John Beilein, Derrick Walton, Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III and Jordan Morgan were all on the podium to preview Michigan’s Elite Eight matchup with Kentucky. Read the full transcript of the press conference below. (Photo: Dustin Johnston)
Q. Jordan and Glenn, how much has Derrick matured in the last couple of months and become sort of a leader for this team?
JORDAN MORGAN: Well, at the point guard position it’s important for him to naturally be a leader for us on the court. And we’ve seen a lot of growth in just his ability to step up and take control of the huddles and call plays when we need him to do that, and just being more of a voice.
I’m sure it’s hard coming in on a team that returns a lot of players to really step up and give direction, but he’s come a long way as far as just having the confidence to do that.
GLENN ROBINSON, III: At the beginning of the season, I really seen Derrick step up. As soon as Trey decided to leave he knew he had to take on possibly the starting role for this basketball team. And during the summer until now he’s really progressing, even on the court.
Like yesterday, I was just seeing him start calling plays on his own, not looking towards the bench at Coach. Most of the time what he’s calling is right and it’s working.
So he’s done a great job of leading this team and he’s the reason why we got here so far.
Q. Jordan, you mentioned last night about playing in the Big Ten and how that people can’t push you around. Do you think that the league gets enough respect considering that you guys have three teams in the Elite Eight?
JORDAN MORGAN: I think we get a good amount of respect. I think if you talk to, a lot of people would say that it’s probably the best, if not one of the top team leagues in the country. And inside the Big Ten we definitely feel it’s the best league in the country.
I think it gets a good amount of respect. I don’t know if ‑‑ I think because people pin us as a jump shooting team or we get kind of overlooked as being that tough physical team that you see normally from the Big Ten.
Q. Coach Beilein, Michigan’s program has risen to national status in the past few years. What’s it like to get the chance to do it against these name brand teams that have been there a long time, Syracuse and Kansas last year, and Kentucky this year?
COACH BEILEIN: I look at it more over time, that Michigan isn’t just a good basketball program now. We’ve been for 50 years. And we’ve had ups and downs just like Kansas, just like Kentucky has had over time. And it’s just in your lifetime maybe you see it that way.
But when I think of Michigan basketball I think of Cazzie Russell and Phil Hubbard and Glen Rice, all the way through to all our great teams that have been so good.
And what we’re trying to do is get Michigan back to where it’s consistently in the NCAA Tournament when we had teams ‑‑ when we had the teams with Terry Mills and just great basketball coaches, great basketball teams.
So I don’t look at it that way. I look at it this is where Michigan should be. We’re not newly arrived. We’ve been a great basketball program for a long time.
Q. Coach and Glenn, the way that the game ended last night, do you feel that that has strengthened or that could work to strengthen the team and become more battle‑tested, or do you feel like you dodged a bullet in a sense?
THE MODERATOR: That was for Coach and Glenn?
GLENN ROBINSON, III: I think this team has been put in almost any situation that we can be tested in. And Coach and the staff do a great job of practicing situations all the time during practice, late‑game situations.
So one thing about this team is we stay calm and focused, especially in the timeouts late game down the stretch, we did a great job. And Coach has some nice plays to draw up to get us the ball inbounds.
We knew Tennessee was a great team and they had the possibility of coming back on the run, which they did. So like I said, I thought we did a great job just staying calm throughout all that.
COACH BEILEIN: You know, I don’t know if it’s dodging bullets, but I think that you’re going to have ups and downs in the game no matter what it is this time of the year. Both teams are really quality. If you just have three or four bad possessions, either offensively or defensively, the game just changes in moments.
And so last night, certainly I think, as I said last night, I don’t think I’ve ever had a team we had a one‑point lead or a three‑point lead had to inbound the ball six times from a dead spot at the other end of the court. It’s not as easy people think. We had a couple of turnovers we don’t usually have.
At the same time, this is the time that we don’t worry about that last game. We just say, Okay, who is next? And we won. Who’s next?
Q. To anyone up there, you guys ironically enough are the last line of defense to keep Michigan and the Fab Five as the only program to send five freshmen to the Final Four. Do you assign any significance to that?
THE MODERATOR: That question was for?
THE MODERATOR: Derrick.
DERRICK WALTON, JR.: I don’t think it means that much, but for a team that’s this young to do something so special, it means a lot to any program, especially to us.
NIK STAUSKAS: Just like what Derrick said, we have a really young group. And I don’t think we like to compare ourselves to the Fab Five or look back to that too much. We just try to create our own brand and create our own style of play, and I think we’ve just done a good job of staying together and learning even if we’re a young group.
Q. For Derrick, obviously you followed a great player in Trey Burke. How much pressure did you feel earlier in the year and how have you been able to grow the way you have these last couple of months?
DERRICK WALTON, JR.: Coming in, I felt a little pressure, because he did a great job at his position.
But over the course of the season my teammates did a great job letting me know that they’re with me every step of the way.
So being able to mature, credit to the coaches. And really a lot of film study.
Q. Coach Beilein, I’m wondering what importance you place on jump shooting when you’re looking to possibly recruit a player, and is jump shooting at all, not becoming a lost art, but becoming more rare?
COACH BEILEIN: We’re looking at it very closely. We tell our ‑‑ when we go out on the road we really try and recruit. We want everybody to be able to shoot and pass.
Speed and quickness and all these other things are intangibles. But shooting is usually a prerequisite. We feel you can make bad shooters good. You can make good shooters great. But you probably can’t make too many bad shooters be able to space the floor the way we’d like to.
So I don’t know if it’s a lost art. I know our teams will always have shooters. That’s the plan now and in the future.
Q. John, when the brackets were released so much was said, written about how tough your draw was. Now a couple of weeks later a lot of those same outlets pointing out you could get to the Final Four without playing a seed higher than a 7. Is this a perfect example of what you told me at the Big Ten Tournament why coaches pay little to no attention to seeds?
COACH BEILEIN: I think it’s a wonderful way ‑‑ it reminds me of the Super Bowl when we have to wait two weeks for the game and people just find stuff to talk about. And as we’re going down to that, there’s what, 36 at‑large bids and we’re trying to figure out who the best teams are and we don’t play each other that much, don’t go on the road that much. It’s such a roll of the dice, so to speak.
So the seeds you could say all these things. These are really good teams that are all playing against each other and the Committee does a wonderful job trying to find some equity and balance in the brackets.
But, really, it’s a guess. That’s all it is. And so what it is is you got eight teams right now and these are the eight best teams in the country no matter where they were seeded.
Q. John, they’re the youngest team in America. I think you guys are still, I don’t know, like right up there with the youngest teams in America. Can you just explain how hard this is to get this far with kids this young. John called your sophomores veterans I think at one point. Can you talk about how hard this is?
COACH BEILEIN: Yeah, I didn’t anticipate this. This was never the plan to have in year seven, we thought we’d have a bunch of cagey veterans out here getting it done with so many ways, the way some of the teams that have been very successful in the past.
It is difficult. But when you’re fortunate to have the right recruits, you have a great staff and you have great backing, these guys ‑‑ I think the biggest challenge to having young teams is, number one, defense, which comes and goes with young players. But number two is understanding that the team comes first.
That is not normal ever and probably in today’s generation even more so. And to get these young men to understand that, the staff does a great job of working at that.
And then I think we do a great job before ‑‑ during the recruiting process to say that guy fits this team‑first mentality.
Q. This is, again ‑‑ well, any of the players and Coach, Coach K described the ACC schedule as a meat grinder. I’m wondering can you describe what the Big Ten schedule is like and why does it make the conference teams tough at this time of the year?
CARIS LeVERT: There’s a tough team to play every night from top to bottom. Right now there’s three teams left in the Elite Eight, that just goes to show you it’s a battle every night in the Big Ten.
NIK STAUSKAS: I think the Big Ten is one of the toughest conferences in the country. And I think with the types of teams that there are, you see all different types of styles of play. So throughout the season we see a bunch of different offensive and defensive looks, and I think it prepares us very well for the tournament.
Q. Question for Coach, any chance at all Mitch McGary plays tomorrow?
COACH BEILEIN: No.
Q. How have you compensated so well without him being in the lineup throughout the year?
COACH BEILEIN: We had a plan in place because his injury happened early enough in late August, early September, that we virtually did all of our individuals without him. We had a month of practice in October without him.
So we had that in place. When he came back, you know, then we started to work the other plan that we had over the summer. Then he went down again and we went back to plan A. So it was a fairly seamless change back to the original plan that we started in December.
Q. This is for Coach Beilein. Glenn Robinson, he’s the fourth sophomore captain in Michigan’s history. I was wondering what did you see in him that made him worthy of being a captain that maybe hadn’t manifested itself in your other returning sophomores and what’s been a moment in this tournament where he’s best exemplified what it means to be a captain?
COACH BEILEIN: He’s one of the most unselfish players we’ve ever been around, that he accepts this role as he’s so talented, yet he’s all about the team all the time. And we did a little bit of a straw vote with the team. They were not going to pick the captain this year. We thought they were very, very young. But we were going to pick the captain.
But we said, Let’s just see what they’re feeling. And they were right on. Jon, Jordan and Glenn was the unanimous pick of all the players as well as the coaches. It was striking how similar we were all thinking.
He’s not a loud guy in any way, but his example when he makes plays for others, that just makes us better all the time. And then he’s a great supportive teammate off the court in every area, whether guys need rides or just bringing attention to things on the team, he’s been a terrific leader.
Q. For John, over here, given the strides that Kentucky has made in the last few weeks, how has that impacted your scouting, how much of their early tape have you watched and how much have you focused on the last four, five games?
COACH BEILEIN: We have an assistant working on this for the past week. And so I don’t think ‑‑ in the next day we’re looking at every single game that we have on them. Probably have 10 or 12 games on there.
But they certainly ended playing as well as they have all year long. We’re just in discovery. I’m in discovery. These guys are in discovery.
We don’t do anything the week before on the next game. We just don’t do it. We prepare it all in one day. And we started this morning at 6:00 a.m. and we’ll go until 5:00 p.m. tomorrow, just continuing to ‑‑ these are smart young men, and we can adapt very quickly usually in those situations.
Q. I guess this could be for any of you guys, I’m sure you really don’t care what we think, but not too many people expected Michigan to be back in this situation. You won the Big Ten Conference outright by three games. Seems like you take care of everything step‑by‑step. Why do you feel you haven’t gotten the respect from a lot of people on the outside and if the answer is you don’t care, can you use that to your advantage?
GLENN ROBINSON, III: We’ve been saying this all season: We’ve been doubted since Trey and Tim left. Mitch got hurt. And we’re a young team. So I don’t think anybody really expected us to be in this position.
But one thing that we have done is stayed confident in each other and got each other better.
I think one thing we’re doing really well right now is knowing our roles and really playing them to perfection, and we’re setting each other up to be successful at all times.
JORDAN MORGAN: I’m not really sure why. I really can’t tell you why. As far as just listening to that stuff, I mean we hear it. And I think if anything, we just embrace it and that’s just who we are.
Our team is a bunch of guys that have been overlooked. Our coaching staff is a bunch of guys who have gotten overlooked.
It’s just like that’s how we play. We got a whole program full of guys that people have always, like, counted out and we just take that and use it as fuel.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll take two more, dismiss the student‑athletes.
Q. Jordan, expanding on that personally, you have a chip on your shoulder? Do you feel like you take it a little bit more personally when people say you in particular couldn’t fill in for Mitch?
JORDAN MORGAN: When Mitch went down I really didn’t try to make it a big deal. I didn’t try to step up and like do anything spectacular or like try to be Mitch McGary. I just wanted to go out and play my game and continue to be a great teammate the best I could.
So I don’t really know. For me, I mean, sometimes it gets personal when people talk about our inability to compete with people. And it’s like we’ve been competing all year long. That’s more personal than anything.
Q. This question is for John. In the tournament setting, Syracuse’s zone can be something that’s tough to prepare for in a couple of days. Offensively you guys are so unique. What makes you so unique and what makes this particular team difficult to prepare for in this kind of setting?
COACH BEILEIN: I’ve never had to prepare for ourselves. So I really ‑‑ I really can’t answer that question. We just do what we do and we have a staff that is always changing. We’re always trying to look at the opponent and figure out how they’re going to attack us.
And again, high IQ, high character young men on the team allowed us to be very versatile in our approach.
Q. For Nik and Glenn, I know you just started, as Coach said, looking at Kentucky. Is it hard to look at the skill level and talent on that team and think to yourselves how on earth are they an 8 seed, how did they lose ten games during the regular season with that type of skill?
NIK STAUSKAS: With them, we understand how talented they are. We don’t want to look at how they played throughout their season, because they maybe had some tough losses. But right now they’re playing great basketball. They’ve had some big wins over Wichita State and Louisville.
We’re just trying to focus on what they’re doing right now.
We understand they’re extremely talented at every position. We just have to come in with great focus and confidence and do what we do.
GLENN ROBINSON, III: Just like Nik said, they’re playing great basketball right now. They kind of remind myself of us. And all great players from each position, and they can score from any position. And they all play hard and they’re very confident in each other right now.
So like I said, they’re playing great basketball and I think this would be a great game for us tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll dismiss the student‑athletes for the breakouts. Glenn Robinson, III will be in Interview Room 8. Jordan Morgan Interview Room 9. Derrick Walton, Jr. will be in Interview Room 10. Nik Stauskas will be in Interview Room 11. Caris LeVert will be in Interview Room 12.
Questions for Coach.
Q. Do you see any significance in Kentucky trying to do with five freshmen what only your program has ever done and having to go through you guys to do it?
COACH BEILEIN: No, not really. I mean, we’ve had so many great teams in Michigan history. Those teams with the Fab Five were certainly terrific teams. Don’t even really think about that at all.
I mean, to be honest with you, I looked at the roster today. See, I don’t think we pay attention ‑‑ that’s a media thing.
We don’t pay any attention to any of that. When I looked at the roster today, I said, They started five freshmen. The first time I knew that. I really don’t pay attention to that. You’re asking the wrong guy.
If you ask me about Michigan, I’ll tell you about Michigan. I don’t know what other people are doing until we play them. That’s when I find things out.
But I understand that’s a media ‑‑ freshmen playing is such an interesting fact that people make so much of it, and I get it. I get it.
But my goodness, there’s so many freshmen out there. I pointed out the two freshmen the other day that are playing for Tennessee that hardly played as a freshman. Hardly played as a freshman. And now they’re like terrific basketball players.
I wish we’d all just embrace the kid that’s a grinder for four years instead of making this huge thing about freshmen stars. Let’s just watch ‑‑ let’s reward the kid that really works hard just as much as the freshmen stars.
Q. John, what’s the difference between the Derrick Walton, Jr. that first arrived on campus last summer and the player that we’ve watched these last couple of weeks?
COACH BEILEIN: The proverbial coach‑speak, the game has slowed down. And in particular some things that as we make adjustments during the season. When he was starting to get it, right now, somebody plays us a certain way and now everybody sees that on video and now we gotta change.
And we keep changing and changing and changing, and he’s gotta stay up with those changes. A lot of times when you’re not the quarterback of the team, those changes aren’t as obvious to you.
And for him, for him to keep just growing his game and seeing this has just been fantastic. He’s really a bright kid. I love that he’s starting to call plays on his own. And as a freshman, right now he’s every bit as aware of what the mission of a game is for us, what the game plan is as anybody we’ve had.
Q. Do you have any relationship with Coach Calipari? What do you know of him? What’s your take on him in general?
COACH BEILEIN: Not really. We’re very friendly to each other. I’ve never played against him one time. I don’t even know if even when he was an assistant, and that’s a long time ago, whether he was even on a staff that we’d ever played.
But no, I really don’t. We have some things in common.
Watching his teams over the years, just watching what the UMass team was able to do and now that Kentucky team, for him to have the success coaching young guys means he must have some really, really good practices to be able to get young people to play at such a high level. He’s got great patience if you have young people playing at a high level.
Q. Similar to the question I asked your players: What is it about the Big Ten season that prepares you guys so well for March, the conference teams, and do you think people around the country appreciate how difficult the Big Ten is?
COACH BEILEIN: I’ll tell you what makes it difficult is now ‑‑ I’ve been in the league seven years. And at the beginning, Michigan and many other programs, the Iowas, the Northwesterns, Penn State, they were all like building.
I remember the one year there was a team that was maybe ‑‑ I don’t know, 15 and 3 and they didn’t win the league. I think we were 15 and 3 this year. I forget what we were.
But they didn’t win the league, because you could count on eight wins from four of those teams maybe that I just mentioned as they were rebuilding.
This year we had, Wisconsin, who might be in the Final Four who can win today, lost to Northwestern at home.
The parity is just incredible right now within the league. And that 12th place team, home or away, right, is just, I’m just a couple of buckets away from being the first place team.
So it is, I think that’s what makes it tough. I can’t judge about what the respect, I don’t get into all that stuff about ‑‑ because I don’t talk to other people about it. And I don’t read the newspaper that much and see what people are saying.
So I do know that I’ve been fortunate enough to coach in several leagues. And top to bottom, talent‑wise, coaching‑wise and the environmental part of this thing, every game is ‑‑ I remember one or two games of our last, let’s see, 18‑36, 54 games or so that we have played that’s not a sell‑out on‑campus arenas. It’s incredible.
So you’re in environments every night that are just really tough to win, and that’s what makes the conference. I think every conference has some rebuilding teams that do not sell out or even close to it; not in this league.
Q. As you know, Kentucky gets to the foul line a lot. I wonder how you see the challenge of defending Kentucky without fouling?
COACH BEILEIN: It’s difficult, because they have a way of driving the ball and avoiding fouls or avoiding charges. They’ve got some guys that are crafty with the ball and can get either to the rim or jump around you, jump over you. So it’s really important.
And that’s been a strength with us. So that’s a matchup of two things, that I think we played tough. Probably not tough enough, but there’s times that we really are a tough defensive team and we try and do it without giving people free baskets, which comes with the foul line.
Q. Coach, Jordan seems to be playing with more confidence throughout the year. How much do you think that’s fueled with the underdog in his mind?
COACH BEILEIN: He’s driven right. He took a trip to Africa this summer. He’s very strong in his faith and he’s really looking at this thing from a completely different relationship than he used to look at it.
Where it was a bit of a how come this isn’t working to I’m not going to worry about whether it’s working. I’m just going to do my very best every time. I’m not going to worry if I miss. I’m just going to do my best and be settled with that.
That’s what’s really happened with Jordan. Great lesson for everyone about persistence of just staying with it and staying positive. And he’s done a wonderful job with it.
Q. How difficult is it for an 18‑, 19‑year‑old like Derrick to lead in this situation when he’s surrounded by talented guys who have that experience, how difficult was that for him?
COACH BEILEIN: You know, it’s only difficult if you are not mature off the court. These guys, they read each other pretty well. We spend a lot of time together. And when you present ‑‑ when your brand ‑‑ his brand started the first day he came on campus, how he took care of his business, how he approached study hall, how he went to class, how he responded to coaches critiquing him, as he built that brand, everybody sort of is watching that thing.
Now when he’s calling the signals, we’re trusting him with the ball, he’s put so many deposits into that bank of trust that allows him ‑‑ they trust him with leadership. And then it becomes natural.
If he had not taken academics seriously, if he had not taken training rules seriously, he wouldn’t have that trust. But he’s established that by methodically going about his business in the right way since the day he entered Michigan.
Q. How much, if any, did you follow James Young in the recruiting process and what do you remember about him as a high school player in Michigan?
COACH BEILEIN: I saw him in the AAU circuit more than we saw him when he was in high school. But I don’t think he ever did an unofficial visit at all. So can’t tell you exactly the reason why. But he’s having a great career at Kentucky.
Q. Coach, wonder if you could elaborate a little earlier on what you said about the difficulty getting young players to play at a high level. Is it Xs and Os, is it egos? Is it cohesiveness? Are there other factors?
COACH BEILEIN: All of the above that you have to ‑‑ from a coaching standpoint, you do have to put people in certain schemes so they can be successful. But that doesn’t make one bit of difference if you’re battling egos all the time, if they’re not in shape, if they’re not going to practice hard.
It doesn’t make a difference. So you gotta start the other way. You gotta build a culture that is really conducive to them playing unselfish basketball, willing to work hard every day in practice, build a chemistry within the team. And then you can get to the Xs and Os, and every coach in the country is great Xs and Os.
You make a lot of different coaches, every coach in the country can do that.
My question would be: Is everybody building cultures the same way? I don’t really know.
I know before I got to Michigan, but especially since I’ve been in Michigan, I’ve learned so much about building cultures. And it’s not just up to the coach, it’s a team thing, it’s a family thing, it comes straight from the administration all the way down.
Q. Basically piggybacking on the exact same thing: Several of the guys are talking about the team chemistry on this team and that at times can sound cliché, but they’re saying every single night and pizza together and they’re together constantly. How does that show itself on the court and how do you foster that?
COACH BEILEIN: I think when you have a team that really loves each other ‑‑ and we sort of recruit to that a little bit. Like take Spike Albrecht. They wouldn’t believe at the airport he was visiting Michigan on an official visit. They laughed. You’re not going to Michigan for basketball.
But Spike fits this thing where those guys love him and he’s just good enough to really help us. But just as importantly they love him off the court.
And if you can put a team together when we recruit a kid, we talk ‑‑ when we say, You know what, we really like being around that young man. And if we do, that’s a big part of our recruiting process.
And so you get that. You bring in young men who are used to being good teammates, that engage with people, that they really are ‑‑ they like that part of it. Mitch McGary is a great example.
Mitch wanted this. Mitch wanted this team chemistry. He didn’t want to just be a star. He wanted team chemistry. If you sort of recruit to that, it’s natural for them to fall in line. And when it does, when they really love each other, they’ll work for each other on that court.