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It’s Time to Thank Coach John Beilein

Coach John Beilein showed necessary leadership during a turbulent 24 hours for Michigan basketball.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Illinois vs Michigan Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Thank goodness for John Beilein.

The Michigan basketball team was rolling. They had their ups and downs throughout the season, but something finally clicked. They finished strong. They looked determined to make a run in the postseason.

And then you hear there’s been an accident with the team’s plane. Your stomach sinks. You say a prayer. And it hits you immediately, after a week of anticipation for the Big Ten Tournament, that there are more important things in life than basketball games.

It didn’t end up being the tragedy that most feared. Other than “a few cuts, a few bruises,” according to coach Beilein, everyone was okay. At least physically. “Everybody is pretty shook up,” he said, before adding, “It could have been much worse.”

After the dust settled, the photos began appearing on social media. They showed a large jet having crashed through a fence and sitting, without its landing gear, in a field of grass. It was an unbelievable sight for fans sitting in offices and living rooms around the country. Imagine what it was like for those who de-boarded the airliner down an inflatable slide.

From the reports, Michigan players Jon Teske and Mark Donnal opened the emergency exits of the plane. From there, Beilein helped secure the inflatable slides so that all aboard could exit safely. He showed grit and poise and, most of all, incredible leadership. When he was interviewed following the accident, he still had jet fuel on his face. But he did what he needed to do.

Thank goodness for John Beilein.

And then the questions began. What now? Will the team bus to the tournament? Will they hop on another plane?

No. They will head back to Ann Arbor, where their practice facility has lost power from the same damaging winds that forced the pilot to abort their flight. There will be no additional practice time. It’ll be an early morning flight the next day.

Will the Big Ten push back the game time? Will they swap time slots with another matchup?

No. Conference officials moved the noon tipoff to 12:20, but the game would go on. That’s when new reports began surfacing that the Michigan uniforms, along with the rest of their equipment, were stuck in the belly of the plane — which could not be touched due to the ongoing FAA investigation. They would have to play in their practice jerseys. And play they did.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Illinois vs Michigan Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Wolverines came out on fire, picking up right where they left off from their season finale at Nebraska. What plane crash? By halftime, Michigan held an 11-point advantage, and 20 minutes later they claimed a 20-point victory. On to the next one — the same mentality they had down the stretch of the regular season.

The win stood as Beilein’s 210th at Michigan, making him the winningest coach in program history, a well-deserved honor.

In his postgame interview with Big Ten Network, Beilein praised his team’s chemistry, both on and off the court. “The 16 guys on that team are as connected as any team I’ve had in 42 years,” he said. “They love each other.”

Then he added, “Right now they need a good meal. They need to hug their parents. They need to get back and get some rest.”

It was a very human moment. It made you remember, once again, that there are more important things than basketball games.

Thank goodness for John Beilein.