ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan coach John Beilein doesn’t have time for reflection. Not even after the roller-coaster stretch that his basketball team has faced the last week.
The task at hand on Friday is to win an NCAA Tournament game, but it’s hard to ignore the last seven days for Michigan: from the shock of a plane accident last Wednesday that delayed the team’s travel to Washington, D.C., for the Big Ten Tournament, to the euphoria of winning that championship and earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“Things don’t hit me like that,” Beilein said Wednesday. “Maybe someday, I’ll look back. I just keep rolling. I’m not really a reflection guy. I’m not, ‘What happened?’ I’m, ‘What’s next?’ I can’t answer it for the team, but I can answer for me. I do hope for the rest of my life I will have that perspective that we all gained after those events. I hope I never lose that again.”
Then, Beilein added with a wry smile, “But I will. I’m sure I’ll be some place smelling the roses again sometime. But I’ll try not to.”
Michigan (24-11) is the No. 7 seed in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament and faces No. 10 Oklahoma State (20-12) at 12:15 p.m. ET Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Several of Michigan’s players got a little more introspective than their coach when asked if they’ve come down from the shock and elation of the previous seven days.
“It’s kind of hard to step back during the tournament because you have so much going on and you prepare for the games all the time, but looking back, it’s crazy all what happened, and I’m just very happy that it turned out the way it turned out,” sophomore forward Moritz Wagner said. “It’s more than basketball. This group is very special. I’m very grateful just to be able to be around these guys and to be in the position I am and having the opportunity I have. I’m very glad that I’m still in that position.”
After the plane accident, in which Michigan’s chartered flight aborted takeoff and skidded off the runway at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Mich., the Wolverines made a remarkable run in the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan won four Big Ten tournament games to win the conference’s postseason championship and secure its berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan returned to Ann Arbor on Sunday night after a 71-56 win against Wisconsin in the conference championship game and took Monday off after a stretch of four games in four days.
On Tuesday, Michigan had a film session and a walk-through. Senior guard/forward Zak Irvin treated himself to a massage.
“It’s definitely not easy, especially after a plane accident,” Irvin said. “It was nice to just get away from everything, to relax. But now we’re right back at it.”
In the wake of the tumultuous week, have Michigan’s players seen any changes in Beilein — a man and a coach who insists he’s moving forward?
“He’s always very emotional, but he seems like he’s enjoying this,” Wagner said. “I don’t know how to put it, but I think for him, 40 years is a long time as a head coach, and I think to be a part of a team that’s special for him, it’s one thing I’m very grateful for. You get that impression that he’s having a special time with us.”
Michigan leaves Wednesday afternoon for the NCAA Tournament — the Wolverines will travel by bus, not by plane, about four hours southwest to Indianapolis — and Beilein added a little levity before he left his news conference Wednesday afternoon at the Crisler Center.
First, he bid everyone in the room “safe travels.”
Then, the 10th-year Michigan coach chuckled as he exited: “There’s a whole new meaning to this.”