Ball State head baseball coach Rich Maloney has an autographed ball in a glass case. Not a baseball, but a basketball. It was a gift from a friend. That friend is John Beilein, head basketball coach at the University of Michigan.
“We’re good friends,” Maloney said. “John is one of the best in college basketball without question … I’m happy that coach Beilein and his team are doing so well.”
Michigan earned a two seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines defeated Montana in the first round and Florida two days later to make their third consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearance.
Having coached Michigan Baseball from 2003-12, Maloney said he has been following Michigan’s March Madness run whenever his team isn’t practicing or playing games. After the Wolverines’ second-round victory, Maloney congratulated Beilein on Twitter.
“Congrats to my good friend John Beilein on taking his Wolverines to the Sweet 16 for a third straight year,” Maloney tweeted. “Couldn’t happen to better guy and a great coach.”
Ball State Athletic Director Beth Goetz said it’s important to develop relationships throughout the world of sports, and sometimes who someone cheers for has nothing to do with the team.
“I think it is more about, particularly for those of us who are in the industry and have these relationships, that we root for people,” Goetz said. “You root for people that you’re invested in and want to see them and their programs do well.”
The success of Michigan Men’s Basketball hasn’t always been a constant. In the 10 years before Beilein’s arrival, the Wolverines finished in the bottom half of the Big 10 seven times and won 20 or more games only four times.
In Beilein’s first season in 2007-08, the team finished with a 10-22 record and missed out on the NCAA Tournament. That was the same year the baseball team, coached by Maloney, won an NCAA regional and its second of three Big 10 championships in a row.
Since then, Beilein has led Michigan to two Big 10 Tournament championships, nine NCAA Tournament appearances and a pair of national runner-up finishes.
“He came when my team was winning championships,” Maloney said. “He came on board and rebuilt the basketball program to the power it is now.”
Goetz said Maloney has brought his winning culture back to Ball State, and he is committed to helping his players reach their full potential.
“There’s a lot of mutual respect in the clubhouse,” Goetz said. “The thing that I would probably say that has resonated most with me is that he truly cares about those young men. That’s evident in the way he interacts with them and the way they speak about coach Maloney.”
Maloney filled out an NCAA Tournament bracket this year, and he has Michigan going to the Final Four. His champion is Tennessee, a team that escaped an upset with an overtime win over Iowa Sunday after leading by 25.
Maloney related that game back to his own game he coached that same day and said March Madness may have made its way to the baseball diamond. Ball State played its third game of the weekend against Western Michigan. The Cardinals went into the bottom of the eighth inning with a 20-3 lead. The Broncos almost pulled off the comeback, scoring 12 runs in their last two frames.
“That’s why I always say the games are never over. We put guys in games and try to give them opportunities to try to grow. Sometimes when you do that, other teams catch up. That’s part of the deal,” Maloney said. “You see it in basketball — I mean look at those comebacks. Incredible. That’s the great game of baseball. That’s the great game of basketball. It’s never over until it’s over, so you don’t take anything for granted and you keep playing all the way through.”
Maloney said he knows Beilein has a busy schedule this time of year and he probably won’t get a response for a few days, but he knows something’s coming.
“I’m probably not at the top of the food chain right now,” Maloney said. “But he’ll get back to me. That’s how he is — he’s very conscientious.”
Michigan will play for a spot in the Elite Eight Thursday at 9:39 p.m. against Texas Tech, and Maloney will be cheering Beilein and his team on from Muncie.
Contact Zach Piatt with any comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.