The Wolverines suffered their worst loss in 28 years this past Wednesday, falling to Penn State 89-53. Even more surprising than the final score was Coach John Beilein’s decision to start an actual watermelon over point guard Derrick Walton Jr., a move that… let’s just say, planted the seeds for a lot of controversy.
After some initial protest from Penn State head coach Dirk McGurk, the referees ruled that because he was listed on the official game roster, and because there technically was no rule against inanimate objects, the watermelon would be allowed to play.
Coach Beilein rolled the watermelon out onto the court and for 6 minutes and 46 seconds the Michigan basketball team was composed of 4 humans and 1 fruit/vegetable, a move that made the Wolverines’ offense ripe for the picking. At one point junior Zak Irvin accidentally stepped on his teammate and splattered fresh chunks of melon across the court, allowing Penn State to climb to 45-11, squashing any hope of a comeback.
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At the postgame press conference, Coach Beilein addressed the media and gave his reasoning for the questionable tactic.
“We were in the pregame locker room, and they had this huge spread of all different types of food,” Beilein began. “And there was this big, untouched watermelon right in the center, and I looked over at Derrick [Walton], and you know what, he just didn’t look ready to me. It was as simple as that. I wanted to send a message to this team that no one’s job is safe. Even if all of our backup players are injured right now.”
While the watermelon was on the court, the Wolverines recorded 7 turnovers and committed 4 fouls, one actually being called on the watermelon for “tripping.” To the surprise and disappointment of many faithful fans, there were actually two instances where the ball was passed to the watermelon by its own teammates, only to have it fall out-of-bounds.
When asked what happened on those plays, Beilein explained, “That actually wasn’t my call. That was a play we drew up and installed in practice this past week, and the guys decided to run it. I thought it was actually executed pretty well. I told them, when life gives you lemons, you gotta figure it out and make lemonade or something.”
After the game, Sophomore Duncan Robinson talked to the media. “Obviously he’s a very raw talent,” Robinson said of the watermelon. “He wasn’t there the whole week of practice leading up to the game, so putting his play against some of the other guys would be like comparing apples and oranges. I did think he did a great job of adjusting, and you guys can see the athleticism was there.”
As of yesterday, the NCAA released a statement on the game saying they are currently “investing the matter further,” in an attempt to determine, “whether or not the watermelon is a currently enrolled student of good academic standing.”
When asked to comment on the tough position his team was put in by the move to start the melon, Coach Beilein adamantly responded, “I’m not gonna sit here and single anyone out. This a team game, and it was a team effort. What you saw tonight was the fruit of our labor over these past couple months. I will say though, that if I could have, I would have put 5 watermelons on that court tonight.”