Michigan Basketball Forgotten Seasons: 2003-04 Season


Mar 22, 2014; Spokane, WA, USA; Harvard Crimson head coach Tommy Amaker instructs against the Michigan State Spartans in the first half of a men

Tommy Amaker is a fantastic coach and his teams at Michigan were underrated. While Michigan basketball is in a better place now having John Beilein as head coach, the program was already on an upswing because of what Amaker did. He had a winning record in four of his six seasons at Michigan, including three seasons with over 20 wins. He led Michigan to three NIT tournaments, and it would have been four if not for the programs postseason ban for the 2002-03 season. Amaker’s best season came in 2003-04 when Michigan won 23 games and were NIT champions.

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The 2003-04 team was young, but extremely talented. With LaVell Blanchard graduated, Bernard Robinson Jr. was the only veteran left who played major minutes. Michigan’s rotation was made up of Robinson and eight players from the 2002 and 2003 recruiting classes. Amaker was able to get a ton of talent from those two classes and they were the catalysts for all three of Michigan’s NIT appearances under Amaker. The contributors from the 2002 class included Daniel Horton, Lester Abram, Graham Brown, and Chris Hunter. The 2003 class included Dion Harris, Courtney Sims, Brent Petway, and Virginia transfer J.C. Mathis. Those eight recruits plus Robinson all played double digit minutes during the 03-04 season. The starting lineup consisted of Horton, Abram, Robinson, Brown, and Sims, with Harris playing big minutes off the bench as the sixth man.

Michigan went 18-11 during the regular season including a .500 record in the Big Ten. They had a bye in the first round of the Big Ten tournament as a fifth seed, and in the second round of the tournament they defeated number four seeded Iowa. After falling to top seeded Illinois in the semi-finals, the team watched as they narrowly missed making the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines were then invited to play in the NIT as a consolation prize. Michigan beat Missouri, Oklahoma, and Hawaii to make the final four. At Madison Square Garden they blew out Oregon before defeating Rutgers in the tournament finals to win the schools third NIT title. Point guard Daniel Horton was named the tournament MVP.

Michigan would go on to be the runner up in the NIT two seasons later with the same core group minus Robinson and Mathis. Then in Amaker’s last season at Michigan, in 2006-07, they made their third trip to the NIT. Horton, Hunter, and Brown were gone but Harris, Sims, Abram, and Petway still got them to the second round. Amaker was never able to make an NCAA tournament at Michigan, which rightfully led to his firing, but his time at the school is often underrated. He left the program in great position for Beilien to come in and take them to the next level. The 03-04 season in particular was a special one for Michigan basketball.