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Published: Friday, 12/13/2002

Amaker digs in for long haul

FROM BLADE STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

ANN ARBOR - Coach Tommy Amaker didn't create the mess at Michigan, but he's stuck with the cleanup job.

The Wolverines (1-6) are off to one of the worst starts in college basketball, for a variety of reasons: the scandal that began with former booster Ed Martin paying players, inadequate facilities and recruiting failures by former coach Brian Ellerbe.

"I'm extremely proud that I've been asked to be the one to bring one of the finest institutions in the world through this," Amaker said after the Wolverines beat Bowling Green on Wednesday for their first victory. "It's gut-wrenching to go through what we are right now, but if we attract and coach the right kind of kids that belong here, we're going to be fine.

"And I like where we are and where we're headed, believe it or not. I was brought in here to clean things up, clean things out and to build a program the right way."

Michigan has admitted it did things the wrong way in the 1990s, when Chris Webber and the rest of the Fab Five created a sensation with their style and success, and later when Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock led the Wolverines to 20-win seasons.

The university punished its basketball program last month after a federal investigation revealed that Martin gave more than $600,000 to Webber, Taylor, Traylor and Bullock.

Michigan imposed a postseason ban for this season, forfeited 112 regular-season and tournament victories from five previous seasons, plus its victory in the 1992 NCAA semifinals. The school also returned $450,000 to the NCAA for money earned from the tournament play during those years and put itself on two years of probation.

Four banners were taken down: from the 1992 and 1993 Final Four, the 1997 National Invitation Tournament title and the 1998 Big Ten tournament title. The school also wiped out any reference to those former players in the media guide and in Crisler Arena.

University officials will have a hearing before the NCAA infractions committee in February. Six-to-eight weeks later, the NCAA will announce whether it has accepted the self-imposed sanctions or will punish Michigan further - perhaps taking away scholarships or extending the postseason ban and probationary period.

"If we were writing the script, I'm not sure we'd have all of this in the story unless we knew how the ending was going to be," Amaker said. "But we'll find a way through it."

Amaker is also left having to find a way to prepare his team and represent the program with facilities that may be the worst in the Big Ten.

Without a second basketball court available, the team has been forced at times to practice at an intramural building. When players lift weights, they walk through the bowels of Crisler Arena into a cramped weight room.

"There's no question that's an issue, and we've got a new practice facility with two courts and a weight room for the men and women on the drawing board," athletic director Bill Martin said. "All we need is people to step up with the $8 to $9 million needed. I've got to deal with the overall picture of the department, and at the top of the list is an academic-support facility, but I can assure you that a new basketball practice facility is among the top six items on our wish list."

The athletic department recently announced that millions would be spent for improvements to the football team's locker room at Michigan Stadium, but Martin bristled when it was suggested that the move was another sign that Michigan is a "football school."

It could be argued the Ellerbe era is hurting the Wolverines as much as the booster scandal, which has lingered for nearly seven years.

Ellerbe went from being a secondary assistant to head coach in 1997 - one season after losing his job at Loyola (Md.) College. He succeeded Steve Fisher, who was forced out because of the program's involvement with Martin.

In 1999, Ellerbe signed five players, but only LaVell Blanchard and Gavin Groninger remain. The next year, he signed four players, and only Bernard Robinson has survived. In 2001, five more players were supposed to come help, and only Chuck Bailey is left.



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