April 11, 2013
Senior guard Josh Bartelstein, in his senior season and third year writing the J-Bart Blog, gives all Wolverine fans an inside look into the program and life outside of basketball during the 2012-13 season.
What's up everyone?
I will never forget the day I first talked to John Beilein. I was walking to the cafeteria at Phillips Exeter, and I knew I needed to make a good pitch to get Coach B to want me at Michigan. We started talking and he asked me "Why Michigan? Why turn down scholarship offers? Why turn down guaranteed playing time to come to a place where nothing was guaranteed?"
He thought he got me, but I responded, "Coach, I want to be a part of something bigger than myself."
There was no response, just silence on the phone. I knew I got Coach B and from there a dream, a fairytale for four years, started!
I grew up in Highland Park, Ill., right in the middle of Big Ten country. The dream was always to play in the best conference in the world. To play in front of 15,000 screaming fans who either love you or hate you, to fly in charter plans and stay at five-star hotels.
The thousands and thousands of shots I took with my dad, from summer days in the 90s to those cold fall nights when I just wanted to be a "normal" kid in the driveway, always had me playing somewhere in the Big Ten. When he counted down three, two and one and I took the last shot, I pictured myself on this stage. There were some, probably even many, times I hated being on that driveway, when my dad would keep saying "one more" but trying to live out dreams takes hard work.
Now when I said I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself, sure it was true, but it was also a great answer to give a coach. At the same time, I had no idea how big Michigan was, how much bigger than me this brand is.
Because of basketball, I've been to Amsterdam, Belgium, Paris, Maui, New York, Orlando, Dallas, Nashville, Charlotte, New York and Brooklyn just to name a few cities. The hundreds of people who work here just to make sure your student-athlete experience is as good as it can possibly be. I've met more fans and alumni who are just so proud to be associated with the Block 'M' and Michigan that all they want to do is just shake your hand.
The last four weeks I've received more emails, more texts and been stopped on the street just so people could tell me they loved our team because they represented everything that is right with Michigan. I knew people would love this team long before and for so many different reasons.
I knew the 96th team at Michigan could be special, very special.
It took me about two weeks into the summer to see we had all the pieces, the best backcourt in the country, an incredible freshman class that were GREAT guys, and I knew the leadership would not be a problem because of our senior class. There is one thing that separates good college teams from great ones when you have elite-level talent. It's chemistry. It is the most cliché thing in the world, but I mean it in a totally different way. I don't mean guys high-fiving each other and respecting one another. That doesn't do anything. I'm talking about guys really understanding who each one of us are. What has Josh Bartelstein been through that shapes him as a person for good and bad?
What makes high school basketball so fun is that you get to play with your best friends. Guys you grew up with for 18 years and dreamed about playing with. In college, each team is together for one year. You don't really know each other as anything else besides an athlete. Before we played a game this year, in mid-September, we did an exercise with Greg Harden.
This prompt was simple: What is the best and toughest experience that has happened to you in the last two years and it could have nothing to do with basketball? For some teams, they wouldn't take this seriously, but we were in our locker room for hours. There were tears of joy and tears of agony, guys opening up about things you would never wish on your worst enemy -- moments where guys couldn't get the words out, where all you wanted to do was hug your teammate.
The next day I walked into Coach Jordan's office and said when we look back on this season in six months, yesterday will be a moment that shaped this team. We began to see each other as people, not just athletes who were brought together, but true friends who were developing a love for one another because we understood who we all were.
I can't tell you how many times I've pinched myself in the last three weeks to make sure my dream was real. When I climbed the ladder to cut down the nets in the Elite Eight, when my family was on stage with me in Dallas, when I woke up the next morning in Ann Arbor, when we landed in Atlanta, okay I think you get the point.
This was always the plan. I told our team after we lost at Wisconsin, on that half-court shot; WE WERE going to make memories that lasted a lifetime. We had six weeks left in our season, and you could for the first time see the light at the end of the tunnel. If everyone bought in and just did all the small things that make great teams elite, we could end our journey in Atlanta. There would be more bumps in the road for sure, but a vision on where our journey was going to end; a final destination was established on that day.
We made it to the final game, the last stop. It was magical, a fairytale that for some reason didn't have a happy ending. But so many times in team sports the journey is forgotten too much of the time. I took so many pictures and so many videos on my phone because I never wanted this week to end. It wasn't the games I was most worried about missing, but the interaction at team dinners, Corey (Person) making fun of Eso (Akunne) and Eso making fun of Corey, Mitch (McGary) dancing and (Jon) Horford just being Horford.
Many times basketball is over-complicated. There are so many "experts" out there who try and tell you all the secret things that will win a game. It really is a simple game. Louisville is a great team and in the second half we couldn't get stops. There guards are incredibly quick, there big men are incredibly strong, and Luke Hancock doesn't miss. We had control of that game but when someone hits four straight threes the game changes. That's it.
When the final buzzer went off, the confetti was released and the fireworks went off, I took one last look at what 75,000 people looked like -- half of them in total jubilation and half in total devastation. I looked at my family all 50 of them who made the trip, and I smiled because they got to be a part of my dream.
Once we got into our locker room, it was just as sad as that team bonding experience with Greg Harden. When your leader, Coach B, gets chocked up, you know it's going to be really tough. Some guys spoke, and the message was pretty much always the same.
The love we had for each other, the memories we made would never be forgotten. I told my guys for the rest of my life if they EVER needed anything I would ALWAYS be there. We were brothers now. I care about every one of them like I do my three sisters, and we shared something that one day when the time is right we will all consider ourselves champions. We then sang the greatest fight song in the world one last time, and it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.
I knew I had about five minutes before the media came in, and I sat in my chair with tears running down my face and a towel over my head. I pinched myself one last time this time hoping I was dreaming, but the moment was real. My story was coming to an end, 23 years worth of basketball, 23 years of my life being dedicated to a sport I loved. Then I remembered this is so much bigger than me, bigger than my whole family contingent, bigger than us 15, bigger than our program.
This is for the University of Michigan.
I get the chills as I write this, but we made it so our fans can hold their heads up high when they speak of Michigan basketball. We brought the Fab Five back into the same stadium again. We gave you guys one great run and had the time of our lives doing so!
That's it for me. My last blog.
I need to thank Tom Wywrot for all the help and letting me do this, no doubt the best SID in the business. It has been three great years; I can't thank you all enough for reading. I'm keeping each and every blog entry as a book because the ride has been surreal. This program is back, and it's never going away.
But now I need one favor from you.
Write into the blog at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me your favorite memory, what you loved about this team. I want to keep each and every email and share them with my guys.
Forever and Always