Despite emotional overflow, Beilein takes loss in stride
ATLANTA, Ga. -- This was not the way it was supposed to work out for John Beilein.
The plan had been for Michigan to beat Louisville and win it all in college basketball for the first time since 1989, but that’s not what happened at the Georgia Dome on Monday night. After leading for much of the first half, Michigan fell behind in the second and lost 82-76.
The road would have been complete, the fairy tale fulfilled. Fairy tales, though, don’t always come true. This one didn’t.
“I’ve had a lot of really good teams over the years and some emotional locker rooms,” Beilein said after the game. “That one was the most emotional we’ve ever had [because of] the team unity that we had, the sacrifices we had from five seniors that did not get to play very much to these young guys just buying into the whole team concept.”
Beilein’s a guy who didn’t exactly bounce around during his long, hard climb to the top of the sport. He’d never really stuck around in any one place, either. Ask him about it, and he says that the journey made him a better head coach.
His 40-year overnight rise to prominence is just one of the many storylines that have cropped up lately about Beilein. There’s another, about how the movie “Saving Private Ryan” was based loosely on the story of cousins of his mother, Josephine.
Beilein and his very large family are from upstate New York, and many of them bussed in for the Final Four. He also once coached at Le Moyne College, just three miles or so from the Syracuse. Those made for even more cool storylines in the days leading up to Saturday’s semifinal against the Orange.
All in all, Beilein’s press coverage this week seems to have been relatively positive for a coach at this level. He certainly hasn’t gone out of his way to seek the spotlight … it just found him in the wake of Michigan’s ride through this year’s NCAA tournament.
Make no mistake about it. Beilein would’ve very gladly, very happily forgone the spotlight in exchange for a few more points against Louisville.
“We feel bad about it,” Beilein continued. “We could’ve done some things better, every one of us [Monday], and got a win. At the same time, Louisville is a terrific basketball team. I have not seen that quickness anywhere, and we’ve played some really good teams. Their quickness is incredible, and it got us at times [Monday].”
Like most any good team -- from playground hoops to the pros -- the relationship between coach and players is paramount. It’s not impossible for a team that has friction from the top down to succeed, but having little or no drama surely does help.
That certainly appears to have been the case this year with Michigan.
“The respect I have for Coach Beilein is at an all-time high, and it will always be throughout my college career, throughout whatever my opportunities are after college,” sophomore standout Trey Burke said. “He’s just a guy that you will respect not only on the court but off the court.”
That right there, the off-the-court factor with Beilein, seems to be the common denominator among all the Wolverine players.
If the NCAA tournament is the "Big Dance," then recruiting is almost certainly the courtship to get there. Many programs and coaches will go to great lengths to get their player, but Beilein went a different route.
The first question he asked Tim Hardaway Jr. was about how he was doing academically. He took a genuine interest in Nik Stauskas’ personal life and family. He didn’t blow smoke at Stauskas, either. Beilein instead told him that he looked forward to helping the young man improve his game.
Glenn Robinson III says Beilein treats the entire squad like family. Had things turned out differently, they could’ve reached the top of the mountain together.
That just wasn’t meant to be. Not here. Not on this night.
“He’s the guy who’s going to hold you accountable for all your actions,” Burke continued. “He’s going to help you grow up as a man. When I first came in here, I didn’t understand some of his philosophies when I would get in trouble off the court and do certain things, he would run me. I finally started to realize what his purpose was for that. It’s definitely allowed me to grow up and mature.”
Beilein appeared remarkably composed in his postgame news conference, smiling far more than he had in any of his others. Had some sort of weight been lifted from his shoulders? After everything it took to get him here, he’s not about to allow a mere loss ruin the experience of being here.
“I hope [Tuesday] when we get on that plane there’s some smiles on faces,” he said. “The sun will come up [Tuesday]. If they aren’t smiling, we’re going to make them smile because they are a terrific young team. We’re the luckiest coaching staff in the world to be able to coach those guys.
“Not only do they love the coaching staff and the coaching staff loves them, but they love each other. The word ‘love’ was just used over and over and over. Two 19-year-old guys were saying, ‘I love you.’ That’s pretty deep stuff.”
Exams start in two weeks at Michigan, and Beilein actually has some practice time left that he can get in with his troops. He’s going to use it because there’s always next year.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if our seniors don’t come by and want to help the young guys,” Beilein said. “What could our young guys learn from this experience, now that we can look back on it?”
Michigan can expect one luxury.
“I doubt if we’ll be doing anything [Tuesday],” he said.
Wednesday or Thursday, though, count on it.