fisher changed. And although I remained a Michigan basketball fan, my interest began to wane on that day. I watched Brian Ellerbee run a talented team into the ground by recruiting deadbeats, projects no one else wanted, and Webster look-a-likes. I cursed the TV when Tom Izzo left his starters in and ran up the score on a hapless Michigan team. I died a little with each late season choke job by Amker's teams, and with each recruiting near-miss. I prayed for years that they would get rid of Ellerbee, waited a few years, and then prayed a few more for them to do the same to Amaker. And little by little, my passion for basketball died. Although I would still watch the games and would check the scores, I never expected much, except to be disappointed if I allowed myself to believe anything positive could happen.

All that changed at about 11:30pm last night when Anthony Wright fed a perfect backdoor pass to a cutting DeShawn Sims who slammed it home emphatically for his seventeenth and eighteenth points of the night to give Michigan a four point lead over the #4 team in the country with :34 seconds to go in the game. I jumped off the coach and screamed at the top of my lungs, probably causing my brother in Austin, with whom I was on the phone, to go temporarily deaf in his left ear. I ran around the room pumping my fist not holding the phone in the air while my phone exploded with text messages from all of my friends who were still up doing the same thing as I was: Watching a game with no expectation of victory, just a slight sliver of hope that maybe, just maybe we could see some progress from last year.

Now this win doesn't make us a top ten team, it doesn't even make us a tournament team. There are bound to be ups and downs throughout the season and into the future. But it does mean that we are on the right track, and the light we see at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train. For the first time in a decade, that little part of me that had been slowly fading away bit by bit has returned. It's the part of me that used to idolize Ricky Green almost as much as I idolized Ricky Leach. It's the part of me that remembers walking up the driveway, reading the paper that the Judge, Antoine Joubert had signed with Michigan. It's the part of me that would go crazy when Steve Stokyo would enter the game, because he was the original human victory cigar. It's the part of me that would yell "Hell ya" with every Loy Vaught rebound, every Gary Grant Steal, and every Glen Rice triple. It's the part of me that danced in the light rain on South University with 10,000 other kids when Rumeal Robinson sunk two free throws to give us our basketball championship.

God, it's good to have a basketball program we can be proud of again.