No. 12 Michigan 84, UI 53: Notebook
CHAMPAIGN — Her goal was to win a gold medal during the Winter Olympics in Sochi. That didn’t happen, but former Illini track and field star Aja Evans came home with a little more hardware than she had when she left for Russia.
“I went in as Aja Evans and I’m coming out now as Aja Evans, Olympic medalist, so I think I’m OK,” Evans said at halftime of Tuesday’s Illinois basketball game against No. 12 Michigan.
Evans was recognized on the court during a first-half timeout for her accomplishment at the Games. The fans at State Farm Center chanted “USA! USA!” as Evans was introduced.
She teamed with Jamie Greubel to win bronze. The U.S. team of Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams won silver.
Evans didn’t grow up dreaming of winning a bobsled medal.
“Bobsledders are generally track and field athletes and it’s a second-generation sport and it gives people the opportunity to pursue dreams and achieve goals if they didn’t make it in their other sport,” Evans said. “I decided to take a break from track and field and I wanted to get back on that level and competing, and bobsledding gave me an opportunity to pursue it faster.”
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ESPN’s Dan Dakich found himself in a strange situation Tuesday night. The color analyst is the father of Michigan walk-on guard Andrew Dakich, a freshman.
“(Play-by-play partner) Mike (Tirico) and I were just talking. It’s so cool,” Dakich said. “He had some Division I offers but he grew up around the Big Ten and always wanted to do it. Just watching him warm up and mess around with Zak Irvin, it’s a hell of a thrill, I’m not going to lie.”
Dad has been on a handful of Michigan broadcasts this season with Andrew checking into a game late a couple of times while Dan was on the call. Some suggested the former Indiana player and coach got emotional as his son was on the court.
“I wasn’t emotional, I just didn’t know what to say,” Dakich said. “My partner kept saying ‘Isn’t this great?’ Sure it was, but I didn’t want to embarrass him just because he got in the game.”
The Dakiches have an understanding that Dad isn’t going to pull any punches if Andrew is in a game and screws something up or plays poorly.
“I told him, ‘Look, you screw up, don’t expect anything.’ I have no problem doing that. I coached him for four years, so there’s part of it,” Dan Dakich said. “He knows that. He’s like ‘Now that I’m in college, I know why you’re always talking about toughness, you’ve got to be tough.’ It’s just kind of cool for me to see that I wasn’t a total idiot.”
The younger Dakich checked in late in Michigan’s win Tuesday against the Illini, playing the final two minutes.
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Dakich also has a former player on the Illinois roster. He coached Illini freshman big man Maverick Morgan on the AAU circuit and has big expectations for the center going forward.
“I think he’s a worker. He’s come further than any kid. I knew him when he was in sixth grade, and for him to become a Big Ten basketball player is a testament to how hard he’s worked,” Dakich said. “I think he’ll be the leading shot blocker in the Big Ten at some point. I don’t know when that will be, but he has a real knack for it. He’s just such a great kid and there will be a point when all this gets easy for him, and I think you’ll see a talented, athletic kid. It’s tough for big kids right now.”
Unless you’re an elite recruit, it’s difficult for young big men to make an early mark in the college game these days with the way the style of play has changed.
“Big kids used to just play the post and now you’ve got to defend balls screens on the top, on the side and it’s hard,” Dakich said. “He’ll figure it out.”
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Not one to ever shy away from a controversial opinion, Dakich made news over the weekend for his criticism of official Ted Valentine. Valentine had a heated confrontation earlier that day with Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin.
During the broadcast of Illinois’ win at Michigan State on Saturday, Dakich had some strong words about Valentine, suggesting the veteran official was lucky he didn’t get punched.
Valentine was one of the officials for Tuesday’s game, meaning both men were in the building.
“I’m just here to report, I’m not here to get involved,” Dakich said. “He’ll do a good job and it’ll be a great game.”
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Illinois played Tuesday’s game without freshman Jaylon Tate, who suffered an ankle injury in Saturday’s win at Michigan State. Tate hadn’t practiced leading up to Tuesday’s game against the Wolverines, though he tried to give it a go in the pregame warmups but wasn’t able to move well enough to see the court.
“He’ll get some rehab tomorrow, (director of sports medicine) Paul (Schmidt) will give me an update on him and hopefully we have him back for Saturday,” Illinois coach John Groce said.
In Tate’s absence, sophomore Mike LaTulip played seven minutes.
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Michigan sophomore Caris LeVert is the team’s second-leading scorer and a candidate for All-Big Ten honors next week when the awards are announced. LeVert was recruited and signed by Groce at Ohio and ended up at Michigan after Groce took the job at Illinois.
Earlier this week, Groce said he considered the idea of LeVert coming to Illinois when he was released from his scholarship at Ohio, though there are rules regarding contacting athletes during that transition.
“You can’t just pick up the phone and start talking to guys; you’re not allowed to do that; it’s against the rules. There’s a lot of factors involved with that,” Groce said. “I’m really happy for him that he’s excelled in the situation that he’s in. He’s a great kid and has a great family.”
When LeVert signed with Michigan in May 2012, Illinois had filled its roster with Sam McLaurin and Rayvonte Rice, so there were no available scholarships for LeVert.
Michigan coach John Beilein has been the beneficiary of the 6-foot-6 Pickerington, Ohio, native’s talent, thanks to LeVert’s relationship with former Michigan star Trey Burke through AAU basketball.
“He had a relationship with the Burke family just playing for that AAU team, and obviously Trey Burke couldn’t have been hotter at that time in terms of what a guys from Columbus was bringing to Ann Arbor,” Beilein said.