- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

ANN ARBOR, MICH. (AP) - John Beilein snatched an ankle-high dog off the hardwood floor of his home and joked that 4-year-old Jack will pose the greatest challenge of the day.

Beilein said he woke up at 5 a.m. Monday, rising an hour earlier than he hoped because he was so fired up about starting preparations for Michigan’s first NCAA tournament since 1998.

“I slept OK, but I woke up too early because I was too excited,” Beilein said in his living room during an interview with The Associated Press. “So, I just got up and got it going.”

He provided the AP with a peek at highlights he edited on his laptop computer of Clemson, Michigan’s first-round opponent, after watching a few hours of game footage.

Beilein broke down video of the Tigers’ opening-round loss in the ACC tournament to last-place Georgia Tech and from their setback against his West Virginia team two years ago.

“I’m just looking for tendencies, such as how they used a ball screen against our zone here,” Beilein said, pointing to his monitor as he pauses, rewinds and plays a clip from the Mountaineers’ game against Clemson in the 2007 NIT final. “I also coached against Oliver Purnell when I was at Richmond and he was at Dayton.

“I’m sure he’s doing the same thing I am, trying to figure out what we’re doing now and what we do differently.”

Fifteen hours earlier, Beilein became one of seven coaches to earn NCAA tournament bids with four teams after previously doing so at West Virginia, Richmond and Canisius.

Beilein and Minnesota’s Tubby Smith joined the group that includes Rick Pitino, Lefty Driesell, Eddie Sutton, Lon Kruger and Jim Harrick.

A consistent run of success put Beilein in the 500-win club this year, earning a spot on an impressive list of active coaches topped by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and his 800-plus victories.

A year after losing a school-record 22 games in his debut season at Michigan, Beilein helped the Wolverines beat ACC tournament champion Duke, Big Ten tournament champion Purdue and UCLA in a 20-win season that put the once-proud program in the NCAAs for the first time since 1998.

“Coach Beilein deserves 90 percent of the credit because he did a great job in getting us to believe,” standout forward DeShawn Sims said. “Believing has been lost in Ann Arbor since the last time we went to the tournament.

“Once you teach people to believe, it’s easy from there.”

All-Big Ten guard Manny Harris acknowledged it was hard to buy into Beilein’s signature schemes _ a free-flowing offense with lots of 3-pointers and a 1-3-1 zone _ during his debut season with the Wolverines.

“Being 10-22 last year, you kind of like doubted some things,” Harris said. “But with his past, you couldn’t really doubt it because you know he’s a great coach.”

The 56-year-old native of Burt, N.Y., is the only active coach with a 20-win season at four levels of college basketball: NCAA Division I, Division II, NAIA and junior college.

Beilein shuns praise with a self-deprecating manner. He would rather quietly prepare for the next game to shed his sport coat, roll up his sleeves and do his job as if he was just another working man.

But what Beilein has done in his second season at Michigan merits admiration.

The program was in shambles not long ago, stemming from a now-deceased former booster contributing to what the NCAA said was the largest financial scandal in its history.

“It gave fodder to any other program that wanted to talk about Michigan,” athletic director Bill Martin recalled. “`Why go there? They’re going to be on probation?’ I know that was out there.”

Sanctions, recruiting failures under former coach Brian Ellerbe, outdated facilities and apathy from a fan base and administration consumed by the football program led to an NCAA basketball tournament drought that lasted longer than a decade.

Tommy Amaker, who was fired two years ago, recruited Sims and Harris to Ann Arbor, and Beilein landed Arizona transfer Laval Lucas-Perry along with freshmen Zack Novak and Stu Douglass to create a nucleus for a solid team.

“I really want to thank Tommy Amaker because he helped us throughout that period of time and moved the program forward,” Bill Martin said. “I’ll never forget that.

“John has brought us forward a lot quicker than I thought, although I didn’t set out a specific timetable. My objective was always, ‘Build this program the way you know how to build a program.’”

Amaker cleaned up the program on and off the court, but his six seasons included three NIT appearances and none in the NCAA tournament.

Michigan lured Beilein away from West Virginia after he won five NCAA tournament games over two tournament runs during his five-season stay.

Michigan hopes to _ finally _ have a practice facility ready for the basketball program by the 2011-12 season, giving Beilein an asset his Big Ten competitors enjoy.

Earning a spot in the NCAA tournament, meanwhile, will give Beilein the boost he needs to restore glory for the Wolverines.

“We had to get to this point to have people believe,” he told reporters Sunday night after welcoming the public to watch the selection show with the team at Crisler Arena. “It’s about recruiting and what this has done to people who say, `Are they going to get it done there? Is that style going to work? Are those type of recruits going to work?’ OK, it worked so far.

“Now, we have to continue with the program so that we can be not just happy to get in but be happy to be in and advance.”

If the 10th-seeded Wolverines (20-13) can get past No. 7 Clemson (23-8) in the South on Thursday in Kansas City, Mo., they likely will face No. 2 seed Oklahoma in the second round.

Until Beilein and his team leave Ann Arbor later this week, he will be trying to get his players ready and he’ll team up with his wife, Kathleen, to contain the family Chihuahua.

Just as he walked an AP reporter to the door, little Jack slipped out and raced around the front yard.

“See, he’s tough to stop,” Beilein said with a grin as he shook his head.

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