Phil Martelli's Message To Players: "You're Not Alone"

The coronavirus pandemic has the sports world in uncharted territory, but Martelli has drawn on lessons learned from 9/11

Zach Gelb
March 25, 2020 - 11:16 am
Phil Martelli

USA Today Images


When the NCAA canceled the men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments, among other winter and spring sporting activities, March Madness was in uncharted territory. College sports was in uncharted territory.

But for former Naismith and AP Coach of the Year Phil Martelli, the coronavirus pandemic – along with news that the tournament had been canceled – took him back almost two decades. 

“The only thing that I could remotely compare it to was I can remember exactly on 9/11 we were in the weight room at St. Joseph’s, and I looked up and I didn’t quite understand what I was seeing on the screen,” Martelli said on The Zach Gelb Show. “We went through and we stayed in the workout when, really, it would have been better to gather everybody knowing that everybody was fearful that the world had just changed. The United States had been attacked.”

Martelli, now an assistant on Juwan Howard’s staff at Michigan, shared this anecdote with the Wolverines.

“The mistake that I made – and I told this to the players at Michigan – is that I let everybody go their own way,” Martelli said. “I spent the rest of that day, the next couple of days, going to each spot on campus where I would hear somebody was in the chapel, somebody was in the dining hall – and I apologized to them. Because I should have done a much better job of making sure they were connected.”

Martelli, 65, knew he couldn’t change anything in 2001. He also knows he can’t change anything in 2020. But, at the very least, he can help players navigate uncertain times.

“I didn’t have any answers – and I don’t have any answers for the Michigan players,” he said. “I can’t say to them, ‘This is how you feel’ or ‘This is how you should feel.’ All I could do is just say to them my arms are open, my heart is open, and my mind is open. Anything that they want to talk about, or anything that they’re feeling, please, you’re not alone. That’s been the driving message in a text each morning to the players: Nobody’s alone, nobody’s alone, and nobody’s alone. We’re going to come out of this on the other side, but we’re going to come out together.”