Despite a string of lackluster results and recruiting setbacks, Tommy Amaker is rubbing at least one person in Ann Arbor the right way.
"I'm a genie in a bottle, baby; gotta rub me the right way, honey" said the genie who today delivered Amaker's second wish of the month, adding consensus top-50 player Alex Legion to the Michigan Wolverines' 2007 basketball recruiting class. Legion is the second touted wing player in as many weeks to pledge his services to Michigan following the commitment of Corporryale "Manny" Harris last week.
Legion, an athletic 6'4" shooting guard rated as the 38th-best player in the class of 2007, is expected to work well with Harris, a fellow four-star recruit rated 45th, and form a potent perimeter pair. The Detroit-area duo will also be joined in the 2007 backcourt by three-star PG Kelvin Grady, brother of current UM sophomore RB Kevin Grady. Combined with 2006 incoming recruit DeShawn Sims, a power forward rated 6th at his position and 31st in his overall class, Harris, Legion, and Grady are expected to comprise the nucleus of the Michigan teams that will finally get the Wolverines back into the NCAA Tournament and the Big Ten-title picture. If this finally happens, it will only have taken Amaker the better part of a decade to do what qualified coaches usually can do in two or three seasons. Amaker went to Duke.
Landing Harris, despite little on-court success to promote, older facilities, and a football-school reputation was seemingly the first Amaker wish to be granted.
Though initially overlooked, Harris had used the recent AAU season to rise up the recruiting rankings, and he was hearing from basketball programs that are not regularly forced to embrace the halcyon days of a Jamal Crawford suspension and the ignominious reign of Brian Ellerbe. It appeared as though Harris could have attended many other schools, but Amaker's personality and the opportunity to revive the hometown team proved too persuasive.
When Harris committed, local officials began to suspect that something was up. But this time, there is no trail of money, no overturned SUV, and no Ed Martin. Instead, there's a lamp and a genie.
"I was walking along Greenwood one day, minding my own business and devising new ways for our guys to fall apart at a crucial moment in a game," said Amaker. "I had started looking across the street as I made my way toward Packard, and suddenly I tripped over something. I looked down to see what it was, and I noticed that I was standing in a pile of garbage. I guess some of the kids over there--it's called the 'student ghetto,' right?--had had some big party the night before and had thrown all of the trash onto the street. Anyway, there, in the pile, was this lamp. I picked it up and took it home to my wife, who loves antiques."
But this wasn't just another ornament to collect dust.
"The night before Manny committed--can I talk about him yet? Am I breaking some kind of rule?--I rubbed the lamp. You know, as a joke, like you see in movies. I remember that Coach K would always rub Christian Laettner's ass in a certain tender way, and that was what I did with the lamp.
"Well, next thing you know, some mist-based dude arose out of the thing and said that I could make three wishes. I started laughing since no one believes in that sort of shit, but my wife encouraged me to take it seriously but not too much so--kind of like what my all-turtleneck wardrobe connotes.
"So anyway, I wished that I could land a top-50 player for the class of 2007. I mean, nothing else was going right, Courtney Sims is still here, Daniel Horton is gone, Jerret Smith is a fat-ass--what did I have to lose? Next day, Manny went Blue and I thought I might be onto something."
"Nothing else was going right" was right. Those who haven't been smoking drugs too much lately will remember that Legion originally de-committed from the Wolverines back in April when he also announced that he was transferring to Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, VA. That was the fitting cherry on the top of a crap spring sundae that contained another rash of injuries, more horrible coaching, and an NIT loss to South Carolina.
Since then, Legion has reassessed his situation and come to the conclusion that Michigan is, and always was, the right fit for him. His commitment is considered to be a "solid verbal."
For Amaker, the recent good news on the recruiting trail couldn't have come at a better time. As noted, thanks to a cavalcade of injuries, bad coaching, pathetic efforts, missed opportunities, and recruiting failures, levels of interest and confidence in the program both appeared as though they were going to be driven so low that they would set new records for apathy and disgust. The Wolverines haven't been in the NCAA Tournament in nearly ten years and will enter the 2006 season with a roster most generously described as merely Big Ten caliber.
When asked about the good fortune that had led to Tommy Amaker coming into possession of him, the genie was very blunt.
"I feel like I've been locked up tight for a century of lonely nights waiting for someone to release me," he said. "Luckily, Tommy found me, and I thought that the least I could do was grant the guy three wishes.
"I knew about Michigan and was a little wary at first. I mean, it was licking its lips and blowing kisses my way, but that didn't mean I was gonna give it away. I knew about its history and I knew that Michigan could seduce you and break your heart. Really, my body was saying let's go, but my heart was saying no.
"When Tommy took me home that first night he was really respectful. He shined me up, showed me off, made me feel special. That's when I knew he was different. I tell a lot of aspiring wish-makers this and they rarely listen, but it's true: if you want to be with me, there's a price to pay. You gotta rub me the right way, figuratively and literally. Sure I can make your wish come true, but first you gotta come and set me free.
"By the time that Harris's commitment had rolled around, the lights were down low and one more dance and we were good to go. That Laettner thing, that sealed the deal. I knew that Tommy was a good guy, so I let him have three wishes."
Legion's re-commitment is widely regarded as Amaker's second wish, although neither the genie nor Amaker would comment, for fear of violating rules governing their agreement and a number of NCAA guidelines. As is standard in these circumstances, Amaker is not allowed to use his third wish to request an unlimited supply of wishes, so the Wolverine nation can now turn its attention toward the final remaining wish that Amaker may use to bring about a turnaround.
Amaker was also recently spotted speaking with Lloyd Carr about his insulation from consequence, though, and some have speculated that Amaker may wish for that instead of another recruit or, finally, a win over Indiana.
One source with knowledge of the situation added, "Don't think that Tommy hasn't noticed that Lloyd doesn't get in trouble even as he loses road opener after road opener, game after game against OSU and Notre Dame, and shocker after shocker against mediocre teams. It's a pretty nice feeling to walk away from important games you've consistently lost knowing that you never have to stop, figuratively speaking, trying to run out the clock and punting. Tommy may want the basketball equivalent of that."