In The Zone: A reminder that players are people, too

The men’s basketball team seemed loose. Unworried. Heck, at times it looked like they’d forgotten the plane was taking them to their most important string of games of the season.

 

Isiah Williams and Kevin Woods were at the center of the plane and the fun, trying to find every conceivable way to cut a funny remark at the expense of a teammate, who would respond in kind. Williams, with his 6-1 height and smaller frame, managed to be the only one with two seats to himself – while 6-9 teammates Ben Aird and Rory Fannon squeezed into a single economy seat each.

 

No easy feat, especially when the flight attendant and her cart were on the move.

 

I asked Williams how he ended up with the most spacious setup in the plane despite being the team’s smallest player. His response was quick, without a trace of guilt.

 

“Holton [Hunsaker’s] the smallest, man,” he quipped.

 

Fair enough. I’d forgotten Williams held an entire inch over his backcourt partner. I’d also forgotten, as writers, fans and other students do, that Williams was taking advantage of much more than a lucky break. After all, breaks of any kind are in short supply for these guys.

 

Heading into the Great West Conference Tournament this past weekend (see uvureview.com for results and analysis), there were no thoughts of the upcoming spring break. How could there be? Win the tournament, and it was likely the team would immediately turn around and prepare for a first-round CIT game.

 

I ran into Hunsaker at the start of the spring semester and decided – for once – to ignore the reporter in me and ask an easy, converstional question.

 

“How was your holiday break?” I asked.

 

“What break?”

 

While nearly every other student was doing exactly what they wanted to do, the men’s team (and several other teams) were doing what they had to do. Men’s hoops played four games in that span, all on the road with tough practices mixed in..

 

It paid off. Days later, the team ripped off 13 consecutive wins.

 

As important as the extra work was for the team’s success, last week’s flight to Chicago proved a little extra fun – or sleep, in others’ case – was equally important for their sanity. Above and away from classes, expectations, and practice they could, for a few precious minutes, be themselves instead of basketball players.

 

In what proved to be the last win of the Wolverines regular season win streak, Williams said, “You’ve got to [enjoy it]. You can’t get out there and be thinking too much. A couple games early in the season, I was thinking too much and I wasn’t playing as well. Now I just go out there, try to do my best and have fun.”

It’s that last part – “and have fun” – that fans and especially writers like me tend to forget is so important to athletes who are, in the end, still just playing a game.

 

By Matt Petersen
Sports Editor

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