When The Big Ten Basketball schedule was released, February 24 and March 9 were days that immediately stuck out on the calendar for Michigan. Add in that the rivals are battling for first place in the conference, and the Wolverines and Spartans are playing each other while ranked in the Top 10 for the third time in six years, and Sunday has all the ingredients to make for a classic at Crisler.
Sunday marks of former coach Steve Fisher, members of the 1989 National Championship team (the program’s only national title) and other Michigan Basketball alumni for a total nearing 200 players, coaches, and staff affiliated with the program.
John Beilein told the story Friday of the first time he met Fisher while Beilein was the coach at Canisius in the early 1990s. “One of my first Nike trips I ever went on,” Beilein recalled. “It’s like wow, they won the national championship and he has got tremendous teams, we struck up a relationship by the pool, he probably doesn’t remember it. He was so nice to me, we have stayed in touch, we’d see each other the road. When I got the (Michigan) job I think we spoke within months after I got the job, if not weeks. We are so excited he is coming back, I think it is just a great thing for him to be with that team.”
For Fisher, Sunday will be his first return trip to Michigan since being fired one week before practice began for the 1997-98 season. Fisher’s name arose in the booster payment scandal investigated by the NCAA that ultimately involved former players Maurice Taylor and Chris Webber and saw Michigan receive sanctions in 2002 that saw the team remove it’s Final Four banners from 1992 and 1993 from the rafters in Crisler in addition to other penalties. Fisher was never implicated by the NCAA in the scandal.
Beilein also recalled watching Fisher coach Glen Rice, Rumeal Robinson, Loy Vaught and the rest of that 1989 team compete in the Final Four and defeat Seton Hall in the National Championship game.
“It was tremendous,” Beilein said as he remembered watching the 1989 national title game in the Kingdome with his wife Kathleen. “I remember us walking away and said that is the best fight song we have ever heard in our lives! We sort of rooted for them, we used to get all four kids a different jersey from the Final Four. There is a picture of Patrick with the Michigan jersey on after ’89.”
In addition to Fisher, Michigan confirmed members of the 1989 team that will be in Ann Arbor Sunday include Glen Rice, Loy Vaught, Michael Griffin, and Rob Pelinka. There will also be a number of Beilein-era players expected to attend: Josh Bartelstein, Blake McLimans, and Spike Albrecht among them.
Current Michigan players are excited to have former players and program greats in the house for their biggest home matchup of the year.
“It’s something special, it’s something that only happens here at the University of Michigan,” said junior Jon Teske. “To be able to play in front of those guys, the whole student section, there is gonna be so much energy in there. It is gonna be a lot of fun.”
Freshman Ignas Brazdeikis, who has spent much of the year embracing the spotlight and the big stage, is giddy about the atmosphere that he will play in on Sunday.
“It’s gonna be amazing! I am real excited for that,” Brazdeikis said with a wide grin. “That moment of once the whistle blows and when everyone is ready for tip-off, that is my favorite feeling in the world. So I am excited for that moment (on Sunday)”
The final ingredient to Sunday’s cocktail is the special uniforms Michigan will wear. After wearing 1989 inspired throwbacks in 2009 and 2015, Jordan unveiled a maize uniform inspired by the uniforms worn by the 1989 team a few weeks ago. Sunday marks the first time in Michigan’s three-season tenure with Jordan that the Wolverines will wear an alternate uniform.
During Sunday’s game, Michigan will honor the 1989 team at halftime, and will also honor the 1964 Big Ten championship team and 1974 Big Ten Championship team during stoppages in the first half. Beilein looks forward to what should be one of the most memorable gameday experiences Crisler has had over the past few seasons.
“We’ve had some really good atmospheres but this will probably rival those,” Beilein said regarding how Crisler will be Sunday. “I remember there were some pretty epic games that we played that went right down to the last seconds. We have had several sellouts in a row, I will let you guys decide what was louder between this game and other games, but I am sure it will be a great atmosphere and hopefully, it is a great atmosphere for everyone.”
Sunday’s game will mark Michigan’s 14th straight home sellout going back to the North Carolina game in November. The stage is set for a top ten matchup in front of 12,707 fans including hundreds of Michigan Basketball alumni. Suffice to say, “The House That Cazzie Built” will be ready to explode with anticipation by 3:45 ET Sunday afternoon.