From summer pick-up to the national spotlight, EMU vs. No. 2 Michigan a matchup of familiar foes
Illustration by Pete Cunningham
Players on the Eastern Michigan basketball team are familiar with the drive. They made the trip often during the offseason for pick-up games against Michigan players.
Because of the short distance between the schools, a lot of the players from Eastern and Michigan are friends, and when offseason workouts get to be monotonous, both sides knew a fierce pick-up game was just a text message away.
“We’ve been doing that for a few years, going to open gym together,” said Eastern senior guard Derek Thompson. “It’s always EMU versus Michigan guys, our five versus their five. Just regular pick-up, we’ll play to 11 or something.”
Not every player in the country has the luxury of being able to text a buddy and have another Division I college team at the gym within a half hour, but that’s the benefit the Washtenaw County neighbors enjoy.
“We kind of know each other and so we kind of run in the same circles,” said Eastern junior forward Glenn Bryant. “It’s fun and it’s challenging at the same time.”
Just because the players are friends doesn’t mean the summer pickup games were all fun and games.
“There’s a lot of talking trash and all that stuff,” Bryant said. “There’s a real free feeling to it. No refs or coaches, Just grown men going back and forth.”
“That just shows me the dedication in the offseason that those guys want to get better and just with NCAA rules and regulations we can’t really get involved," said Eastern coach Rob Murphy. "But I was happy to hear that Michigan guys were coming over here or (Eastern players) would go over there, or they would go different places to play.
"In the end, it shows me that those guys were really focused and trying to get better in the offseason.”
There will be refs and coaches when the teams square off on Thursday at the Crisler Center (8:30 p.m., BTN). Murphy thinks the offseason regimen will help his team facing the challenge of playing the No. 2 team in the country in its home arena.
“Playing against a top program or a top team in the country, there are going to be jitters. But they shouldn’t be there because they’re familiar with one another,” Murphy said. “So I think going into that venue, although it will be tough, they’re familiar with those players, so those type of jitters won’t be there."
Bryant said one big difference between Thursday and the summer games will be a reduced amount of trash talking, but not competitiveness.
“The refs would probably throw us out for all we say (in the summer),” Bryant said. “We’re really trying to make the tournament and these are games that prepare you for the tournament.
“To be a top program in the country you have to compete against the top programs in the country and facing them in their gym, that’s going to be a challenge. Teams are always tougher in their own gym,” Bryant said. “I look forward to the challenge.”