Head Coach Tommy Amaker Comments from
Michigan Men's Basketball Media Day
Media Day Photo Gallery
Opening statement ... "Welcome back. It's nice to have a chance to get back to the start of the basketball season and I'm very excited for what is on tap for our year. We've talked about three words with our team and I'm hoping that we can achieve these three words. The first one is we're hoping to be healthy - I think that's obvious. We're going to be happy, and we're going to be hungry.
"We really feel that this is an opportunity for our ball club to achieve really good things for this upcoming season. We certainly have been looking forward for this for a while. We all recognize that tough year we had last year and for our kids to come back and be excited for a good preseason, which we've had. We get started with our first official practice with our entire club, and our freshman included in that. I think (the freshman) will add a level of competitiveness in our practices on a daily basis. I'm not sure how much they can actually contribute from a basketball standpoint in games at this point, but we certainly think they're going to push our upperclassmen.
"Having an experienced team with (Daniel) Horton back and (Lester) Abram back -- those two kids are obviously key players for us. If they want to have any success, they need to be in the middle of things, and I think both of them are chomping at the bit to get started. My only worry with those kids is that they're going to try and to do too much being out for a while, which is something I have to guard against. But I'd rather have that situation than anything else."
On if expectations are high with everyone returning ... "Well, we do have high expectations. As you know, I've always gotten rid of that word 'expectations.' I believe that word is an external word. We have high standards. We really believe in that being here at Michigan. These kids are competing everyday in every walk of their lives on this campus. Our standard here is as high as anyone can ever imagine, and certainly that's going to start for us again this season."
On Lester Abram's impact coming back from injury ... "The first thing that we always talk about with Lester and what he brings to the table is that he's a high level winner everywhere he's been. And I think he's shown that in his time here at Michigan. He was arguably our best returning player last season -- being third team all-conference. He was our leading scorer, and I think our most consistent and efficient player. I think one of the areas that we're starting to recognize in a lot of different places and different sports is the impact of one or two kids can have on the remainder of the team. And I think Lester is one of those players that has a huge impact on the psyche on our kids because of what he can do out on the court and how the players feel when he is there."
On preventing Lester Abram and Daniel Horton from trying to do too much ... "For those two kids, because they missed pretty much the whole season last year, I think they're chomping to back out there, to get started to get going. As a coach, I need to monitor the effectiveness that they can bring to the other kids -- not to overdue things or do too much like being overly aggressive. It's a long season, it's a long horse race and we need to make sure that we're paced well, and those two kids in particular -- we need their aggressiveness and all the things that they bring to the table, but we also need them to do things in a smart, efficient manner."
On whether the team has grown due to the adversity it faced last season ... "I think it's always an opportunity to grow, and for us, it's an opportunity to teach. My No. 1 job is to teach. I think when you have those kinds of life lessons on and off the court, we're certainly hopeful to teach from that and learn from that and grow from that. I think they have that. First and foremost, I think they're anxious, I think they're good kids, and I think they're willing to do what's necessary for this program to take the next step."
On Dion Harris' role with Lester Abram and Daniel Horton returning ... "I don't want him to change too much of his mindset. I think his mindset last year for us was to be a key player, to think of himself as a very good all around basketball player. I dont want him to take a step back. Dion can sometimes defer to a fault. It's a quandary that I have with sometimes that he's an unselfish kid and we love that about him, but sometimes he can be too unselfish. Another area for us to monitor is to make sure he doesnt take a back seat to anyone on this team. He's as good as anyone in our lockerroom and we think he's as good as anyone in this conference."
On whether having three guards back will alter the strategy of the team ... "No, it won't be different for us. We've always played three perimeter players. We consider them perimeter players, not necessarily guards. We've considered all three of those kids if they're healthy to play a lot of those minutes along the perimeter. But they're perimeter players and they won't be any different for us than what we've had in the past. We've had (Daniel) Horton, (Dion) Harris and (Bernard) Robinson. We'll have three perimeter players for the majority of time that we will play."
On seeing some many guys leave next year and explaining to incoming freshman how fast one's career goes... "We talk about it constantly because it's very hard for these kids to internalize that. As freshman players you say that to them from day one. They're trying to get through next week and they know they have three more years. But with it going by so quickly, we try and get the upperclassmen to talk to them about it more so than the coaches because those guys have just gone through it. Those guys are seniors for us. We expected when they came on board four years ago that they would do some wonderful things for this basketball program. They have already, and they get a chance to lead them off this season."
On the impact of freshmen heading into this season ... "With an upperclassmen-laden team that we have, you're always hopeful that you can get contributions from your younger players. So you never really know. No matter how much they're talked about or how they're ranked or discussed in high school rankings and those kinds of things. I'm not sure you ever really know until you get them out there. We have had some opportunities with the new rules to work with our new players in the preseason. It's given us glimpses of things that we should be prepared for - good and bad - in terms of their ability at this level right now. But the main area for our freshmen is to be competitive and be ready to work everyday. That sometimes is an adjustment for some of the better high school players who probably haven't had to do that at a high level all the time each day."
On if he has certain players who elevate the personality dynamics on the team ... "I think Lester (Abram) and Daniel (Horton) have been two keys in a lot of areas of this team in regards to competitiveness, winning and confidence. Graham (Brown) has been a tough player for us, an unselfish player during his entire tenure here, but I do think the fact that we have an influx of Horton and Abram back . I think that's going to give us a shot in the arm in a lot of areas."
On the team's health issues heading into the season ... "Right now, I think we have a few guys with typical things this time of year after putting them through workouts this preseason. But for the most part, we're pretty healthy. Dion (Harris) has been off a little bit because of a foot or heal injury. It's been a pretty nagging injury so we've been pretty cautious and conservative with him. We don't anticipate anyone not being ready to go for tomorrow, and we're hopeful that we can stay healthy as long as we can."
On having Graham Brown, Chris Hunter and Courtney Sims all healthy ... "Those kids are experienced, they know what I want, they know what we're trying to achieve in terms of our philosophy and system. I think it's a matter of staying healthy, executing and I think being very determined. It will be those areas that we'll be able to evaluate from those particular guys on the front line. Not having (Brent) Petway early, those guys will see the bulk of the minutes to lead our team on the front line."
On watching his first recruiting class be seniors now ... "I am very proud to have a chance to walk this walk with those guys. We came on board here together. We talked about it from day one that they were going to be the foundation of this program, for the future. We brought in a class of solid talent and great character. We still feel that way. We thought from day one that those kids we're going to leave a mark here at Michigan. We think that they've done that so far. We think that there are a few more levels that they can take us for next season. As for what it's meant to me, I'm very proud of them. When you look back as a coach, you look back at a lot of areas about the kids you've had a chance to coach, and I can think of many things that these kids have made me proud of in addition to winning some key games, but also handling themselves and representing this school."
On senior Daniel Horton's role this season ... "I think its key for Daniel to be a leader, a quarterback, a defender, before we think scorer. I'll say this, I was going to say it to him and our team, but I'll say to you right now. I've asked him to sacrifice more of himself and his game than anybody else on this team. I think it's important that he understands that, and he gets credit for that, but I need him to be that player who's going to lead our team, be a vocal presence out there on the floor. Obviously, we're going to need his scoring ability, but those other things are paramount, and I think he recognizes that and he understands how much he's had to sacrifice for the betterment of this team and this program."
On Graham Brown being healthy for senior season ... "He is in great shape. I think when you see him, you'll recognize that he's slim and trim, he's still strong. But I think he's a guy that has worked very hard to become the player that he is. For him to be a three-year starter, there's no reason not to think that he'll put himself in a good position. He's a two-year captain. I can't say enough about that kid, the job that he's done and the way that he's done it. I have high standards for him and he has higher standards for himself than anyone in this room have for him."
On which areas he would like to see senior Chris Hunter develop in ... "I think Chris is one of those players on our roster who has a real chance to elevate the level of performance on our team. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, his experience and versatility. I think we saw last year for stretches he was our best player. I think the South Florida game was the start for a great stretch for him and where he was just phenomenal for us. We've seen those things in Chris, and we need to see if we can sustain it a few more games along our schedule to be dependable and reliable from a health standpoint. I think we can have that from Chris, and we need that from him."
On Courtney Sims' maturing ... "He's a guy that we saw at the tail end of last season. I thought he finished strong, finished well. I think Courtney is a player who's matured. The sophomore year is referred to as the sophomore slump. I think that some of our guys have fallen into that. That first year, things have gone pretty well and its all gravy and you look at it and it's all exciting, it's all potential. Second-year people will try and key on them a little bit more, maybe they didn't work as hard. I'm not saying Courtney didn't work hard, but sometimes you have a tendency to get a little complacent. But I think he's hungry. He's had a good summer. He's a guy that can elevate us and we're going to need solid, consistent play from Sims."
On Brent Petway's response to being ineligible first semester ... "He responded really well. He had a quote in the release saying that he takes full responsibility. That was my first observation about him that he was going to be responsible for his actions or lack thereof. I was very pleased with that. He was being very mature about it. He was immature about it to have the situation occur, but he was going to be mature and be a man on how to handle it. I think he's determined as such when the time comes for him to be back on the court, he'll be ready to play for us, compete for us and help us win."
On adjusting the game plan without Brent Petway for the first semester ... "I'm not sure yet, whether we're going to have to look at a smaller lineup, maybe with a perimeter player moving to the front court. That's an area we can tinker with or think about. Just having Petway in practice, he's going to help us because he's a very athletic and active player. But not having him is certainly going to be an adjustment for us because I think he was able at various moments in his two years here to make some plays and bail us out with incredibly timely blocks that only a Petway can get to or to energize our team and our crowd. So in terms of us, we have to pick up that energy level that he innately brought for our team."
On sophomore Ronald Coleman's growth ... "Ron has done a terrific job and I think he's done more that what we though we would have to do at this stage of his career. I think that's been a wonderful thing for him and hopefully for us as we embark on another season. He had a terrific summer - he played very well for the Big Ten All-star team. Bruce Weber was the head coach of that team, and we talked to him about Ronnie's play. He was very impressed with him. He was one of the better players on that team. The way that he handled himself in being a consistent, hard worker - those are things that we've come to expect from him. Last year, we put him in situations that he probably wasn't ready for, but given the circumstances that we had no choice, I thought he handled it as well as any freshman could."
On the impact of Jevohn Shepherd ..." We've seen some things in workouts with him that were very encouraging. I think the first thing you'll see from Jevohn is that he doesn't look like a freshman. From a physical and athletic standpoint, he can compete and hold his own, and maybe shine. This is the Big Ten, we have a lot to teach him and he's willing to learn, but you don't know the learning curve as well right now, but we're very much intrigued with his ability, athleticism, strength, explosiveness. Hopefully we can use him in the right way so he can be a factor for our team. We don't know how soon, but we certainly think at some point this kid has a chance to be darn good player."
On having four classes of scholarship depth for the first time ... "Right now, when you look at the depth of our team and how its structured, how it lays out, I think we're very comfortable. To use that word again, we're in a healthy state in regards to seniors and a solid junior class. We only have one in that sophomore class with Coleman and three in the freshman class. I think it gives us good balance. And as a coach when you're recruiting and trying to put together your team, you certainly think of that word (balance). I think we have a good mixture and balance with our club, and for the first time in my tenure, you're hopeful that you can rely on the upperclassmen to lead the way in the locker room and different moments so that it won't just be the coaches."
On if he's more optimistic than in previous years ... "At this time last year, coming off the NIT championship, we were very optimistic, and we should have been, and we had every reason to feel that way. You look at the success and history that teams have had after winning the NIT so we had every reason to feel that way. But some of the things that you can't predict or control and some of the things were self-inflicted. Again, every year coming in I thought we had been building - we were on an upward slope, an upward climb, and feeling optimistic about what was ahead of us. And as every other team, you have media day, you have midnight madness, you should be optimistic. I think these kids should be optimistic, I think these kids should be hopeful, hungry, and as I said, they're going to be healthy."
On playing time being a problem with all the depth ... "We'll welcome that problem right now. I don't know if that's going to be a problem, but you're always going to have problems. So if you're going to have problems, you might as well have some that you consider good problems. I'm not sure that will be the case. If it is the case, it could be one of those good problems that we endure."
On his outlook of the Big Ten this season ... "I think a lot of people have mentioned and a lot of you have done your research and made your predictions as well. The consensus is that the team to beat will be Michigan State. With their success last year, returning four starters, what they bring back from that Final Four team, I think they will be a strong contender. I think when you look at our conference, you look on paper, I think it's going to be a dogfight. Every team on paper has pretty much improved. You look at Iowa, an NCAA Tournament team, they have everyone coming back that was there at the end of the season. I know they lost Pierre Pierce, but everyone else returns. You look at Ohio State and the turnaround they've made under some difficult circumstances that we can relate to because we went through them a few years ago. I think Indiana is a team that people are going to have to reckon with. I think they're going to be very deep, very talented. I think when you look at a Minnesota returning from the tournament. Illinois, even though they lose some key players, I think those kids in that program believe and have an opportunity to keep that tradition going. I think our league is going to be incredibly tough. Everyone is looking at this as being a race to the finish. The placement of games and people getting lucky along the way, stealing a game here and there, staying injury free, I think a lot of things are going to factor in. But I think the league is going to very balanced, very tough, and that's the way it has been but I think this year in particular, we're going to get a lot recognition around the country for having a very, very strong league."
On specific goals he has for this team ... "From a statistical standpoint, we need to take care of the basketball. We didn't do well with that and there were a lot of reasons for that. We were shorthanded, and a lot of the guys that should handle the ball for us will be back. We had a lot of turnovers in the front court from our post players, so we need to do a better job with those guys. We're hopeful that we can defend better - that's one of the areas that we've talked about. We want to be more of an up-tempo, transition team, and all that is contingent upon defense and rebounding. But in terms of trying to play at a high pace, you're going to have to learn to live with some turnovers."
On how nice it would be to make the NCAA Tournament ... "It would be very sweet [smiling and laughing]. It would be a heck of a thing for our team, and I think you all know that. That seems to always be the measuring stick for so many people in so many ways, and we understand that. You start this year with the though, the dream the hope to be in March Madness. I think thats the way our sport is structured. I know our kids are working hard at trying to make that a reality, especially for the seniors - these kids have done a lot and given a lot of themselves for the program. It would be the right script."
Contact: Tom Wywrot (734) 763-4423