One of the nice benefits of travel, especially for a former newspaper guy, is the opportunity to get one’s hands on some out-of-town newspapers. For some reason, they always look better spread out over a table than when viewed via the internet.
On a stopover in Detroit Friday afternoon, I had the Detroit Free Press to peruse. And, fortunately, it’s the day the paper printed its season previews of local college basketball teams.
One of the locals, of course, is Michigan which is coached by an old MAAC friend John Beilein.
Beilein spent many years in New York State, working nine seasons as head coach at Le Moyne of Syracuse followed by five seasons (1992-'97) at Canisius, where he put together and coached some of the top Golden Griffins' teams in recent memory.
At Canisius, his teams went finished 89-62 and advanced to three national post-season appearances, once getting to the NCAA's and twice to the NIT's.
After that Beilein moved on to Richmond, then to West Virginia and, now he's at Michigan.
And, here's a trivia question/answer: Beilein is the only active college basketball coach to record 20-victory seasons at four levels of the sport. He had 20-win years at Erie Community College, at Nazareth College (then an NAIA school), at Division II Le Moyne and on the Division I level (with four different programs).
Beilein's first Michigan team only got 10 victories. But, his second one finished 21-14 last season. In his 31 years as a head coach his teams have only finished under .500 four times.
Beilein's 2008-09 Michigan team advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. It was Michigan’s first trip to the NCAA’s in 10 years.
Think about that for a minute. I know the Big Ten is a power conference, but Michigan has one of the finest on-campus arenas in the country, has a student population of close to 30,000, has the requisite financial resources of a big-time program … and hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in the previous nine years. Whew.
Beilein, though, clearly knows how to find success. And that was emphasized in the lead paragraph of the Free Press’ preview of his team, which said:“As he climbed the coaching ladder, John Beilein’s system became proven by results.”
His current team has two potential future pros in junior guard Manny Harris (16.9 points per game last season) and senior forward DeShawn Sims (15.4). Beilein has also brought in one of the country’s top freshmen point guard nationally, Darius Morris.
Beilein’s team returns four starters. The only loss from a year ago was his point guard, so Morris is likely the fifth starter.
And, now, a quick story about the difference of athletic programs at that level and the MAAC.
A couple of years ago this blogger’s son applied to the University of Michigan. We made the trip to Ann Arbor to visit the school. The trip came just a few weeks after Beilein’s hiring there.
While my son was visiting the campus, I thought I’d make a quick stop over to see Beilein, who I had gotten to know during his time in the MAAC.
But, the doors to the Michigan arena were locked that day. Every single one of them. A couple of days later I called the Michigan sports information office to explain that I had been on campus, had tried to visit Beilein and had been locked out.
The response was that the school purposely keeps its arena doors locked. The perception is that sports are so “big time” there, that fans of the respective programs _ not just basketball, but obviously football, as well _ would arrive in hordes to talk to coaches if the doors were open.
It is, of course, a world removed from the pleasant, fan-friendly atmosphere that exists in the MAAC.
Doors of buildings that host athletic offices at MAAC schools are never locked (except at night).
One can walk into Saint Peter’s Yanitelli Center, Canisius’ Koessler Center, Niagara’s Taps Gallagher Center, Siena’s Alumni Recreation Center, etc., at any time. Odds are you can get a quick audience with a coach or an assistant coach if one has a few minutes to spare.
The opportunity to get close to coaches and athletes at the mid-major level is just one of a myriad of things that makes this blogger more than happy to have been involved with covering the MAAC for more than two decades, rather than doing the same at the high-major level.
Nothing against Big Ten basketball, or the ACC or the SEC, or any of the major conferences.
It might be a higher level of basketball and it might involved better athletes. But, the closest you’ll get to the coaches and players at that level is that high-priced seat you sit in to watch home games.