Column: John Beilein doesn't care, but Michigan fans shouldn't be afraid to enjoy No. 1
ANN ARBOR -- John Beilein isn't supposed to care about being ranked No. 1 in January, that's not his job.
His job is to win games, and win championships -- not to celebrate a No. 1 ranking midway through the Big Ten season.
Which is why, on Monday, there was no triumphant fist pump from Beilein when his Michigan basketball program earned the distinction as the No. 1 team in America for the first time since 1992.
"Our goal at Michigan is to be No. 1 in the Big Ten," Beilein said in a released statement. "When you achieve that honor, you will have a chance at the National Championship. All through the year polls will spark great interest among college basketball fans everywhere and that is always good.
"Our coaches and players, however, will remain focused on our goals of improving daily and competing for the championship within our conference."
But for those Wolverine fans who have waded through more than two decades of rough waters and frustrating seasons -- well, it's OK. Let it rip.
Pump those fists all you want.
That part? That's your job. It's OK to be excited, your team has a No. 1 next to its name.
The last time Michigan played a basketball game as the No. 1 team in America, Glenn Robinson III's dad was a sophomore at Purdue, Home Alone 2 topped the box office, Boyz II Men was still cool and baggy shorts were even cooler.
Most 30-something fans were in elementary school, and Trey Burke was barely a month old.
In the 21 years that have passed since Michigan's last No. 1 ranking, Wolverine fans have had to sit through sanctions and shame. They've watched star players become castoffs, and sat by while their biggest basketball rival, Michigan State, became a fixture among the nation's elite.
Saying "it's been a while" since Michigan mattered in basketball on a national stage isn't really doing this justice.
The Wolverines won a national championship in 1989, went to back-to-back NCAA tournament title games in the early 90s -- then, thanks to sanctions and missed opportunities, they basically vanished.
After Steve Fisher was let go, Brian Ellerbe came along and effectively turned a bad situation into a nightmare.
Tommy Amaker was basically behind the 8 ball from day one, and did find some players who helped get Michigan out from underneath six feet of dirt. Guys like Daniel Horton, Lester Abram, Dion Harris and so on.
But in the end, the story line of "can Michigan ever make the NCAA tournament again" went unfulfilled throughout his six years in Ann Arbor.
When Beilein got to Michigan in 2007, the program just wanted a winning season. A year later, it just wanted to be visible in March.
Fast forward to present -- and Michigan, for at least one week, is the talk of the college basketball world.
And even if it only lasts a few days, even if the Wolverines go to Indiana and lose on Saturday, or hiccup against Northwestern at home Wednesday, for this program -- which has been through so much -- being No. 1 matters.
For the fans who sat through years of frustration, it matters.
For the players who did all they could, only to come up short, it matters.
For people like Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, two players who bought into what Beilein was selling in 2008, it matters.
Go talk to the guy who was busy counting up RPI quality wins and losses to see if Michigan would be lucky enough to land on the tournament bubble two, three or four years ago.
He's probably got a lot more spare time these days.
For a lot of people, in a lot of places, this matters.
Michigan has a long way to go before it can proclaim its officially "back" among the college basketball elite. Heck, it has a long way to go this season. The Big Ten's not exactly simple and the program still hasn't been to a Sweet 16 since 1994.
Beilein understands that, and right now, that's all he cares about.
But for the rest of you -- the ones doing the cheering.
Go ahead and smile about being No. 1 this week.
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