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The story of Michigan basketball’s paintball trip that started its national title game run

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John Beilein shooting from a castle. A star player taken hostage. This is how the Wolverines’ preseason paintball trip went down.

SAN ANTONIO — Before Michigan became the hottest team in college basketball and rode a 14-game winning streak to a Big Ten tournament title and the national championship game against Villanova, the team’s captains gathered at the end of a grueling summer looking for a bonding exercise.

They decided on paintball.

The Wolverines drove 30 minutes northwest to Pinckney, Michigan. Hell Survivors was the complex and everyone in and around the program was involved.

The teams were split into two: Michigan players on one side, coaches, managers, and staff on the other.

Michigan basketball spent “two or three hours” at the facility. There was extreme weather. There was a strength coach who put a star player in a chokehold. And there was one highly notable head shot.

This is the true story of what went down.


Brent Hibbitts, walk on: We did a bunch of different types of games. In the first one, the coaches and managers were up in a castle and we had to get into the castle to win.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, senior shooting guard: We were playing ‘Attack and Defend’. We had to get in their base. It was a big course, so we spread out.

Jon Sanderson, strength coach: The players were coming up this hill from all around us trying to infiltrate the fort.

Ryan Kapustka, student manager: The players were firing away through windows. We had to protect our home base.

Abdur-Rahkman: The coaches had automatic weapons. We had single shot. As soon as they put their hands on the trigger, they were letting off paintballs. They had the higher ground. Somehow we flanked them.

Hibbitts: Coach Beilein was up on top of the castle shooting down trying to prevent people from coming in.

Abdur-Rahkman: Beilein was at the top shooting down on everyone. Somebody got him on top of his head.

Kapustka: (Beilein) was the first guy taken out. Got hit right in the head.

Abdur-Rahkman: Bounced off his head. Paint all over his face.

Kapustka: It came from the ground. Someone just fired a perfect shot. It was pretty crazy.

Ibi Watson, freshman forward: It was (Eli) Brooks who got him.

Eli Brooks, freshman point guard: /makes exaggerated hand gun motion

Abdur-Rahkman: Being able to shoot Coach B was one of the best parts. But he was a good sport about it. He didn’t get mad or anything

Hibbitts: It was me who got into the castle to win. We took that first game.

A dramatization.

Sanderson: We played probably six or seven different courses.

Hibbits: Mohamed was pretty good. Austin Davis is a big hunter, so he had some experience with guns. Jon Sanderson the strength coach was the best of the coaches.

Sanderson: In capture the flag, I was the last one standing out of the coaches. They ambushed me. Mohamed got me like 25 times. I had welts everywhere. They were surrounding me, just pelting me.

Abdur-Rahkman: I’m the son of an army sergeant, so I have a little history in that. But it was actually my first time playing. I like to go to the gun range a lot. Just shoot. That’s a hobby I have to let off stress and stuff.

Sanderson: It was fun. You’re competing. It forces you to work together to try to get a win. It was a great team building type of thing.


Jon Sanderson/University of Michigan

Sanderson: The last game we played mercy rules. You can get hit as much as you want. You just have to surrender and say you’re done.

Abdur-Rahkman: All the paint you can take.

Sanderson: There’s probably five or six of us and five or six of them. It started raining. Thunder, lightning, all that. So the refs called it. We were all like, nah, we want to finish. We had to wait for 20 minutes, but we were like “we’re gonna finish this game.”

Abdur-Rahkman: We’re all down to just a couple paintballs because it was the last course. We didn’t know that our strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson reloaded. So he had a whole bunch.

Hibberts: He cheated. He had extra bullets. The last game we played, once you run out of bullets, you’re done. He had extra bullets, so he was the last one to run out.

Sanderson: I didn’t cheat. Who said I cheated?

Abdur-Rahkman: I actually jumped over to go get someone else. (Sanderson) came around the corner and saw me. He shot me in the head and like 20 times in my back. It got pretty intense.

Sanderson: I kept shooting and Mohamed relented.

Hibberts: It was just me and Charles (Matthews) left on our team. On the coaches team, it was only (Sanderson).

Sanderson: Charles and Brent were the last two left. I’m shooting and hiding. Charles is 10 yards to my left. Brent is 20-25 yards to my right. So it’s just shoot and hide. Shoot and hide. So I’m like, we’re never gonna win if I don’t charge these guys.

Hibberts: Charles thought he was out of bullets, so he charged him.

Sanderson: I waited for Charles to shoot, shoot, shoot. Then I charged him.

Hibberts: Charles might have hit him a couple times, but Sanderson is such a big guy that he doesn’t really feel it.

Sanderson: I went right over the top, he didn’t know I was coming. I blasted him, so he was done. Brent gets up and he starts shooting me, so I grab Charles like this and start shooting Brent.

/DI strength coach proceeds to put blogger in submission move

Isaiah Livers, freshman forward: Our strength coach was really walking down with Charles in a chokehold.

Sanderson: I took Charles hostage. The paintball people said they had never seen that before.

Hibberts: He grabbed Charles in a chokehold and shot me with the other hand. I gave up because it just started hurting so bad.


Michigan plays Villanova for the national championship Monday night.