Albrecht back at Crisler for Senior Day — this time as foe

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

For the second consecutive senior year, Spike Albrecht will be on the Crisler Center floor for Senior Day.

Purdue's Spike Albrecht returns to Crisler Center on Saturday.

Last year, it was his final home game at Michigan when he was given his framed No. 2 maize jersey.

This year, it will be his first and final road game at Michigan.

"It's great for those guys and those seniors. Obviously, they mean a lot to that program and done a lot for that program, that's gonna be a special moment," Albrecht said on a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon.

"I hope they do a better job than I did last year when I held mine (framed jersey) up the wrong way.

"Hopefully they learn from my mistake."

Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and Mark Donnal will be honored before Saturday's game against Purdue (4 p.m., ESPN2/WWJ)

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And watching from the visiting bench will be Albrecht, who is returning to Ann Arbor after taking a graduate transfer to join the Boilermakers.

It's the lone scheduled meeting this season between Albrecht's old team and his new team.

The timing is fitting, even if it will feel strange for Albrecht to walk onto the floor wearing colors other than the maize and blue, which he wore from 2012 through last season.

"It's definitely gonna be weird, that's for sure, but I'm also looking forward to it," Albrecht said. "I've had a lot of great memories at Michigan and in Crisler (Center), and I'm excited to get back in there and play in front of the fans and see a lot of familiar faces."

Albrecht, 24, became a fan favorite in Michigan — for a number of reasons.

He's short ("5-foot-11") but a gritty scrapper. He's boyish. He hit all those 3s in the national-championship game. He tweeted at Kate Upton. And he never said no to a picture with a fan, whether it was the seemingly endless lines at a preseason picture day, or whether it was at a local restaurant following a game.

Even late in his Michigan career, when he could barely stand up because of genetic hip issues, he'd find a way to get out of his restaurant booth and pose.

It's not in his nature to say no.

Spike Albrecht playing for Michigan in November 2014.

So, of course, it's no surprise Albrecht, a guard, couldn't say "no" to basketball, even after announcing last December that his career was over because of the hip surgeries and setbacks.

Albrecht kept rehabbing the hips, and by the time March rolled around and Michigan was surging in the Big Ten tournament and playing in the NCAA Tournament, Albrecht found himself on the sidelines, barely able to control those competitive juices.

"That's when it really hit me," Albrecht said.

That's when he decided, with doctors' blessing, he would give it one more go, even though he knew in all likelihood it wouldn't be at Michigan.

Following the season, he decided he'd pursue a graduate transfer — and after an initial public-relations flap, after John Beilein declined to allow him to transfer within the conference, Beilein relented.

And Albrecht committed to Purdue, West Lafayette being a little over an hour from his hometown of Crown Point, Ind.

The season hasn't gone as planned, at least on a personal level, as he's averaging just 12.8 minutes and 1.8 points, following some early season injuries. But he's on another winning team, with Purdue — led by sophomore Caleb Swanigan's monster season (18.6 points, 12.9 rebounds) entering Saturday's game at 23-5 and 12-3 in the Big Ten, the leader in the conference by a half-game over Wisconsin.

Michigan is 18-10, 8-7 following a pivotal win at Rutgers on Wednesday, and on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Michigan made three NCAA Tournaments when Albrecht was in Ann Arbor, including the national championship game in 2012 and the Elite Eight in 2013.

Purdue figures to have as good a shot as any team in the wild-and-crazy Big Ten to make a prolonged March march.

"Yeah, I mean, I think we've got the pieces," he said before practice Thursday. "I definitely think we're capable of making a run."

Whatever happens, Albrecht definitely is approaching the final days of his playing career. He said he has no plans to continue his career in Europe after graduating from his master's program, which ends in August. He said his body is too beat up for that.

He'll have a decision whether he wants to pursue coaching — Beilein is an advocate of this route — or enter the business arena, or "real world," as Albrecht calls it.

That's still a ways off, though. Albrecht plans to enjoy his final college days, particularly Saturday, when plenty of family and friends will be in attendance at Crisler. He'll get to catch up with all his old friends, and perhaps even get to a favorite Ann Arbor stop or two, like Babo near his old apartment, where he'd like to dine on salmon, grilled veggies and fresh juices "that made me feel like I was (consuming something) healthy."

As for his old teammates, he still keeps in touch with them, via text or Snapchat, even if he hasn't started the trash talk, just yet, for Saturday's game.

"I still talk to them all the time," said Albrecht, who expects to be leaned on heavily by Matt Painter and his staff in practice this week, given his familiarity with Michigan and its personnel and system.

"We just happened to be coming back to Ann Arbor on Senior Night, which seemed like quite a coincidence."