By RICKY LINDSAY, Sports Editor
Taking the University of Michigan-Dearborn women’s basketball team to the Crisler Center has been a priority for Dymetrius Ware since becoming its head coach in 2013.
He wanted his Wolverines to witness firsthand how the University of Michigan women’s basketball team operated, from campus life to the world-class facilities. He wanted them to know the expectations bestowed with the Block M were the same, regardless of the campus.
Next season, Ware’s Wolverines won’t be watching from the stands in Ann Arbor — they’ll be taking the court.
The UM-Dearborn women’s basketball team announced March 31 that it will play Albion College at Crisler Center on Dec. 19, 2015. The Michigan women’s basketball team will play following UM-Dearborn.
What was once a recruiting strategy became an opportunity to strengthen the link between Michigan and its sister campus.
“(A game at Crisler is) big to a point that I’ve been using it for recruiting the past couple of years,” Ware said, “but also, it kind of brings Ann Arbor and Dearborn closer together, where we hope to have more relationships with them and other facilities for other teams.”
UM-Dearborn Athletic Director Matt Beaudry echoed the growing relationship between both universities.
“It really provides our student athletes a tremendous experience,” Beaudry said. “They’re able to get the energy and relationship between the campuses in that we’re wearing the same jerseys, we’re Wolverines. We might be in two different locations, but we’re still trying to strive for the same goal.”
Freshman guard Olivia Hauser was ecstatic after she heard the news.
“When I heard that we were going to be playing at Crisler next season I immediately responded, ‘No way, that is so cool,'” Hauser said. “It’s pretty crazy that we will be playing at Crisler and get to play on a floor where a countless number of amazing basketball players have played.”
Playing at Crisler Center has been atop Ware’s wish list since the beginning of his tenure as head coach. But getting his team to play a game in the iconic arena didn’t happen overnight.
Ware and former interim Athletic Director Dr. Ann Lampkin-Williams laid the groundwork for a game in Ann Arbor with former Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon. Beaudry built upon it following his hiring at UM-Dearborn.
A doubleheader style was sought and potential dates were discussed. When the game neared finalization, Ware needed the OK of the Wolverines’ opponent, Albion College, to play at a different venue.
The Britons didn’t need any convincing.
“Two months ago, we came up with a solid date where (Michigan) would be at home and we would have a home game,” Ware said. ” I already had a team locked in for that date, and I called the team to see if they would be interested in playing at Crisler instead of playing at Dearborn and they didn’t even think two seconds about it. They felt it would be a great opportunity for their team as well.”
Ware’s growing relationship with Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico and her staff, along with Beaudry’s connections from his time at the Big Ten Conference, helped seal the deal.
“Since (I arrived to) campus, coach Ware has really stayed active with their coaching staff in Ann Arbor to coordinate a doubleheader pair,” Beaudry said. “I was able to reach out to their administration, I had previous relationships from my time at the Big Ten Conference. They were very open to it and it’s a great student athlete experience, and I think that’s what Ann Arbor and the Dearborn campus is trying to provide.”
Having coached basketball in Michigan for 25 years, Ware has experienced several marquee arenas in the state. Coaching at Crisler Center won’t be anything new, although it will be an unknown experience for his players.
He knows emotions will be high, but insists they will settle at the buzzer.
“Once we hit that floor and the game starts…it’ll be just like any other game,” Ware said.
The women’s basketball team will be the first to experience an event of this magnitude, but they likely won’t be the last.
“(University of Michigan) President (Mark) Schlissel, when he was on campus, mentioned the fact that Ann Arbor has tremendous facilities and told (Assistant Athletic Director) Bryan Earl that we should look into it,” Beaudry said. “It’s something that will continue to be on our radar. We hope that we can provide more opportunities to other sports in the future.”
Ware’s goal is that December’s game will be the first of many at Crisler Center.
“I don’t expect it to be a one-time thing,” Ware said. “My goal is for this to be a yearly event for us in the future.”