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Published: Friday, 3/30/2001

Michigan puts its faith in Amaker to revitalize basketball program

BY DAVE WOOLFORD
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - If the University of Michigan can be as successful with the latest coach it acquired on a handshake and a promise as it did with a former coach, all's well at UM.

Tommy Amaker was officially introduced as the Wolverines' 15th head basketball coach yesterday at a price yet to be determined.

“What I'd like to do, and this speaks so highly of Tommy, is I made a handshake contract with him and we haven't finalized it or put any ink to it,” Michigan athletic director Bill Martin said. “I think it says an awful lot of a guy who will leave a job on a handshake today in this environment. We hope to have it signed tomorrow.”

Amaker, the former Seton Hall coach who has replaced Brian Ellerbe, fired earlier this month, reportedly was offered $700,000 over five years.

Martin said that was not the number and that there were no incentive clauses. The final three years of Ellerbe's contract were bought out for a total of $477,000.

Martin said Amaker, 35, would be making “a little bit more” than Ellerbe did, but wouldn't indicate how much or for how many years.

While Amaker didn't want to comment on his agreement, Martin said it was negotiated in 15 minutes.

“I just think the world of this guy,” Martin added. “It's a deal we shook hands on, on Tuesday, and he said, `OK, Bill on that basis I'm, coming to Michigan.'”

Martin said there will be some standard incentives that all Michigan coaches have in their contracts, but no special incentives in regard to Amaker's contract.

The last Michigan coach to accept a head coaching position at Michigan on a handshake basis was Bo Schembechler.

Amaker's hire was one of the first outside the “Michigan family” in about 30 years in regard to football and basketball.

“As you can imagine, I'm absolutely thrilled, honored and privileged to stand before you as the next head coach at the University of Michigan,” Amaker said. “It's a program known throughout the world for its quality and for being the best, and that's certainly what we're always going to strive to become.

“This is everything you can ask for in a collegiate environment.”

Amaker, who was in the Duke basketball program for 13 years as a player and assistant coach, said he has not made any decision in regard to a staff and whether any of his recruits at Seton Hall might join him at UM.

He was asked how he perceived the Michigan program, which has been on a steady decline the last three years under Ellerbe.

Amaker's said he didn't have a perception of Michigan's program because of issues with his own team and that when he was rumored to be the coach who would replace Ellerbe, he called Ellerbe and sympathized with his position.

“The perception I've always had of Michigan is quality, first class, winning and just consistent excellence, and certainly that wasn't the case for a lot of teams this year let alone our program here now,” Amaker said.

One of those programs was Seton Hall, where the Pirates finished 16-15, falling apart down the stretch. They made the Big East tournament on the last day of the regular season and then lost in the first round of the NIT. There was also internal friction between players that broke into a locker room fight on one occasion.

Amaker, an All-American point guard at Duke and team captain his senior year, was 68-55 in his four years at Seton Hall, taking the Pirates to four consecutive postseason tournament berths, including a trip to the NCAA “Sweet 16” in 2000.

“Unfortunately, when you're dealing with 18 to 22-year-old kids - and I'm sure we can all refer back to those times when we were that age - there's going to be some unfortunate circumstances that are going to come up,” Amaker said.

“We're going to do everything we can to prepare our kids to be Michigan. That's the thing I'm going to refer to a lot. We're going to deal with it appropriately. We're going to be honest about it, we're going to hit things head on and deal with it the way we feel is right.

“Any time you go through things you try to make sure that you take things with you that you can learn from. It doesn't always have to be a losing situation or an unfortunate situation, but usually those are the ones where you learn the most.”

Amaker didn't get into specifics in regard to style of play, etc., but did meet with the team for an hour yesterday afternoon.

There was talk that sophomore forward LaVell Blanchard, UM's leading scorer last season, was considering transferring.

“This is my hometown and I can't go anywhere,” Blanchard said yesterday when asked about his status.

The only senior Amaker will lose is center Josh Asselin. Amaker has one scholarship to give unless a player decides to quit or transfer.

Amaker is familiar with the Detroit area and was part of the recruiting team that landed current Duke All-American forward Shane Battier, who has been named college player of the year. Amaker also recruited another Detroit-area player, Chris Webber, who got away to Michigan to become part of the Fab Five.

Asked how much of an influence Duke and its coach, Mike Krzyzewski, will have on him, Amaker said, “I'm very proud to have been a player for him and assistant for him where I spent 13 of my 35 years under his tutelage and guidance. I'm very proud of that. One of things I always learned from him is to always be prepared, all the principles and technical things of basketball, but the thing I admired about him most was he always told me to be yourself.

“We're certainly going to do a lot of things that are similar in the way we run our program, but I think he would be disappointed in me if I didn't say I was going to be Tommy Amaker.”



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