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For Spike Albrecht, the ring's the thing at Michigan

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Spike Albrecht still remembers his freshman year like it wasn't so long ago.

Early in the season two years ago, Michigan raised a banner for its share of the 2012 Big Ten championship at Crisler Center and he was full of hope it could happen again.

Albrecht and Caris LeVert, now juniors, are the only remnants of that "Fresh Five" freshman class, which included three NBA draft picks: Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary.

The pair will get to realize the dream to raise a banner before today's season opener at Crisler Center against Hillsdale. That thirst for a title began before they even played a game at Michigan, at a team dinner at coach John Beilein's house.

"He was handing out rings to the returning guys (Zack Novak and Stu Douglass)," Albrecht recalled Friday. "I remember the freshmen didn't get a ring and it was like, 'This sucks — we want a ring.'

"It's that extra motivation and the drive to win championships and get rings and put up banners."

After a long drought of more than two decades, the Wolverines are back, winning two Big Ten titles in the last three seasons.

"The consistency is what every coach is trying to establish with his program, that you're continually at the top of your league. If you're at the top of a league like this, you're in the NCAA Tournament — and that's where you want to be," Beilein said Friday. "If you can throw some championships in, that's even better."

As Beilein has lifted UM out of the doldrums of the Big Ten in his tenure, he knows that it's just a short distance between success and rebuilding, which the young crop of freshmen will force him to do this year — and quickly.

"Knowing how we love to be champions here at the University of Michigan, we're really proud of two out of three (Big Ten titles) — what could have been three out of three," he said.

Six freshmen could have a moment similar to Albrecht's today, as the banner goes up for last season's outright Big Ten championship. The Wolverines will play Hillsdale in their first regular-season game after a successful tune-up Monday night against Wayne State in an exhibition.

It's just the first step in trying to get back to the pinnacle, but Albrecht knows the freshmen are groomed to contend again.

"That's why they came to Michigan and they're all competitors — I hope they're thinking the same thing," Albrecht said.

For freshman Kam Chatman, it's already been a topic of conversation, even before the first game has been played.

"We were talking about it yesterday, how they were upset last year when they didn't get to get their rings," Chatman said. "I feel the same way and I can speak for the freshmen to say it's going to put a fire in us to keep the tradition going."