The bad dream that was the 2004/2005 basketball season was wrought with frustrating twists and turns for Tommy Amaker's club. The injuries that mounted hurled them into a tail-spin that they couldn't recover from. However, as disappointing as the outcome, it still served purpose. Many of the players used that trying experience as motivation to better their games. That certainly can be said for Daniel Horton. It is also true for fellow senior, Graham Brown.
"It was pretty tough," Brown said regarding last season. "I let down the team. I didn't mean to let down the team, but injuries come with the game. When I got back on the court it was a little tougher to be able to play longer minutes. In the summer, I tried to do whatever I could to get in condition and tried to get myself in best shape I could so I didn't have injuries or any kind of nagging things that came along with the last couple of years. I changed my eating habits a little bit. I met with a nutritionist throughout the summer and I tried to get some tips and pointers from her. She really helped me out a lot. She was really a key part of why I made the change. I actually weigh like 245 right now, so it's basically about the same weight I was at last year. It just a little bit better make up."
Brown's physical metamorphosis is apparent when looking at him out on the court. What might not be as evident, though, is how that has corresponded to his increase in confidence. That subtle difference hasn't been lost on his coach. "He is obviously in better physical condition and he has worked hard to get himself in this kind of shape," said Michigan head man Tommy Amaker. "He is toned, slimmed down, and has reallocated muscle and weight. I think he's very confident. Our strength coach, Coach Plocki, has done a phenomenal job with all of our guys, but obviously Graham has been a sponge when it comes to coach Plocki's work. Not only does it help you physically, but it can help you mentally. I think that's an area for Graham and for any kid. ..you need to feel really good and confident in your ability, your strength, and your stamina. I think he feels that way. Graham is a hard worker. I think part of who he is that he is just going to keep coming at you and keep working. I think that's a trait he has displayed since he has been here."
For a self-starter like Brown, Plocki's influence has been that much more effective. The Mio native credits the encouragement of his strength coach as another key in helping him take the next step in his physical maturation. "We lift weights three times a week…Monday, Wednesday, Friday," Brown said. "I always go in there and hit it hard. I've got a little one on one with Coach Plocki. He's telling me what to do and I'm lifting with him. He's giving me a couple of extra reps and pushing me harder than I would myself. He just is always on me trying to make me the best player I can be."
Now sporting a new physique, Brown certainly has a different feeling on the court. It's one which is most noticeable late in games. "I feel a little quicker a little more agile…able to get up and down the court and get up and down for rebounds a little bit better," he said. "It's a huge difference this year than it has been the last couple of years. I feel like there is no letdown. There is no time where I feel like my game is slowing down or my game is letting down a little bit. I think I can go throughout the game on the same level throughout the whole 40 minutes. I think that's one of the key aspects of how I've been performing."
Brown's late game effectiveness was on full display versus the Notre Dame Fighting Irish last weekend. He scored seven straight points over a two-minute span down the stretch to knot things up at 67 with about a minute remaining. He then followed that up by grabbing a rebound on the other end to set the Wolverines up for their game-winning opportunity.
Brown's 13 points (and 11 rebounds) on the afternoon constituted an offensive explosion for him, but as a consummate team player…to him…it was no big deal. "On Saturday I just did whatever I could to help the team," Brown said. "My guards found me down low in the last couple minutes of the game and got me some easy baskets. I just finished with a little contact. The last couple of years I haven't been able to finish with contact, and that's been one of the things I've been working on. I felt good throughout the whole game. I don't exactly know what the reason is behind that. I just felt good the last couple of games, and hopefully I continue to do the same."
Brown is not going to put up double doubles every game, and he is not going to be the go-to man in the clutch...but neither of those things diminishes his value. Those on the team know that his contributions night in and night out are significant…even if they can't be measure with stats. "In my opinion Graham plays well every game," Amaker said. "There are times when he plays better, but I don't think he ever plays poorly. He does too much for our team. He's too valuable for our ball club in so many many ways. His leadership, his talk, his toughness, his unselfishness…and that has nothing to do with numbers. He's always in the middle of something good happening for our team. He's the guy that makes the pass that leads to an assist for the bucket. We use him in the middle of the press. He inbounds the ball for us. There are so many things that he does that gives our team the opportunity to be successful. He has been our best post defender on the front line. When you go down the list of things that have nothing to do with some the stats that the majority of people pay attention to… He's a tough kid, and he's a winner. He's a winner."