- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
Editor's note: WolverineNation’s Chantel Jennings watched the Michigan-Penn State game with former Michigan guard Antoine Joubert, a member of the last Wolverines team to win a Big Ten Conference championship. This is her account of Joubert’s Sunday afternoon.
FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. -- It has been more than two decades since Antoine “The Judge” Joubert won a Big Ten basketball championship for Michigan, but still, whenever he talks about the team he says “we.”
We need this win. We need a stop right here. We can’t pass up that shot anymore.
He sits at a restaurant in Farmington Hills sipping his Coke and tapping his fingers on the bar in anticipation of the game that could bring this year’s team and players -- more than 25 years his junior -- to the same prominence he once achieved.
Joubert won back-to-back conference titles as a Wolverine, with the second coming more easily because of the first, he said. And while it’s the first that seemed so difficult to get, it’s the second he remembers more.
That one came in 1986, the last time Michigan won or shared a Big Ten championship in men’s basketball … until Sunday.
It was clinched with an 80-52 blowout win over Indiana, a year after Hoosiers coach Bob Knight had his well-known chair throwing moment. But there was no chair throwing against the Wolverines. Michigan had the game locked away early.
Joubert remembers the locker room feeling electric and hugs going around until each player didn’t realize whom he was hugging anymore.
“We knew it was a big deal,” Joubert said. “But this game against Penn State, this might be an even bigger deal for us.”
The first half goes by and Michigan slips into halftime with a nine-point lead.
He orders another Coke and looks around the restaurant. It’s empty, save a few tables with families and young kids, and they’re not here to watch the game. He knows Michigan basketball has fallen from where he left it and the rebuilding of the Michigan program this season will largely depend on what happens in the second half against Penn State.
The second half starts and Joubert begins to explain how he can’t just watch games anymore. He’s the head coach at Oakland (Mich.) Community College in Oakland, Mich., and runs an AAU program – “The Judge’s Court” -- out of Farmington Hills.
He watches Michigan coach John Beilein as a fellow coach and the team as a former player. When sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. struggled earlier this season, he thought back to his second year on the team and the pressures that his standout freshman year brought. He watches freshman point guard Trey Burke and goes back to his first 11 starts as a freshman when point guard Eric Turner was out with an injury.
With the Nittany Lions on a dangerous run in the second half, Burke closes out on redshirt sophomore guard Jermaine Marshall. Marshall drives middle and dunks over the Wolverines in the lane, drawing the foul.
“He should’ve pushed him harder baseline,” Joubert said. “Momentum. This is momentum for them. If he forces him baseline, he doesn’t get that dunk and we’re not in this position. Ah, Trey, you know not to let the guy go middle. We work on this.”
Moments later, senior guard Zack Novak hits a pull-up jumper from the left wing, putting a little air back into Michigan.
“That’s my boy, that’s my boy,” he says, his voice growing louder with each word. “Good, Zack. Nice. Now, that’s an experienced player. That’s why we’re in this position right now, guys like him.”
He checks the time on his phone, knowing that he has just 15 minutes to get to his eighth-grade son’s basketball game. Joubert pays for his meal and steps out of his chair, his eyes never leaving the screen as Michigan tries to get to the foul line in the closing minutes.
But he can’t seem to draw himself out of the restaurant until Michigan has finally put it away.
“Big win for us today,” he says to the hostess as he opens the door.
She nods with a forced smile, clearly having no idea what he’s talking about.
Michigan beat Penn State 71-65, but its share of the Big Ten title wasn’t sealed until an off-balance jumper from the top of the key by Ohio State’s William Buford over Michigan State’s Keith Appling went in and Sparty couldn’t answer. And at around 6:25 p.m. on Sunday, Joubert’s “we” with this Michigan basketball team became a little stronger.
Not only as teammates, but also as Big Ten champions.
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