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Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Hoop success helps football recruiting

By Chantel Jennings

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- When the confetti fell from the Georgia Dome on Monday night, the 2012-13 basketball season was officially over and the Michigan basketball team was just a few made shots and defensive possessions away from a national title.

And while it might not have been the fairytale ending the Michigan basketball program was hoping for, the Wolverines have kept maize and blue relevant into April, something that hadn’t happened in quite some time. And for those weeks, football seemed to take a back seat to basketball around the country and in Ann Arbor.

Michigan celebrates
Having Michigan play a big part in the NCAA tournament is great for marketing the school to recruits.
With tournament games happening across the nation and every game televised, Michigan seemed to dominate the airwaves, TV and Internet. And that’s good for every aspect of the Michigan athletic department, even football recruiting.

“I think it’s a huge help,” Michigan quarterback commit Wilton Speight (Richmond, Va./Collegiate School) said. “It’s a whole different side of things. … If they’re really good, it’s fun to watch and makes the environment even better. And you see the Michigan fan base cheering for all kinds of sports.”

Speight said that while he’s excited to get to campus to play football, he’s also looking forward to being able to be a fan of other successful sports on campus during his college years.

How many times during the season did a TV camera pan over to a Denard Robinson and Roy Roundtree jumping around in the student section? It’s fun for athletes to be fans, too. And that kind of camaraderie from fellow athletes and fans is seen by recruits both near and far.

During Michigan basketball’s NCAA tournament run, fans of the basketball team took over two areas -- Arlington, Texas, and Atlanta --- that is home to several of Michigan’s big recruiting targets in the 2014 and 2015 classes.

But it’s not just the reminder for prospects living in tournament cities. It’s also a constant reminder on TV and online during March and early April, a time when little -- other than closed spring practice -- is going on in the football world.

“Well, I think it does [help recruiting],” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “You’re talking about Michigan. It’s on CBS. … I think it has been great.”

And several big Michigan recruits who were at home, watching on TV, took to Twitter to show their approval of the basketball team.

ESPN Watch list defensive end Malik McDowell (Detroit/Loyola), who attended a few basketball games this winter, took to Twitter during the tournament, saying “Lets Go! #GoBlue.”

Defensive end Lawrence Marshall (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) tweeted everything from “WE ON” to “GO BLUE!!!!!” to “If UofM win then they will win it all” during the Michigan-Syracuse game.

And when the coaches constantly bring up the success of another program, it’s evident that not only are they fans of both sports, they also know that having that kind of spotlight on their school and athletics is a way each sport can help the other.

Whether it’s bartering over which sport Mitch McGary should actually be playing (Hoke wants him as a tight end, Greg Mattison wants his as a defensive end) or the phone calls and text messages between coaches following games, the football and basketball programs have become increasingly more interwoven over the past few years.

“We’re so proud of those guys,” Mattison said. “We’re so proud of that basketball program. I mean, what they’ve done with that young team is so special. We’re pulling for them just like everybody else.”

Having success in both major sports isn’t unparalleled, but it’s not common either.

Of the teams in the Final Four, Louisville is the only one that made a BCS bowl game. Michigan still made New Year’s Day with the Outback Bowl. Syracuse won the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, and Wichita State hasn’t fielded a football team since the mid-‘80s.

In the Elite Eight, only Ohio State and Florida jump out as teams with solid football programs outside of those that advanced to the Final Four.

Having a successful football team is obviously one of the foundations in football recruiting, but staying relevant throughout the year is a part of it, too. And having a basketball team that advances to the title game and keeps maize and blue on the forefront of everyone’s mind is a help, and everyone seems to notice.

“I hope all these 2014 and 2015 recruits are paying attention,” former defensive lineman Ryan VanBergen tweeted. “Michigan is at the top for football, basketball, education.”