For those that missed GoBlueWolverine's feature on the top 10 players at the team camp, click here.
John Beilein's decision to institute a team camp in Ann Arbor should not be glossed over as a minor happening. Friday's event was a big deal. It was the foundation for what could ultimately become a major recruiting tool and it's the right move at the right time for Michigan's program.
Mentioning the importance of a team camp now might cause some look at back at previous regimes and wonder whether their decisions not to have one were egregious oversights. Those, however, would be unfair assessments in my opinion. Twenty years ago the need for a team camp wasn't really there. First of all there were coaches in place that had long standing in-state ties. (Bill Frieder, for instance, was previously a high school coach in the state). Furthermore the program's status at that time allowed it to automatically be in the running for not only the state's top athletes, but the region's as well. Fast forward to the late 90's, and the combination of scandal with a coach that had no real understanding of the in-state basketball scene put the program in a precarious and unfamiliar predicament. Michigan was no longer the "in" school for basketball. That reality was exacerbated by the fact that Michigan State's ascent was taking place at the same time under Tom Izzo.
When Tommy Amaker took over, the question wasn't whether he wanted to do a team camp, it was, "is it worth it?" Would he lose more than he'd gain by putting on such a camp? It certainly was a question that he had to ask since having the camp would leave him even more vulnerable in the ever-present facilities debate. The fact of the matter is Michigan is routinely lambasted by its opposition when it comes to facilities. The logistics of a team camp demand the use of more than one court. That means that the focus would not only be on Crisler and whatever deficiencies exist there, but also on the satellite facilities as well. You certainly run the risk of validating many of the criticisms levied by opposing coaches. In some cases it may be a negative factor in recruitment. In the grand scheme of things, it's understandable why Amaker chose not to do it. That said, now that Beilein is at the helm, it's definitely time.
The backbone of the program will always come from within the state of Michigan, and recognizing that, Beilein has strategically directed his efforts toward raising the profile of the program within these borders. In his three months on the job he has dedicated a great deal of time to forging relationships and making connections on what is now his home turf. One of the best ways to further that cause is with a team camp.
With one of the most effective, aggressive, and tenacious recruiters in the country right up the road in East Lansing, the task becomes matching that effort. It's clear that Beilein is willing to put forth that kind of time. Now with his team camp, Beilein is taking aim at one of Izzo's other longtime recruiting advantages; The Izzo Shootout.
Michigan State's headman has done an outstanding job of implementing his team camp. It has been a magnificent recruiting tool because it allows him the opportunity to get kids exposed both to his program and to the campus as a whole. Michigan clearly is hoping for the same kinds of results. Beilein may not have his new rival's pristine facilities just yet, and that may sour a prospect or two on Michigan when they compare it to other schools… but in the grand scheme of things, the benefits outweigh the detriment.
Relationship building will be one of the keys in getting Michigan on an even recruiting ground in this state. Obviously winning is a bigger factor, but relationships will definitely be key. Many of the other issues, like fan support and structural support, are out of Beilein's control. For him to do everything he is truly capable of here, he will ultimately need to be equipped with the amenities that will further decrease an already stated advantage for the programs he will be going toe to toe with. In other words, the fans and the admin will sooner or later (hopefully sooner) make it so he doesn't have to keep going into gun battles with knives.
In the meantime, this was an excellent first step toward building what will hopefully become a summer fixture in Ann Arbor. The kids had fun, the high school coaches got a better feel for what the new coaching staff is about, and a few top prospects got a chance to see Michigan. Not bad for a day's work! (Those that missed GoBlueWolverine's feature on the top 10 players at the team camp, click here.)
In the coming days GoBlueWolverine will bring you reaction to the camp from many of the coaches in attendance. Stay tuned later in the day for Andre Barthwell's take on the camp. Through chatting with many of them already, we've been able to compile a list of schools that were in attendance:
Grosse Pointe South
Toledo Catholic Central
*Some squads had two teams and there was an All Star team comprised of various players that made their way to camp