John Beilein celebrates 20th anniversary of Canisius’ 1996 NCAA team (video)

By Nick Veronica

Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein was back at Canisius College on Sunday as the school honored the 20th anniversary of its 1996 NCAA Tournament team, which Beilein led to the only MAAC Tournament championship in program history.

Beilein, joined by former Griffs Binky Johnson and Damone James, sat down for a press conference before the game to remember the 1996 team as well as the 1995 and 1994 teams, which earned NIT berths.

“I’ve been back I think one time since I left,” Beilein said. “It’s emotional for me right now.”

Beilein, local Western New Yorker from Newfane, recalled thinking coaching at Canisius was the “destination” job (4:30). But after five years, he realized if he ever wanted to advance up the coaching ranks, this was his chance to leave. So he left for Richmond, and then West Viriginia and finally Michigan.

Worked out for the best, huh?

“You never know,” Beilein said. “Any good Jesuit-educated guy knows you better follow God’s will.”

Beilein also offered some strong insights into coaching and shooting percentages, and how players can earn the “green light” in games through practice (9:55).

Beilein said his players need to shoot “like 37, 38 [percent]” on 3-pointers or reconsider shooting.

“It’s an individual thing about which guys get that shot,” he said. “Some guys have green lights. … So I would say it depends on the shooter. [Michigan sophomore] Duncan Robinson has an absolute green light. I’d love to see Derrick Walton shoot even more. But I can’t tell that to everybody on the team.

“They have shooting drills they have to do to be able to have a green light. You just have to do that. If they could make these numbers in practice, they’d have a green light. Now if they have problems in a game where they can’t make them when the lights are on, then you have to back off and rethink it. But you can’t be doubting their shots in the game.”

[RELATED: Remembering the Griffs ’96 NCAA team as postseason drought ends]

Beilein said he still follows the Griffs and joked that hiring Jim Baron – who coached at rival St. Bonaventure while Beilein was at Canisius – was like bringing in Darth Vader.

Beilein planned to apologize to his former players this weekend for being so tough on them, but when they saw him, they all thanked him for challenging them to get better. Skip to 5:20 for James’ tale of how Beilein making the team practice on Christmas Eve changed how they thought about hard work.

“Coach was ahead of his time,” James said.

UPDATE: Beilein addressed the crowd at halftime after his players were introduced. Here’s what he said: