WASHINGTON — The Michigan basketball team was warming up for practice Wednesday morning at Crisler Center when the high winds outside caused a power outage.
That was the beginning of one of the most memorable weeks in program history. The Wolverines moved to the practice court, which had some natural light and allowed the team to at least get in a walk-through session before now famously boarding a plane that failed to take off and ended up in a ditch.
Less than 24 hours later, the Wolverines were playing a game at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., while wearing practice jerseys because the game uniforms were delayed by an investigation into the plane accident.
About 98 hours later, the Wolverines were celebrating a conference tournament championship. After the Michigan players cut down a net at Verizon Center and watched the NCAA Tournament selection show from the arena, they had a chance to reflect on what had just happened.
It was the first time Michigan won this tournament since the first time the event happened, in 1998. That title also doesn’t officially count outside of Ann Arbor, because the NCAA forced the program to vacate it after sanctions were levied.
Winning a conference tournament is a great achievement, especially when the program hasn’t done it in nearly 20 years. But what the Wolverines went through this past week will be recounted over and over for decades to come.
The players on team can mark their calendars now. At some point in 2022, 2027, 2032 and so on — every five years this extraordinary week will be remembered at a Michigan home basketball game, regardless if the Wolverines lose to Oklahoma State in a few days or play in Glendale, Ariz., at the 2017 Final Four.
The memories from this past week will be part of the Michigan program lore forever. The plane, wearing the practice jerseys against Illinois, winning four games in four days and becoming the first No. 8 seed to claim the tournament — all of it will probably be immortalized in a book or two someday soon.
What did these players think they’ll tell their kids and their grandkids about their wild week in Washington?
We asked them:
“Probably that was a special four days. Four games, four days. Anything is possible if you can band together and count on each other. The fact that we won it after a plane crash. That alone, from that low to the ultimate high, in a span of four days is pretty special.”
“I’m going to tell them up until now it has been the best week of my life. I believe in my faith and I think God had a plan for us. We’re extremely appreciative and grateful to be here with what happened Wednesday. I think it’s destiny. I think we were destined to be in this position.”
“This was probably one of the craziest weeks of my life. Having to rush to D.C. and having to play in our practice jerseys — it just felt like it was meant to be, honestly. What we went through, we are all extremely blessed to even be in this position.”
“That my parents, my mom and dad, were here. That was really special for me. I didn’t get to see them that much during the days, but for them to be here was great. This is a great story to tell. I am grateful for that.”
“I think this is a life lesson for all of us. Everyone goes through adversity at some point in their lives, but sometimes it might be more traumatic than others. It’s something that we will never forget. I’m sure we’ll have lots of reunions as a team when we go back to Michigan at different points. This week will be the main topic of conversation probably. We have a lot of guys in this room who really came together and played well at the right time.”
Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman
“I’m probably going to embellish the story a little bit. I’ll probably say that the plane was in the air and we had to jump out and survived and the plane blew up. That’s probably my story. Then I’ll lie a little about the games and say I scored like 30 a game.
“I’m just glad that with all of what we went through this week, we came here and got what we wanted. We wanted to win a Big Ten championship, and that’s what we did.”
Abdur Rahkman might think he’s going to embellish the story 30 years from now, but the truth about what happened is pretty amazing on its own.