John Beilein barely got to the podium before he flashed a smile. And even then, the Michigan coach had to hold back a laugh when discussing Friday’s season-opening exhibition against Le Moyne.
The normally-reserved Michigan coach could hardly contain his eagerness, and who could blame him?
With all but one scholarship player returning, Beilein can take a mulligan on last season’s 16-16 effort. And with improved health and experience, it looks to be a good second effort.
He also got a raise and contract extension this week, but what has Beilein the most excited is the opponent the Wolverines face Friday. No. 25 Michigan hosts Le Moyne in an exhibition, a school Beilein coached from 1983-92 where he raised his children.
The game will feature one of those kids, as John’s son, Patrick makes his debut as the Dolphins’ head coach.
“This is just such a unique start to a huge season,” Beilein said. “Playing against a team like Le Moyne where I have so many memories, it’s going to be interesting. I’m going to study my feelings during the whole thing.”
Beilein said plenty of his family will be in town for the affair, but not to see the longstanding Michigan coach.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun for everybody,” Beilein said. “Patrick is one of 44 grandchildren and there’s probably going to be 12 to 15 of his cousins there, and I think they’re going to be rooting for him, he’s one of them. Kathleen (John’s wife) will be interesting, you’re going to have to ask her, I can’t read it at this point.”
Beilein admitted that it might be a bit easier to break down filmt and prepare the scout team as Patrick’s offenses and defenses have so many similarities to his own, but he admitted that wasn’t the best feeling.
“The only time that anything compares to this is that we played Canisius one year and my former assistant was the coach. I’ve had very few of these situations where you’re coaching against someone that you know so well that knows you so well and it’s not real comfortable to tell you the truth. There’s a wave of emotions.”
It will be a tough task to ask Le Moyne, a Division II program that fell to Syracuse, 97-58, to upset the Wolverines, but both teams will focus on plenty of playing time for younger players.
For Michigan, that means fans can expect to see plenty of Moe Wagner. The 6-foot-10 forward — and the lone newcomer to the team — could still redshirt if he played Friday. Beilein won’t decide either way for some time, he’s getting the 18-year-old German as much experience as he can.
“It’s an exhibition game. We’re going to try and get as many guys in in the first half,” Beilein said. “We’re going to play Moe Wagner as much as possible and as much as the game will allow.”
Beilein said junior forward Zak Irvin will miss the game as he still recovers from back surgery and junior guards Andrew Dakich and Sean Lonergan will sit out with the goal of redshirting this season (only freshmen can play in an exhibition without burning a redshirt), but everyone else can expect to see game action.
The coach also noted that the team is still trying to get healthy, citing sophomore guard Aubrey Dawkins (who tweaked his ankle in open practice on Monday) and senior guard Spike Albrecht among the players who aren’t yet full strength.
“Luckily we’re deep enough that we can just put the next guy in there,” Beilein said. “There’s no rush.”
Though the final score won’t matter to Michigan, the Wolverines plan to practice more zone play on defense and post play on offense. Both were weak points for the team last season, but a stronger personnel could change that this season.
It will be an exhibition game against a Division II team, but don’t tell Beilein it’s meaningless.
Because one thing was clear from the moment Beilein walked into the room: Michigan basketball gets its new start tomorrow, and it’s going to be full of fun —and Beilein’s.