Court Vision with C.J. Lee
SUNDAY, DEC. 7 -- The Four Things in Life
This was a week of marquee games for our program. We were excited about the opportunity to face two ACC teams in Maryland and Duke. Each game taught us something and showed us something about ourselves.
The Maryland game was a little disheartening for our players and staff because we felt we gave away the first four minutes of the second half to them. Obviously it is a 40 minute game and you have to play well the entire time, but the way you start the second half is usually an indicator of how you are going to finish. It is critical in college basketball to have good starts and closings to halves.
Being our first road game, I think we responded with the energy needed to win, but we did not execute the way we needed to in order to win. Having poise and composure is something that we are learning as a team right now. Playing in an environment like Maryland will do us some good also down the road. As a player, it does not bother you that people are cheering against you, but you realize how keeping the tempo in your favor combats the crowd's impact on the game. Home crowds fuel home teams!
We had another quick turnaround with Duke this weekend. The first time we played them in New York, we only had a half a day preparation time. With a couple days to practice and work on our game plan, our staff gave us what we needed in order to have success. The morning of the game, I was the first one in the locker-room for our 10:30 a.m. shootaround. The day before, our team was informed that we would be wearing our maize jerseys against Duke. Maize jerseys mean black shoes and black socks. Anyone who knows Michigan Basketball knows the significance of this! Our equipment manager, Bob Bland and I spoke for a few moments about our program and Duke before shootaround. He told me that we have never beat Duke in our Maize jerseys. We have beaten them in blue and we have beaten them in white. Now we can say we have beaten them in all three sets of uniforms!
The atmosphere was incredible! It was great to see Crisler Arena packed to the rafters. We made it a point as a team not to get too excited about the atmosphere and to sustain 40 minutes of focus. Our energy level and execution level were as high as I have ever seen them this year. Our 1-3-1 zone was very active, but we matched Duke's toughness in the effort areas. Duke is known for trying to impose its will on teams with its pressure. We showed great poise throughout the game and combated the pressure by going backdoor, being strong with the ball, and valuing the ball.
For me personally, coming into games at the end is something I take great pride in as a player. It is about trust, and I feel very fortunate that I have had coaches who trust my judgment and my skill level when everything is on the line. It is something that ironically, I have done my entire college career up to this point. I do not shy away from moments like these because you can have an immediate impact on the result of the game, in a very limited amount of time.
Grabbing the rebound and knocking down the two free throws was a nice moment for me. It reminded me of the times as a child I thought about playing on the big stage and producing when it really counted. At the line, I told myself to breathe, relax, and go two for two. Before every game I have ever played in since I was a kid, my father has told me to make my lay-ups and make my free throws. I was very happy to knock those two down for my team.
The fans rushing the court made it a game that I will always remember. Our team has said this entire year; let's give our fans something to cheer about by putting our work in everyday. Once again, we don't want this to be the highlight of our season.
We have a goal and we will not be satisfied until we reach that goal. We will look at both the Maryland and the Duke film like we always do. There are corrections that still need to be made but we will continue to push through December. This is a critical week with exams starting for our players. We will need to be disciplined, humble, and hard-working on and off the court this week.
In closing, Jeff Meyer who is our Administrative Specialist this year has provided me with some outstanding words of encouragement off the court. Anyone that knows me realizes that I am all about inspirational messages, devotions, and thoughts. On Friday night after practice, Jeff Meyer told me that there are four things in life you never get back. Those four things are a speeding arrow leaving a bow, spoken word from a tongue, a past life and a lost opportunity.
I am very thankful and appreciative for the timing of this message. I am proud of the composure and the sense of urgency our team displayed in the Duke game this weekend. We did not let this opportunity get by us!
Please stay with us and as we continue to build here at Michigan.
Dribbles and Drives from Inside the House that Cazzie Built
TUESDAY, DEC. 2 -- Finding His Niche
With 92 career games played in Maize and Blue, Jevohn Shepherd is the most experienced player on the Michigan roster. This season, Shepherd has seen his minutes increase in every game -- from five in the season opener against Michigan Tech to 21 in last Saturday's (Nov. 29) victory over Savannah State.
Shepherd has been making the most of his increased role, as evidenced by his career-high 11 points against Norfolk State (Nov. 25). But for the Toronto, Ontario-native, it's not about numbers, it's about results.
"I don't really worry about minutes," said Shepherd. "Just like everyone else on the team, it's about getting comfortable and finding your spot on the team, finding your niche. As a senior it's much easier because all you are focused on is winning. Last year, unfortunately our seniors left with a 10-22 record. I can't see that for myself, so the focal point is never about scoring, or hype or the bright lights. It's more about how can we get this done and be successful."
At 5-1, the results have been encouraging thus far for U-M. Even though the Wolverines found themselves in a 20-point halftime hole last time out against Savannah State, the Maize and Blue rallied to win the game in overtime, a positive sign according to Shepherd.
"It's a long season and there are going to be ups and downs," said Shepherd. "I guess you could call that a down, but it was a learning experience. Fortunately for us, we were able to execute and come out on top and that is most important. Last year that is a game we probably would have lost, so you can see growth and progression there. That's what one of our mottos has been, to keep growing. In a game like that, although it wasn't the prettiest, we were definitely able to see some growth."
The next opportunity for growth comes tomorrow when the Wolverines travel to College Park, Md., to meet Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the game will be the first for Michigan on an opponent's floor this season. As a player who has played in numerous difficult environments during his collegiate career, Shepherd believes the secret to road success is simple.
"Stay relaxed and enjoy it," said Shepherd. "We have a great opportunity in front of us. There's no real insight to give to the younger guys, it's just about a balance between being relaxed and enjoying it. When we played at Madison Square Garden a lot of the young guys were hyped-up about that but they were able to have a balance. We just need to carry that over, its basketball, and we just need to play basketball."
Wednesday's game against the Terrapins presents the Wolverines with the challenge of playing a quality ACC team on the road, but Shepherd points out that U-M's focus remains on themselves, not the opponent.
"I saw a little of their game against Michigan State and they seemed to push the ball well," said Shepherd. "We're not really focused on what they do well or what they don't do well. We are focused on what we do. We trust our system and the results have been positive so far. We aren't really focused on Maryland or anyone that we play; in this locker room it's about getting better ourselves."
Court Vision with C.J. Lee
MONDAY,DEC. 1-- November is Over, Time to Keep Going Forward
Thanksgiving has come and gone and now we are into December. We finished the month 5-1 and we are happy with how we have done so far.
We still have a lot of room for improvement, and I believe our team is willing to put in the work necessary for us to get to where we are trying to go. One day at a time, one game at a time.
The Savannah State game this past Saturday was very exciting and entertaining for the fans I'm sure. The game itself served as both an eye opener and a sign of progress with our team in my opinion. It was an eye opener because it cemented the fact that you can beat anyone in college basketball and you can lose to anyone in college basketball.
It was a sign of progress because our team bonded together during a time of adversity. Coach Beilein was very calm and practical during halftime. It was obvious we had not played well and that we were struggling to get anything going. Coach Beilein told us to trust the system and that we were going to come back and win.
Contributions came from everyone on Saturday, and that is something we can take away as a positive. DeShawn Sims hit an incredible shot at the end off a great pass from Manny Harris. Composure under pressure is something that is learned through experiencing adversity. The poise and composure displayed by our team was great on Saturday, because the easy thing to do in that situation is to accept that it isn't your day. We do not have the luxury of being able to let games get by us right now.
This is a lesson we had to learn the hard way here and if you ask anyone on our team, they will tell you how important it is to win games you are supposed to win early on in a season. Our team realizes this and I think that if the urgency was lacking in any way before Savannah State, it is not lacking now.
December marks the beginning of a big week for our program. We travel to Maryland on Wednesday for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and we play Duke on Saturday at home. Maryland is our focus right now and they are coming off a holiday tournament where they had some big wins and losses.
November is over now, so we need to go into Maryland with the mindset that we are 0-0. We need everyone this week to be prepared to give their all when their number is called.