John Beilein: Michigan basketball 'feels like it should feel' as a national program
ANN ARBOR -- John Beilein doesn't read everything, but he doesn't ignore it all either.
He's not completely up to speed on where every preseason projection has his Michigan basketball program ranked heading into the 2012-13 season, but he is aware most of those projections are awfully high.
The Wolverines have been ranked as high as No. 3 overall early on, something Beilein smiles at, but takes little stock in.
Even so, there's a pride factor there -- especially for a coach who couldn't, for the life of him, sell the school when he arrived on campus in 2007.
"The reality is that this feels like it should feel," Beilein told MLive.com recently. "There's a lot of people with high interest, and it's Michigan again.
"It feels like Michigan is an important part of the university, it's been a national program before and it's back being a national program. And now, we've got to just keep pushing every day."
Beilein recalled his early years at Michigan, when the program hadn't made an NCAA Tournament in more than a decade, Crisler Arena was dead silent and very few kids had an understanding of how good the team once was.
In short -- the program was much harder to sell than he thought it would be, and more importantly, than he thought it should be.
"Five years ago, it didn't feel like it should feel," Beilein said. "You'd look around, there's three or four thousand people in the stands and the place was dead. Or we're calling recruits on the phone and we're not even making their top 10.
"That's not how Michigan should feel."
Three NCAA Tournaments and one shared Big Ten championship later, Beilein and his coaching staff have the Wolverines back on the cusp of where they want to be -- and where they once were.
Michigan sold out six of its final seven home games in 2011-12, and has kept the fan interest high this offseason with the signing of a top 15 recruiting class and the announcement that leading scorer Trey Burke will be back in uniform this season.
The Wolverines are viewed by many national pundits as a Big Ten title contender again, and with the return of Burke and junior Tim Hardaway, as well as the addition of Mitch McGary and Glen Robinson III, some see Michigan as a team that can make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament.
And the future? Beilein and his coaching staff currently have the No. 2 overall recruiting class committed for 2013, and have offers out to four of the country's top 50 prospects for 2014. In 2015? Michigan's presently talking with the best player in the class -- a far cry of how things were five years ago.
"When I first got here, it was harder than I thought it would be to recruit," he said. "We had a long way to go. We hadn't been in a tournament in a long time. (Former player) Ben Cronin, who was born in like 1990 and started watching (ESPN) when he was nine or ten.
"He asked me once 'was Michigan ever good in basketball?' That's when I knew we had a long way to go."
In Beilein's eyes, Michigan still has a long way to go.
The Wolverines still haven't grabbed an outright Big Ten title since 1986, and Michigan hasn't been to an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 since 1994.
There's plenty of other mountains to climb, and no one can be sure how far the young and talented Wolverines will go in 2012-13.
But for now, Beilein's just happy people care to ask the question.
"There's a growing interest in Michigan basketball," Beilein said. "And that's a good thing.
"I like the idea of when we're in the national media for the right things, I enjoy that. Hopefully we'll have a lot more positive things (going forward)."