May 6, 2016
ANN ARBOR — As he laughed into the phone on Tuesday, you could very nearly hear Spike Albrecht’s eyes rolling. A long day of interviews finally subsided and the Michigan-turned-Purdue basketball player had a moment to reflect.
“That’s all they know me for,” he said. “Being at Michigan, it got easier with time. Like, it was over and we got that out of the way.
“But now … ” Albrecht stopped and laughed … “it’s kind of like the past is resurfacing.”
And therein lies the rub.
In the years since a boyish freshman sashayed around the Georgia Dome — tousled brown hair flying, 3-point shots falling — Albrecht has lived with the caricature born from his 2013 national title game performance. On that night, while Michigan lost to Louisville, Albrecht won the hearts of college basketball fans everywhere by becoming the lovechild of Rudy Ruettiger and Jimmy Chitwood. In a flash, his life changed. Then he doubled-down on the persona by awe-shucking the game and taking a run at a supermodel.
It was instant folklore, but unlike other out-of-nowhere fables, Albrecht’s came with staying power. The fame was sustained as a sophomore, junior and senior. He proved himself a viable point guard and played like he was shot out of a canon.
As time passed, normalcy settled. Albrecht went from being asked about that night in Atlanta at every waking minute to being asked here and there. In Ann Arbor, the novelty gradually died down.
Now, though, here it all comes again. Albrecht is heading to Purdue for a graduate season of college basketball and, suddenly, that time that passed has been sucked back through the vortex.
“It’s kind of funny, people there are already talking about that stuff and the national championship and the Kate Upton tweet and all of my Twitter followers (currently 59,000-plus) and stuff like that,” he said.
Albrecht is left in an odd predicament. While looking to start anew, he’s unavoidably tethered to his old self.
“It’s just,” he said with some hesitation. “I don’t really feel like explaining all that all over again. I hope this is a fresh start. That was all years ago. Like, let’s just leave that be. I want to make a new name for myself, I guess.”
That’s difficult when your name is Spike Albrecht.
Albrecht chose Purdue as a counter to some of these issues he’d face by leaving Michigan. The school is an hour from his hometown in Crown Point, Indiana, and he’s familiar with the coaching staff. In what will be a dramatic change — a new campus, a new team, a new college uniform — Purdue at least offers some sense of place.
“It’s going to be weird, for sure, but it’s going to make it a lot easier that it’s close to home,” Albrecht said. “A lot of people from my area go to Purdue. There are a lot of familiar faces and I know I lot of people. It’s different than if I went somewhere where I didn’t know anyone.”
The decision came down to Purdue, Syracuse, Indiana and Wichita State.
Albrecht wanted to visit Syracuse, but saw that Jim Boeheim was pursuing other guards and decided not to visit. The decision mostly worked out, as former Colorado State guard John Gillon, a fellow grad transfer, committed to play his final season at Syracuse during a weekend visit.
Wichita State was intriguing, but Albrecht was uneasy about moving to Wichita, instead of playing just 75 miles from Crown Point.
Indiana, though, was another in-state option. The problem, however, was that Tom Crean doesn’t currently hold an open scholarship. The Hoosiers are waiting on NBA decisions from Troy Williams and James Blackmon Jr., and are in a holding pattern.
“I didn’t feel like waiting to see what they were going to do, especially when I’ve got something like Purdue — a place that I know wants me, that’s an hour from home and where I know I’ll play,” Albrecht said.
And he’ll know the terrain. By remaining in the Big Ten, Albrecht won’t wander for a year in foreign territory.
He will, though, have to play against Michigan. When and where will be announced in August when the Big Ten releases its 2016-17 schedule, but at some point, Albrecht will have to slip on a Purdue jersey and go face a school he played 119 games for.
“That will be different, to say the least,” he said.
Purdue features one point guard, returning starter P.J. Thompson, and incoming freshman guard Carsen Edwards. When the time does come for the Boilermakers to face Michigan, Albrecht, if healthy, will play. He’ll be the team’s lone senior and coach Matt Painter plans on placing him in an integral role.
Having switched sides in the Big Ten, Albrecht said he “hopes there’s no ill-will” from Michigan coach John Beilein or from U-M fans, but acknowledged: “There’s going to be some people that have their opinions.”
Not that those few voices will matter much. Michigan is now in the past and Albrecht is off to Purdue.
The old player has to figure out how to be new again.
“It’ll be weird, yeah, but at the end of the day, no matter the jersey, I’m a competitor,” he said. “The way I play and my mindset, none of that will change because of the uniform.”
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