Amaker remained at Michigan for six seasons, during which time he amassed a .567 winning percentage, notching the 2004 National Invitation Tournament title and losing in the finals of that same tournament in 2006. His efforts were not enough, however, and he was let go after the 2006-07 season.
“Amaker had to weather some things that, when you look at schools that have been under serious probation, the next coach in there, that’s a tough, tough job,” Izzo said. “But I think he was respected by people…. I [was] his number one nemesis at the time, [his] rival, and I always had great respect and admiration for the guy.”
A little less than 12 years and two months after the two “nemeses” first competed against one another as head coaches, Amaker and Izzo will once again face off. This time, it’ll be in Spokane, Wash., as their two teams vie for a bid to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen.
And just 30 hours before the coaches match up once more, Amaker took a moment out of his press conference to remember how it was this “rival” that offered him support upon his dismissal from Michigan. Izzo, Amaker said, was the first opposing coach outside of his “immediate family” to phone him after news of the firing broke.
“We go back a long way,” Amaker said. “He’s a terrific basketball coach, [and] he’s even a better person…. Tom has been a true friend through the years, and I’ve respected him…. I think he’s an ambassador for the institution, for the state of Michigan, and certainly for the game of basketball.”
After Amaker left the podium on Friday, it was Izzo’s turn to take the microphone. While Amaker reflected on their common history, Izzo turned to the present—to Amaker’s current seven-year tenure with the Crimson.
“Knowing Tommy like I do…Harvard’s been just kind of a great situation for him,” Izzo said. “Where he’s taken that place is unbelievable to me. They’re a good, solid basketball team. Tommy is a good, solid human being and a great coach. So, consequently, nothing surprises me about [the Crimson’s success]. I think Harvard is lucky to have him.”
In less than twenty-four hours, the former rivals will once more share a common gym. While they may no longer be watching an AAU Tournament, and while they are certainly no longer in Michigan, their joint journey to and in the big leagues of college basketball has not been forgotten.
“I think the world of him and I just—I wish we wouldn’t have to have this game,” Amaker said. “But certainly it’s here, and I do think that [Izzo] is as good as they come.”
—Staff writer Juliet Spies-Gans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.