Michigan takes on Villanova for the 2018 NCAA men's championship game. Let's see what the people around the stadium expect to happen. Daniel Mears, The Detroit News
San Antonio — Nothing lasts forever.
No matter what happens in Monday’s national-championship game against Villanova at the Alamodome, it will mark the end of another era for Michigan.
The makeup and group of Wolverines that set a program record for wins in a single season, won a Big Ten tournament title and reached the title game for just the seventh time in program history will never be the same.
Seniors Duncan Robinson, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Jaaron Simmons and Austin Hatch will turn the page and move on to the next chapter of their lives. But when they do, they’ll cherish the lasting relationships they’ve built with their teammates.
“I’ve never been a part of a team that’s this connected, this close,” said Hatch, who has been a medical scholarship since his sophomore season. “Everyone on the team is great friends. I don’t play, but the guys that play, play hard for each other and play together. You hear all the time that teams say they are a brotherhood, but this group really is that.
“Coach (John) Beilein has done a great job. You set the tone at the top, and the tone and attitude Coach Beilein has, has permeated through the entire team and we’re extremely blessed. We all love being together.”
Both on and off the court, there were no cliques.
All the personalities seemed to mesh and everyone spent a lot of time together, from going to the movies and team functions to just simply hanging out.
“It’s been such an enjoyable experience and I think the thing that sticks out for me the most is just the relationships between everybody and the memories that we’ve had,” Robinson said. “Obviously winning games is great, but to continue this run with this team, and obviously (Monday) is the last one no matter what, it’s pretty cool that we’ve gotten to this point.”
The family-oriented approach attracted Simmons to come to Michigan as a grad transfer from Ohio University, where there was a similar sense of togetherness.
There’s no egos. There’s no self-centered standouts. It’s all about the team, the team, the team — one that would always go out and fight for 40 minutes game in and game out.
“The season has been so fun. We didn’t have a perfect season and we understand that,” redshirt sophomore wing Charles Matthews said. “I think it’s beauty in the struggle and all these guys really grasped that. We didn’t run from any tough times or any tough situations.”
Instead, the team banded together from the very beginning and relied on its selflessness to fuel its success.
“That’s something that sticks out this year. Everyone in this team hasn’t been in the role that we’ve been in this year, so it was kind of new,” junior center Moritz Wagner said. “Everyone gave up this personal agenda and just accepted the new role. I think that’s been this team’s biggest strength.
“It’s incredible to play with guys like that because you can get at each other. We yell at each other sometimes, argue with each other, but then the next minute it’s all good because we are trying to win and that’s the ultimate goal. It’s pretty special.”
But winning the program’s second national title to put a stamp on the season? That’ll make remembering everything — and everyone — a little bit more.
“We’ve been through so much — blood, sweat and tears on the court, long practices, fights, arguments. When you really have a close-knit group like this, it’s bigger than playing for a national championship,” freshman guard Jordan Poole said. “It’s playing for the guys that you won’t be able to play with again, guys that are going to have real-life jobs after this and they’re trying to take everything in.
“Being able to be that close to guys like this it just makes everything more fun. But winning a national championship is putting the cherry on top.”