Michigan is Back

USA TODAY Sports

Things are looking up for an athletic department that just a few years ago found itself at a number of crossroads.

After the loss to Louisville on Monday night, I cried. Real tears. Then I went to bed. I was surprised that a loss would affect me so much, but I felt for those guys. I felt for Trey. I felt for Timmy. I felt for Coach Beilein.

After talking it over with my family and my coaches, discussing it with some of the players, I felt like it was the best decision for me to stay for my sophomore year and compete for a national championship. - Trey Burke, April 9, 2012

When Burke decided to stay at Michigan for his sophomore season, Michigan fans were obviously relieved and ecstatic. No longer would they have to be worried about the status of their starting point guard, and the reigning co-Big Ten Freshman of the Year would be around, at least for another year, to guide this young team forward. But how many people, when they heard or read that quote, really focused on Burke's last two words? Michigan had just come off a frankly embarrassing Round-of-64 tourney loss at the hands of Ohio, out of all teams. There were jokes, of course. The only reason a 13-4 seed matchup wasn't the most embarrassing thing ever was probably because Duke, a 2-seed, also happened to lose to Lehigh, a 15-seed. I'll be honest - I paid no attention to Burke's last two words. I, along with thousands of Michigan fans, was elated that he decided to stay another year. But a national championship? Surely that's just Burke being overly optimistic. Right?

Of course it was known that Beilein was bringing in his best recruiting class ever. Michigan was ranked pre-season top-5 and Trey Burke was nominated for about a million awards. Things were definitely on the up and up. When Michigan started 16-0, it looked like the whole national championship thing was really within sight. When they finished the season 6-6 in Big Ten play, including losses to Penn State, Wisconsin, and Wisconsin again, it looked like getting past the Round-of-64 would be good enough this season. There were always excuses. The team is young. The Big Ten is a tough league. Coach Beilein has never gotten past the Elite Eight.

Trey Burke would have none of that though. What Burke and the rest of the team showed this season is that Michigan sports, not just basketball, are back. He showed that the coaching staff is an honest staff, and when they tell you that the team they're putting together is going to be the real deal, they mean it. He showed the fans that those who stay will be champions.

Now I know that the Wolverines didn't win the Big Ten. And I know they didn't win a national championship. But what they've done for the basketball program at the University of Michigan is a damn big deal. Future teams will reap these benefits.

Can you imagine if Burke had forgone his sophomore season? Here's a list of things he would have missed out on:

  • Big Ten Player of the Year Award
  • Sports Illustrated Player of the Year Award
  • AP Player of the Year Award
  • Wooden Player of the Year Award
  • Oscar Robertson Player of the Year Award
  • NABC Player of the Year Award
  • Naismith Player of the Year Award
  • Bob Cousy Award for Best Point Guard
  • Consensus All-American
  • NCAA Tournament South Regional Most Outstanding Player
  • Final Four appearance and win
  • National Title Game appearance

It's almost heart-breaking to consider what he could have left on the table. Oh, and the icing on the cake? He went from being a potential first-round draft pick to a definite lottery pick that will most likely go in the top-5. It's almost been an unbelievable year. Not just for Trey Burke, but for Michigan sports as a whole. I'll tell you why.

Basketball recruiting is of course different than football, but it's pretty clear that the 2012 class Beilein brought in has been the best class Michigan has seen since the Fab Five. The incoming 2013 class is also fantastic, led by Mr. Basketball for the state of Indiana, Zak Irvin, who plays small forward and is a definite position of need for this squad. Beilein also has his point guard of the future in Derrick Walton, who came in second place for the Mr. Basketball award in the state of Michigan. To finish off the class, there's a 4-star power forward in Mark Donnal, who will be a great backup to McGary if he decides to stay, or will have to fill in if McGary leaves. The 2012 and 2013 classes have been Beilein's best since becoming head coach at Michigan, and that's why Michigan Basketball is back.

Another prominent Michigan athlete, one who currently plays football, also decided to forgo the draft this year and stay at Michigan. Taylor Lewan, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and All-American, the guy who was projected to be a top-10 draft pick, is staying at Michigan to compete for a Big Ten title and beyond. Now I'm not saying the 2013 Wolverines football squad will reach the national championship game, but what I am saying is that the potential is most definitely there. Just like it was for the basketball squad.

When a guy with the pro potential that Lewan has decides to stay at Michigan for another year, you know it's going to be a special year. Burke proved that, didn't he? Why would Lewan stay? Because those who stay...

I'm not ready to predict Michigan a national championship caliber team...yet. But a Big Ten championship? Hell yes. In fact, I'm with Hoke on this one. Anything less this year really would be a failure. After Hoke's first year, when the team went 11-2, beat both Notre Dame and Ohio State, won a BCS bowl game for the first time since 2008, expectations soared. The reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year had to temper Michigan fans' expectations because he knew his team wasn't ready. Going 11-2 in his first year was a nice surprise, but he had barely recruited anyone yet. The same can go for his second year, and with a brutal schedule, I'm sure a lot of people could have guessed an 8-5 season with losses to Notre Dame and Ohio State. Hey, at least that Michigan State victory was nice.

But this is Year 3. And Year 3 under Brady Hoke is going to be a special one. If Michigan's 2014 recruiting classes finishes in the top-10, which it looks like it's heading that way considering how many top targets have Michigan listed as a favorite, this will be the first time since recruiting rankings have existed (2002) that Michigan would have a top-10 recruiting class three years in a row. The first time. Michigan's 2012 class, Hoke's first recruiting class so-to-speak, finished 7th according to Rivals. The 2013 class finished 5th, and the 2014 class looks like it's on its way to being Hoke's best yet. Hoke and his staff are known for being great coaches, but they are underrated as great recruiters as well. If Coach Hoke can pull off a top-10 class for the 2014 cycle, he will go down in the record books. The closest Michigan has come to that record before is in 2004 and 2005 and again in 2008 and 2009 in which the respective coaching staffs put together two top-10 recruiting classes in a row. Year 3 is special though.

But it's not just about the coaching staff recruiting great class after great class. Michigan's 2013 recruiting class included 5-star running back Derrick Green, who is arguably the highest-rated Michigan commitment since... ever. Hoke isn't just recruiting solid classes every year, he's recruiting the best of the best. The class of 2014 though, that's the one with the potential to really be great. Out of the players in the current Rivals100, there are ten who are seriously considering Michigan:

  1. Da'Shawn Hand - DE
  2. Jabrill Peppers - DB
  3. Adoree' Jackson - DB
  4. Braden Smith - OL
  5. Malik McDowell - DE
  6. Alex Bars - OL
  7. Drake Harris - WR
  8. Michael Ferns (commit) - LB
  9. Artavis Scott - WR
  10. Jamarco Jones - LB

That is a damn high number. The most interesting thing is that Rivals' top two players in the country, Da'Shawn Hand and Jabrill Peppers, both currently have Michigan in their top-2, if not at the top. The job that this coaching job is doing and has done is the reason why Michigan is back.

As a side note, that list of ten are the prospects that are really high on Michigan. There are a lot more Rivals100 prospects who are seriously considering Michigan, but may not have them in their top 2 or 3, such as Elijah Hood, Jalen Hurd, Montae Nicholson, Tyler Luatua, Damarre Kitt, and Joe Mixon. And don't forget the prospects that are right outside the top-100 who are also considering Michigan, as there are quite a few of those as well.

Now I'm not saying three top-10 classes in a row equals a championship. After all, Alabama didn't win in 2010 even though 2008, 2009, and 2010 all consisted of top-10 classes. Alabama is just the easiest example to use because they consistently win. It's clear to see though that their recruiting classes directly correlate to winning at a high level. Saban became the coach at Alabama in 2007 and has never recruited a class that's outside of the top-10. I haven't done the research to see what other coaches have strictly only recruited top-10 classes at their respective school, but I do know that along with Saban, Hoke is also in that boat and doesn't seem to be slowing down.

Recruiting is the bloodline of a program. It just so happens that both basketball and football recruiting is currently being accomplished at a high level. Winning will come next.

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