Oct. 12, 2009
A once proud basketball program, the University of Michigan men's basketball team fell on some tough times the past few years. Enter head coach John Beilein, who has revitalized a basketball program and a campus community. Sure, winning and getting back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 seasons goes a long way in gaining support, but Beilein has made it a priority to reach out to students.
Student and fan support at Michigan basketball games comes in the form of the "Maize Rage". Complete with officers and a Superfan, the Maize Rage prepares for games just as much as the Wolverines. The Rage Page gives students a scouting report on the other team, providing ammunition for the students to use to get inside the heads of opponents. As always though, students are encouraged to "keep it classy."
"We want to have a profound effect on the other team as much as possible," Maize Rage president Nick Mattar explained. "I like to use the term controlled chaos. Last year, it was uncontrolled. There were kids there that had never been to a game before and they would not follow the chants.
"We have worked with the band, the dance team and cheer team to control that better this year. We want everyone to get on the right page, the right track with each other. It will be a lot better and louder. We want to be the sixth man at games."
Founded when Michigan basketball was just an afterthought to football in the 1990s, the Maize Rage is hitting new heights as the team continues to improve and become a national player.
"It all starts with the team being so much better," Mattar said. "Last year, we never had more than 10 or 15 people in a meeting at the beginning. After we beat UCLA, we had 20. We beat Duke, we got 25-30 people. This season, the incoming freshmen have taken notice and a lot of the upperclassmen started to rethink their basketball interest. With Coach Beilein taking part, he has added to the interest and made it that much more exciting."
The Wolverines have yet to begin the season, but Beilein is already looking ahead to make sure the student support continues to grow, making Crisler Arena a raucous place to play. Beilein made a guest appearance at the first Maize Rage meeting of the year, attracting around 120 students, much to Mattar's excitement.
"I found out the day of the meeting that Coach Beilein was going to be there. As soon as I found that out, I emailed everyone we had on the list and that was a big pull. We expected a lot of people because we had a lot of interest following Maize Craze, but we were hoping for about 50-60 people. To get over 100 people was a big 'wow' factor for us. We were really impressed with that because we had been talking to the athletic department for awhile and were hoping to get a player there. The marketing department came through, getting coach there," Mattar said.
Beilein, along with the entire athletic department, has made it a priority to get students involved at basketball games. But this is something that Beilein has been putting in place since he arrived in Ann Arbor two years ago. He knew that to build a successful team, he had to rely on the students for some support.
"This all goes back to coach from the beginning," Mattar said of Beilein. "The first year was not so great, but he made it known from the beginning that we were important. After the season, he had the Maize Rage to dinner, to talk to him and the team. We got a tour of Crisler Arena. He made it known that he needed the Maize Rage to be in line with the team and the athletic department in order for this team to improve a lot, both on the court and with the fans.
"Last year, with the team's remarkable improvement and with the athletic department trying to get as many kids there with the free games and the busing really helped us out. This upcoming season, I know coach is going to do even more to help keep that going. I think in a few years, you will see the Maize Rage up there with the Paint Crew (Purdue), the Izzone (Michigan State) and those other student sections that are just terrors for other teams."
Beilein echoes the sentiments of Mattar, acknowledging what a group of students in Maize shirts armed with chants like "He's a bum" and pointing out the funny things people put on Facebook can do to an opposing team.
"It's a great sign that the kids, our players, have connected," said Beilein. "The students have embraced them and vice versa. As a result, we have a great interest right now in the program. Our hope is that this is just the beginning of a tradition. Students have been involved in football for so many years; we want to have a tradition of Michigan students involved in every game in basketball. That's our goal. The student support here at Michigan is as good as anywhere else in the Big Ten, if not better."
That support and excitement is something that Beilein and the Wolverine basketball team can feel each time they take the court which in turn makes Crisler a difficult environment to play in on a nightly basis.