Nov. 13, 2012
By Morgan Bailey, U-M Public & Media Relations
Five days ago, on Friday, Nov. 9, after defeating Slippery Rock in a decisive 100-62 victory, the University of Michigan men's basketball team had its mind set on one goal: making it to New York. Michigan's next game was against IUPUI in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off, and if they won the first two games of the tournament, the Wolverines would advance to New York, N.Y., to play in the semifinals of the tournament.
"It is my personal goal to get you guys to New York to play at Madison Square Garden," head coach John Beilein announced to his team in the locker room after the victory over Slippery Rock. "From now on, our focus is New York."
Beilein told his players and staff that he even wanted the music they played to be New York themed. Sure enough, for the next five days Jay-Z's hit song "Empire State of Mind" could be heard around the William Davidson Player Development Center.
Four days after defeating Slippery Rock, the Wolverines suited up for the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off against IUPUI (Nov. 12). As the team entered the locker room before the game, Corey Person was yelling one message loud and clear to his teammates. "Both teams can't go to New York!" Person exclaimed as he motivated his teammates for game time. "Both teams can't go to New York, we have to earn it!"
The Wolverines defeated IUPUI, 91-54, in their second consecutive game scoring more than 90 points and kept their New York dreams alive.
In a quick turnaround of games during tournament play, the Wolverines entered the second game on Tuesday night (Nov.13) with their minds set on advancing to the Big Apple.
"We have to play strong and smart in order to make the next step and get to the most prestigious basketball tournament, in perhaps the most prestigious basketball arena in the world," Beilein said as he addressed his team. "We're all trying to get to New York, and it starts with this next step."
Watching the Wolverines in the stands at Crisler Center on Tuesday night was Tim Hardaway Jr.'s father, Tim Hardaway. Mr. Hardaway was a five-time NBA All-Star and played 14 years in the NBA.
"I have a lot of memories playing at Madison Square Garden that stand out to me," the elder Hardaway fondly recalled. "Any time the Heat played the Knicks, of course, and then when I was with the Golden State Warriors. They call it the "Mecca" -- everybody is looking at you, everybody wants to see what you got. You want to showcase your skills there in front of a great crowd and millions of people on TV. Madison Square Garden has so much tradition -- when you walk in and see the tradition there, it gives you goose bumps."
The Wolverines handled the Cleveland State Vikings in a 77-47 victory, and their goal of reaching New York was met. In the locker room after the game, Coach Beilein entered the team room clapping his hands and chanting, "We're going to New York! We're going to New York!"
"I am glad that we did what we need to do, in order to get where we needed to get," Beilein said to his team.
"Before tonight's game, we were focused on going out there and playing Michigan basketball," Hardaway Jr. commented. "We knew that the reward was going to be moving onto New York, so we just focused on this game in order to make that happen. Madison Square Garden is where all of the basketball gods have played. That is where stars are born and it is going to be an honor to play on that court."
Senior captain Josh Bartelstein also commented on the prestige of Madison Square Garden and what the opportunity to play there means. "It's unbelievable. Madison Square Garden is the Mecca of basketball, so to be able to play there in one of the best tournaments in the country is going to be really special."
"At Michigan, you come to win championships," coach Beilein announced in the postgame press conference. "This is one of the most prestigious preseason tournaments. Many of the kids have not been to New York or the Garden, and we wanted them to get there. I'm excited that this team can go to one of the most storied places to play basketball. We have a lot of Michigan fans in New York and the general metropolitan area, and I hope to see every one of them."
Now that the Wolverines have secured their ticket to New York to play at Madison Square Garden, Hardaway's father had a piece of advice to share with them. "I hope they take this experience and respect the opportunity and give it their all out there on the basketball court just like everyone else has who has played at Madison Square Garden. Understand that this is where it is at -- this is where dreams are made."
The Wolverines will play in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off next Wednesday, Nov. 21. Already focused on the next game at hand, Person remarked, "It's great that we have made it to New York, but now we have to refocus and set our goal on winning the preseason NIT championship."