ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR RUNS THROUGH NWI FOR MICHIGAN
By Mike Hutton 648-3139 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter:@MikeHuttonPT April 4, 2013 7:18PM
Parents of three local players who are playing for Michigan in the NCAA baksetball tournament. Seated is Valerie and Tim McGary of Chesterton. Standing, from left to right, Shantelle and Antwoin Irving of St. John and Chuck and Tammy Albrecht of Crown Point. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Saturday in Atlanta
Louisville (33-5) vs. Wichita State (30-8), 5:09 p.m.
Michigan (30-7) vs. Syracuse (30-9), 7:49 p.m.
Updated: May 6, 2013 3:52PM
There was a moment in the Kansas game, with Michigan down double digits and the clock winding under five minutes, when Shantelle Clay was about to step away from the action and reschedule her flight. It was a moment of weakness.
Her son Gelen, a cranky traveler, was with her, and though she would have been disappointed for her other son, Glenn Robinson III, at getting knocked out the NCAA tournament, the idea of getting back home early wasn’t an awful thought.
She had racked up thousands of miles traveling to and from games in Ann Arbor, Mich., and to other Big Ten towns. The season, with a Sweet 16 appearance, was already a success for the Wolverines, who had been ranked No. 1 for part of the year.
And the truth is, as much as she wouldn’t want to miss one of her son’s games, the travel can be grueling and unpredictable.
Plans changed in an instant with a successful 30-foot jumper by Trey Burke at the buzzer, which finished off a rally that erased a 10-point Kansas lead in the last 2:52. The Wolverines won in overtime.
Bedlam and indescribable happiness broke out for the Michigan Nation, and Clay, her mother, her husband and Gelen, were staying and not going.
And she couldn’t have been happier. The Wolverines won two days later, making Florida look like an AAU team in a 79-59 romp. They were Final Four-bound.
It was crazy. It’s still crazy and she hopes it gets even crazier.
“It’s just been so unbelievable,” she said. “It’ s so busy. I’m just so happy they’re still healthy and I’m praying that they can keep winning.”
Clay speaks for everyone in the region — Indiana fans, Purdue fans, Butler fans and perhaps even Syracuse fans.
If you have a heart, if you feel any sense of connection between the ground under your feet and the belching white smoke that drifts out of the steel mills on a hot summer day, if you know what it’s like to be from the “Da Region”, you will be sitting in front of your television Saturday — or perhaps you will be at the game in Atlanta — rooting for the Michigan Wolverines to beat the Orange.
Sounds strange, yes, but not half as strange as it seems when you consider the incredible confluence of unrelated events that led three region kids — one from Dyer and Gary, one from Crown Point and one from Chesterton, to Ann Arbor, all at the same time.
Spike finds a place to play
Nobody wanted Spike Albrecht when he was darting between small places and finding little crevices to throw up his twisting, seemingly off-balance layups, or pulling up off the break and dropping in a 3-pointer.
Albrecht was too small. He didn’t pass the eye test.
He weighed 155 pounds and he was just 5-11. And even though he averaged more than 21 points per game and five assists his senior year at Crown Point, Albrecht wasn’t on any college radar.
Chuck Albrecht, his father, said one time the Bulldogs played Merrillville and Bill Dorulla, the athletic director, said 18 scouts had signed in to watch the game.
“Now is his chance,” Dorulla told Chuck.
They were there mostly to watch Brandon Clark and Jeremiah Jones, two Pirates players, and Spike lit them up for “like 30 points,” according to Chuck.
A few days later, Dorulla bumped into Chuck and asked him who called.
“No one,” he said.
Clint Swan, Spike’s coach, felt like a used car salesman, trying desperately to get someone to take a flier on Spike.
In a strange, perfect way, it all turned out better than a fairy tale for Spike. He had skipped AAU basketball for two years because he was so small that Chuck, an excellent player at Lew Wallace, didn’t think it was worth it for him after both his other sons were hurt playing AAU.
Then, after his senior year, he broke his foot and couldn’t play AAU.
Northern Illinois showed some summer interest but backed off after the injury. Spike was going to go to Brown, where his brother Stephen played. He missed qualifying by one point on the ACT test.
The plan then was to go to prep school and join his brother at Brown after a year.
That all changed when the coach at Northfield Mount Herman College watched him play a couple of times.
“He’s not going to Brown,” he told Chuck. “He’s too good.”
Plans changed again when Burke, a dazzling player who was named AP national player of the year Thursday, flirted with the idea of going to the NBA last spring.
Michigan coach John Beilein suddenly was in the market for a point guard and Albrecht, who was being wooed by mostly mid-major teams, was available.
Wayne Brumm, Albrecht’s AAU coach, had told the Michigan staff about Albrecht but the Wolverines coaches were skeptical, like the rest of the world.
Then they actually watched him play — and they were smitten.
It was a whirlwind romance that lasted just a few weeks. A year ago, on Good Friday, Albrecht committed to Michigan, presumably to be the point guard if Burke left.
Beilein told Albrecht one thing the day he committed.
“Make me look smart in a year,” he said.
He has. Albrecht is a steady, solid backup for Burke. He averages eight minutes per game, more during the tournament run, and he has turned into a solid locker-room guy for the Wolverines.
Mitch and Glenn III
Robinson and McGary ended up at Michigan together after Robinson worked on his buddy hard. The two had played AAU ball for Brum at SYF.
Robinson joined the Wolverines because Beilein was the first coach that went after him hard. Other schools, like his father’s alma mater, Purdue, had shown only passing interest in him. They weren’t convinced, at least when he was a sophomore, that he was good enough to play Big Ten basketball. Now, he’s projected as a lottery pick by some draft analysts.
McGary was a project. He left Chesterton after two seasons to get his grades up and work on his game.
He struggled with injuries and academics at Chesterton and Brumm found a place for him at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire.
By the end of 2011, McGary had turned into one of the best big men in the country. Rivals.com had him rated as the No. 2 prospect overall. Kentucky, Duke and Michigan were all interested.
He pulled out a Michigan hat for his signing day announcement, which wasn’t a surprise. He had wanted to be close to home all along.
Some believe the Wolverines’ run through the tournament has been keyed by McGary. McGary’s dad, Tim, calls his left-handed son a freak. He rides a unicycle in his spare time and he is impressive on a skateboard.
“He can throw a football further with either hand than I can throw one,” Tim said.
Mitch scored 25 points and had 14 rebounds against Kansas, using both hands alternately. McGary was slowed early in the season with plantar fasciitis and a 20-pount weight gain that his father said came from the training program that Michigan had him on. He has dropped most of the weight.
Robinson averages 11.0 points per game and 5.5 rebounds. His steal and reverse layup with time winding down against Kansas was a pivotal play in the Wolverines’ come back. There is speculation that he might put his name in for the NBA draft, though Clay says that he and McGary have asked to room together again next year.
The Parents and the Road trips
The McGarys — Tim and Valerie — knew Clay from AAU.
Chuck Albrecht had coached young Mitch when he was a fourth-grader on an AAU team.
The last 41/2 months has been parade of road trips and juggling work while trying to schedule the next trip out of town.
They all know each other, they all root for each other’s kids and their own, too, and no one wants this to end until after Monday’s title game.
It’s been hectic but worthwhile. All four Albrecht kids are going to Atlanta.
Clay is meeting friends in Atlanta and her mother is riding down with a group from church.
The McGarys are packing up their Chevy Impala, which Tim figures he has put 15,000 miles on since the season started, and leaving after he finishes his afternoon shift at the steel mill, where he works an operator.
Tim, not much of an athlete in school at Chesterton, still can’t believe it. He didn’t get to watch Mitch play at Brewster last year that much. It was too far away and he couldn’t afford it.
All the parents are savoring every minute of this, knowing that it’ll never, ever happen again like this for anyone else. Valerie McGary, the treasurer for Chesterton High School, said the whole saga seems unreal.
But it isn’t.
“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “Sometimes, I don’t believe it’s happening. It’s like Shantelle said, sometimes you just have to pinch yourself. It’s been a blast.”