Coach Beilein returns to honor the Griffs of the 90’s

By Andrew Helwig

Sports Reporter

The 1990s Griff’s men’s basketball teams were arguably the best in the program’s history. Led by Coach John Beilein, the Griffs won 62 games in three seasons while making multiple postseason appearances, most notably a NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden and a MAAC tournament title in the 1995-1996 season, which resulted in the first NCAA tournament appearance for the Griffs since 1957.

Prior to the 1992 season, the Griffs weren’t exactly a powerhouse in the MAAC. The 1991-1992 season saw the Griffs finish last in the conference with a 3-13 record. The 1992-1993 season saw the start of a turnaround with the Griffs finishing with a 5-9 record. In the 1993-1994 season, the Griffs were on top of the conference.

Beilein, a Niagara County native spent his early coaching career at Erie Community College followed by a brief one year stint at the Rochester based Nazareth College. Beilein then found himself at a Division II school, LeMoyne College outside of Syracuse, before making his arrival at Canisius. His tenure as the Griffs’ coach lasted from 1992 up to the 1997 season. From there Coach Beilein went to coach at Richmond, West Virginia, and currently, the University of Michigan. On Sunday, Jan. 24, players and supporting staff came together for a 20th anniversary of the Griffs NCAA tournament appearance. It was the first time back at the Koessler Center for many of the players and coaches.

Beilein, recalled his time as the Griffs’ coach as “emotional.” He continued, “To go through all the memories and the emotions that came in here would take a two hour documentary.”

It was the first time that he had seen some of the players since they were dressing for games. It was a time of reminiscing for everyone. All of the coaches and players had about a 24 hour period of being back together before the brunch that was held on Sunday. Despite being away from Buffalo, Beilein still follows up on the Griffs. “Having Jim [Baron] back in here really reconnected me to the team.” Beilein said.

Beilein and Baron had coached against each other multiple times when Beilein was the coach of the Griffs and Baron was the coach for the St. Bonaventure Bonnies. Baron was always the one to beat for Coach Beilein.

Coach Beilein was revolutionary for the game of basketball and the way that it is coached. Beilein was one of the first to use analytics when putting a game plan together as well as in practice, and making his lineups. His players said he used analytics before it was the thing to talk about or discuss. The numbers did not have the significance that they do today. The result of the drills he had his players do in practice was reflected in how they played the game.  His players needed to shoot at least 33 percent from beyond the 3-point line if they were going to be effective in Beilein’s offense. Mind you this is also in the 1990’s, where the 3-pointer was not as big of a part of the game as it is today.  Beilein was a big proponent of efficiency from the field. Not all players had the “green light.” If players could make a certain number of shots in practice, then Beilein would give them the “green light” for games.

The game of basketball has drastically changed since the time Coach Beilein began coaching. Beilein is one of the few coaches left in basketball that had coached before there was a 3-point line. Beilein also saw the introduction of the shot clock. First a 45 second shot clock, then down to a 35 second clock, before it was further reduced to 30 seconds this season. Coach Beilein believes that the only reason he has had success at every level of coaching is that he’s been able to accept, and adapt, to change.

Griffs basketball in 1992 is vastly different from the basketball the University of Michigan Wolverines play in 2016. He has embraced the different styles at which the game is being played. Beilein stressed, “You can’t coach the same way you did, like this is how we won at LeMoyne and Canisius, so this is how we’re going to win at Michigan. But the one thing you can’t change is recruiting character kids who are going to work hard every day in practice.”

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