The Wolverine

March 2020 Issue

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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92 THE WOLVERINE MARCH 2020 BY JOHN BORTON R eporters always ask recruits about their top five schools. Gra- ham Brown found that question par- ticularly easy to handle, coming out of the thumb's tiny Mio High School. Michigan headed the list. Then it went: Michigan, Michigan, Michigan … and Michigan. "That's what I always strived to get to," Brown said. "Luckily enough for me, I got to the point where I was able to get a scholarship to Michigan to play basketball. That was a life- long dream." Brown's orientation as a Wolverine isn't tough to diagnose. His older brother served as a team manager for Fab Five squads. "I grew up on Michigan games," Brown said. "I'd go to Fab Five prac- tices, go to all the games. I went to the Final Fours with my family. Michigan was the school that I al- ways wanted to go to." He arrived there at an interesting time. U-M was taking down Final Four banners and self-imposing bas- ketball sanctions when he arrived as a freshman. But Brown and his classmates came in full of optimism. "I know Michigan had some hard times and hard years," Brown of- fered. "In the end, it's still Michi- gan basketball. I knew with Tommy Amaker coming in there, we were going to have a good recruiting class. We had great guys coming in from around the country. "We were going to make it better. We had great teammates and great guys. We knew we were going to be better off than years past." The Wolverines certainly under- scored that promise in Brown's freshman season. With him and classmates Daniel Horton and Les- ter Abram starting the vast majority of the games, the Wolverines went 10-6 in the Big Ten, finishing third. They beat UCLA at Pauley Pavilion and knocked off Michigan State by a bucket in Ann Arbor. "I got lucky," he said of starting 25 games that season. "I walked into a situation where they needed some- body to play. Coming from a small school, you never would have ex- pected that. Hard work and dedica- tion paid off. It was good for me in the long term, with the progression over the years." Brown clearly recalled the feeling of getting ready to take the floor at Crisler Arena for the very first time. "I remember the first game — as soon as you'd get in that tunnel, you'd hear the fight song coming, and you'd just get goose bumps throughout your whole body," Brown said. "You've been striving for that your whole life, and you get to that point. You never really think it's real, until you look back after the four years. It was just a phenomenal experience to have." One year later, the young Wolver- ines thought they'd made the break- through — Michigan's first NCAA Tournament since 1999. It wasn't to be for Amaker 's 23-11 crew, which still became champions of the Na- tional Invitation Tournament. "We were on the verge," Brown recalled. "Every time the polls would come out, we were always on the verge. We had great stretches where we won some games in a row against ranked teams at home, and we made it on a national spectrum. "We were on the verge of the NCAA Tournament. We were pray- ing we'd get in. There was kind of a letdown when we didn't get in — we were one of the last teams out." Instead of dancing on the biggest stage, they beat Missouri, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Oregon and Rutgers to win the only tournament available to them. "We thought we still had years where we'd make the NCAA Tourna- ment, so we made the best out of our opportunity," Brown said. "We had a press conference and I said, 'Any team that's playing basketball right now, that's a good thing.'" The run to the NIT title left the Wolverines convinced they'd make the next step in 2004-05. What they didn't count on involved Horton getting sidelined with a knee injury, Abram undergoing shoulder surgery and Brown himself enduring not one but two hernia surgeries. They spiraled down to a 13-18 record, 4-12 in the Big Ten. Brown looks back on it now with a healthy dose of perspective. "The record at the end of the year didn't reflect what we were doing," Brown said. "Some guys were out for half the year. Brown earned Michigan's Steve Grote Hustle Award all four years and served as a team cap- tain his last two. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN   WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Graham Brown Remains Forever A Wolverine

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