April 8, 2013

One more shot pumps Wolverines

Squaring off against No. 1 seed Louisville for the national title isn't any easy task. Weathering the March Madness - including a ridiculously fast-paced schedule - to get ready might be almost as daunting.

Michigan's finished up against Syracuse in the wee hours Saturday night. Suddenly, a group of 18- to 22-year-olds were thrust into an even greater media spotlight, giving interviews long after the game, arriving back at their hotel around 2 a.m. Sunday morning, and expected to get some rest for a huge preparation day just hours away.

Never mind that visions of the title game were racing around their heads like hummingbirds.

"It's tough to do," admitted freshman center Mitch McGary. "It's tough to come down from that emotional high. It was tough for everybody to sleep [after the win over Syracuse]. We're in the national championship game. It's tough."

Junior Tim Hardaway, Jr.'s three seasons in the Michigan program didn't make it much easier for him. He's never been on this sort of stage either - or under these kinds of time constraints.

"We wake up and watch film, have to prepare for Louisville, come here for media," Hardaway noted. "It's a challenge. There's a lot of exhaustion, but that's where sacrifice comes into play.

"You can't talk to your family that much. You've just got to live in the moment."

Living in the moment, for McGary, meant forcing himself down off the emotional high of the Syracuse win and locking onto the task ahead, against Louisville. He did so, but not without interruption.

When you're a part of Michigan's first Final Four since 1993, there are more than a few folks who want to pat you on the back, via the long reach of technology.

"Text messages, I got about 120," McGary said, regarding the Syracuse post-game period. "I was trying to answer all of them. Thanks to all the fans, family members and friends. It's been surreal, just going through this tournament and having such a good run as a team."

They have all been barraged in some fashion by well-wishers, including family, friends and fans. They've been put into the nation's spotlight, as a near-miss team in the Big Ten race that was counted out heading into The Big Dance.

The country caught up along the way, witnessing McGary blossom before its eyes. Onlookers also watched sophomore guard Trey Burke live up to his consensus national Player of the Year billing, and when he was held relatively in check offensively, players such as freshmen Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht come off the bench to deliver in double-take fashion.

The Wolverines have weathered one of the toughest roads to the national championship game, facing a second No. 1 seed, after getting past Kansas, No. 5 seed VCU, No. 4 seed Syracuse and No. 3 seed Florida. They've answered literally 100s of questions - verbally, and on the court, without saying a word to anyone but each other.

One test remains. They're wearied in a way - just like Louisville, or any other team that reaches the final showdown in a season that began in mid-October.

Adrenaline, Hardaway admitted, will come into play.

"It will play a huge role," he said. "Once the lights come on, and once we're on our bus on the way to the Georgia Dome, it's going to be very, very exciting. The blood is going to be flowing, and everybody is going to be amped up to go out there.

"We're quiet on the bus ride. Before we go out on the court, there is a lot of screaming, a lot of guys yelling, just trying to get the blood flowing."

They desperately want one more, to come away unbloodied from the biggest game of their basketball lives. There will be plenty of time to rest later.


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