"Our program right now is constantly taking steps forward," Amaker said. "We may not run across the finish line right now, but I think that we are headed toward that finish line."
Although last year's campaign saw almost twice as many losses as wins, the Wolverines did finish with a strong showing in the Big Ten Tournament, beating Northwestern soundly before dropping a tight game against the co-Big Ten champs from Ohio State in the second round. That strong finish has helped several incoming players to expect bigger and better things from their teammates in 2002-03.
"I expect us to make a postseason tournament of some sort -- at least the NIT. But everyone on the team would like to make the NCAA Tournament," said freshman point guard Daniel Horton. "I think we have the talent and the ability to do good and with this coaching staff."
It appears as though a winning season is the goal on the minds of the players, and their second-year coach shares that vision.
"I do believe that we will be better than last year," Amaker said. "I think a winning season is realistic for this team. Postseason is also a realistic possibility."
In fact, Amaker said that was nothing going on internally with the program that he is wants to change.
"This is not just a coach's speech or spin -- this is how I genuinely feel," he said. "I think that there is an air of excitement within our basketball program and that has a lot to do with the growth of our players."
His team will be growing in front of larger crowds at Crisler Arena this season, as student tickets appear to be on the rise despite a small increase in price.
"I think we have rekindled our spirit," Amaker said. "There is a spirit amongst our student body. I had an opportunity to meet with the leaders of the Maize Rage last night. To understand after coming off a year that is 11-18 and to have our numbers, student ticket sales and our goals increase. The spirit has been revived or is alive again. Those are very good things that are internal but you have to have that before you have the other things."
From an external perspective, the Wolverines' coaching staff has done well, considering the threats of NCAA sanctions hanging over the program because of the Ed Martin scandal. After bringing in a McDonalds All-American point guard in Horton, Amaker and company have already secured commitments from two of the best prospects in the class of 2004: shooting guard Dion Harris of Detroit and center Courtney Sims of Boston.
"When you look around, there are some obvious things that we do not feel great about," Amaker said. "But I think in terms of the things that we can control, when it comes to our program, we are very pleased."
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