ANN ARBOR, Mich -- It’s built, quite literally, in the shadows of Michigan Stadium and an unrivaled football legacy.
Underneath a state-of-the-art roof, which expands or contracts adjusting to the weight of snow, is an investment that took great time, patience, and resources to build.
Before Wednesday evening, it had been 21 years since Michigan (that’s basketball we’re talking about—not football) played a game as the nation’s top-ranked team. That team had the Fab Five, basketball greats who changed the game. This group has its own stars, such as future NBA talents Trey Burke, Glen Robinson III, and Tim Hardaway Jr.
Two decades ago, Crisler Arena was but a convenient bathroom for football tailgaters. The building’s exterior was bland, the concourse lacked character, and the game atmosphere was dull. It remained as such for years.
When John Beilein became Michigan’s head coach, his facilities remained below average; all while plans were being made to renovate the football palace towering high above. After Tommy Amaker failed to bring the Wolverines to the NCAA tournament in six tries, Beilein brought great promise to Michigan, having built West Virginia into a Big East power.
Beilein’s beginning was a struggle. The year before he took over, Amaker’s team won 22 games and narrowly missed the tournament. Beilein’s bunch finished his first season with a 10-22 record. After sneaking into the tournament as a 10 seed in 2009, the Wolverines struggled again the following year, with a 15-17 record.
Despite the struggles, Michigan stood behind its head coach. It made an investment to be the best.
In the fall of 2010, the Michigan Board of Regents approved plans for the first phase of a Crisler Arena renovation project which would cost $20 million. Just three months later, the second phase was approved.
It took $52 million in athletic resources and gifts, but Michigan’s basketball abode is incredible. Walk into the main entrance and ride up an escalator, leading by a scenic indoor waterfall, and enter the spacious, modernized concourse. Stroll into the arena and sit in a comfortable cushioned chair with an ideal view of the game.
Matching the tremendous facilities, Michigan has enjoyed its own success. With the benefit of time to build his program, Beilein has led the Wolverines to a 65-25 mark since 2010—including two consecutive NCAA tournament berths. His team is currently ranked No. 1 in the country and appears poised for a deep run in March.
It’s not a captivating story. There was no magic or miracles. This isn’t a narrative Disney will make into a movie. Michigan’s model is simple, but has been successful thanks to the great gifts of patience and belief.