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Michigan adjusts to bubble life amid birth of #NotNCAAProperty movement

The Wolverines’ first NCAA Tournament game is set for Saturday afternoon.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 13 Big Ten Tournament - Michigan v Ohio State Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of Juwan Howard’s favorite mantras, “Embrace the suck,” applies to his Michigan Wolverines now more than ever.

When Michigan began its adjustment to the NCAA Tournament’s Indianapolis bubble this week, things didn’t come easy. Players’ social media posts, namely boxed meals, resembled the infamous Fyre Fest of 2017. Movement around their hotel appears limited, and getting fresh air is even more challenging.

During a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday, freshman center Hunter Dickinson said he hadn’t been outside since Sunday, semi-joking that he doesn’t “know what the air feels like outside anymore.”

“The NCAA has tried their best, I guess, to do the best they can under these circumstances,” Dickinson said. “Coach Howard talked to us last night and told us we need to really just buy in and ‘embrace the suck,’ as he calls it. No matter what kind of conditions they give us, we have to do our best to overcome. That starts with the food. From now on, you won’t hear me complaining about the food or anything like that. I’m embracing the suck as he calls it.

“We’re doing the best with the circumstances that we’ve been given. We’re just fortunate to be out here and play cause last year, the team wasn’t able to play and he talked about how that was difficult for the entire team, so we’re just fortunate to be out there and play and hopefully win a national championship.”

The Wolverines spend most of their time in class during the week. But there’s very little to do afterward, and the boredom is only worsened by the fact that each player has their own room. Dickinson often finds himself wandering across the hall to fellow freshman Terrance Williams’ room not because he has something to say, but because he wants company.

On Monday, the Wolverines were able to practice on one of the hardwood courts within the hotel and convention center. Michigan will travel to West Lafayette for a formal practice Wednesday night at Mackey Arena, home of its Saturday afternoon Round of 64 matchup.

“They have a nice setup here at the convention center,” Howard said. “They have a lot of different practice courts set up in different rooms of the convention center, where we’ve been able to get out on the hardwood with two baskets and see the ball go through the net.”

Dickinson also mentioned that the Wolverines would spend some time at a local baseball stadium soon. Other teams have seized that opportunity, headlined by No. 3 seed Texas’ kickball game on Wednesday afternoon.

For some players, the NCAA’s Indianapolis bubble is yet another reminder of where student-athletes fall in the pecking order. After players’ social media posts revealed the conditions, a tweet from Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports on Tuesday reminded his followers of last year’s tournament cancelation and encouraged gratitude for what they have this year. Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon responded by likening Rothstein’s message to the “Shut up and dribble” criticism LeBron James took in 2018.

And then on Wednesday afternoon, a flurry of Big Ten players — including Bohannon, Michigan’s Isaiah Livers and Rutgers’ Geo Baker — began posting with the “#NotNCAAProperty” hashtag.

“The NCAA OWNS my name, image and likeness,” Baker tweeted. “Someone on music scholarship can profit from an album. Someone on academic scholarship can have a tutor service. For (people) who say ‘an athletic scholarship is enough.’ Anything less than equal rights is never enough. I am #NotNCAAProperty.”

And for the Wolverines, whether or not they “embrace the suck” could determine the length of their bubble stay.