John Beilein defined my sports decade

As the decade closes on Michigan basketball, it’s time to appreciate the man who resurrected it.

On April 3, 2007, when Michigan announced that it had hired John Beilein as head coach of its basketball program, they were moving on from a Tommy Amaker era that saw zero tournament appearances in six years. The turnaround was quick and in 2009 they made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years.

I know very little of Michigan’s basketball history at a microscopic level, sans Fab Five. All I know is that in my life I’ve known a Michigan football that that was good when I was young, then has struggled to regain dominance. It took years before I was able to root for a Michigan team in the NCAA tournament. I wasn’t sure what it was like to root for someone in the tournament. It was a strange feeling, but a really good one amidst a difficult period in Michigan’s football story.

Beating Clemson in the first round of that 2009 tournament was a nice high point on the season overall, but what it really gave fans was a taste of what it was like to have a good basketball team. Many, including myself, assumed that this wouldn’t become a thing. Michigan was a football school and you rarely have the school that’s top 15 in both.

The growth with Beilein continued and culminated in the delirious run in 2012–13. There are few events you can remember where you were, what was happening, and how everything looked and felt around you during said event. This tournament run had two of those events for me.

First Michigan beat South Dakota, then VCU, and then the game happened. The defining game during this tournament run is the Sweet 16 matchup with number 1 seed Kansas. I’ll always remember the details of this game. The deficit Michigan was facing, my now wife trying unsuccessfully to makeout with me during the last few minutes of the game, and then running around my downstairs quietly screaming to avoid waking the house when Trey Burke hit the shot of his and my life.


The second thing that John Beilein brought me during that tournament was true heartbreak. When Michigan lost to Louisville in the tournament championship game I was in Ireland. This was a pre-planned trip for almost a year. There was no TV where I was and the internet was spotty at best. So however the time change worked I remember pulling out my crappy iPod Touch and checking the score to find heartbreak. I remember the look of the hallway I was in checking the score, the old wooden staircase that looked like something out of a Hobbit’s home, and the smell of curry.

Beilein’s continued run of excellence translated into yet another wonderful run last year wherein Michigan made it to the Championship game against Villanova. Another loss was heartbreaking but the number of memories that Beilein created for me and other Michigan fans is insurmountable for any other Michigan sports team this decade.

My life as a sports fan has been mostly broken up into memorable chunks. The day I saw Tiger win in Atlanta last year. When I saw the Detroit Tigers beat the Yankees to advance in the playoffs. Watching Atlanta United win the MLS Cup in front of a transformative fanbase.

But when I break up my fandom into decades I think of the 2000–2010s as the decade of the Detroit Pistons, and now I’ve come to think of 2010–2020 as the decade of Michigan basketball. That’s insane.

I’ll never forget the memories that John Beilein and Michigan instilled in me the last ten years. As I watched Michigan chuck brick after brick last night I was disappointed, but it highlighted a fact that would’ve been almost impossible to believe a decade ago. Michigan basketball had expectations of getting to the Final Four and winning an NCAA Championship. That’s what John Beilein has brought to Ann Arbor and what he’s brought to my sports fandom.

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