Basketball no longer a step-child at UM

There are occasions obscure in nature, but nonetheless significant in their exact moment in time. The simple sound of a basketball bouncing stirred John Beilein’s imagination, if only because of whence it emanated.

It came from the new, $30-million Player Development Center, a basketball training facility that existed the previous 10 years as nothing more than an architectural blueprint and a broken promise.

Finally, Michigan basketball can say it has arrived … to the 1990s. OK, the Wolverines still are playing catch-up, but at least it’s a start.

“It’s hilarious,” senior guard Stu Douglass said Monday. “It’s one of the funnier things about NCAA basketball. Our mentality, as players, didn’t change. But people are always talking about facilities, how they want to play for programs with great facilities. And one building has helped change the perception of what people think of Michigan basketball. And perception is as important as reality in a lot of cases.”

That’s especially true in this case.

Basketball always will be football’s stepchild at Michigan, but that didn’t mean the university had to hide it in a closet out of fear it might embarrass the family if it ever saw a minute’s daylight.

The new practice facility and the ongoing renovation of Crisler Center are proof that Michigan finally is taking basketball relevance more seriously. U-M assured Beilein and his recent head-coaching predecessors that the facility upgrades were coming, but basketball had to wait its turn. It was more important taking care of the baseball program first.

“I think it was always taken seriously, but I don’t know if they understood what it always took to take it seriously,” Beilein said.

But Beilein is delighted with where his program is at now. Just as with perception, perspective is important.

Michigan should win its third straight game against Michigan State tonight in Ann Arbor. Home court always is precious, especially in the combative Big Ten. Without question, it’s the superior basketball conference in the nation.

The last time the Wolverines beat MSU three straight times — at least according to officially recognized NCAA records — was almost 20 years ago when the Wolverines won four straight. NCAA sanctions formally stripped a five-game winning streak in 1996-98 as a consequence of the Ed Martin scandal.

For a program seeking little but important progressive steps forward, that would be huge. But tonight’s outcome won’t change the dynamic of the rivalry. Both teams still will contend for the Big Ten championship. Both still will contend for top-four seeding in the NCAA tournament, thanks to the overall strength of the Big Ten.

It’s a big deal for Michigan that it’s headed for its second consecutive NCAA tournament invitation, something that officially hasn’t happened — again thanks to Martin’s love of baked goods — in almost two decades. The Spartans will reach the midway point of their second decade of repetitive NCAA tournament appearances.

That’s why it’s more important that the Wolverines appreciate the little touchstones — a third straight victory over their in-state nemesis, back-to-back NCAA tournament trips, and a practice facility that means they don’t have to coordinate schedules with the wrestling team.

Beilein came to Crisler last Friday morning thinking he would have the floor for practice, but he saw the arena floor prepared for gymnastics.

And then came the revelation.

He momentarily forgot that the Player Development Center was available for him anytime he wanted.

Ignored stepchild? Not any longer.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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