Michigan coaches and players joined the Huge Show on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the offseason, recruiting, their careers and just about everything in between.
On the offseason of change:
“Change has always been good. You have to just find. I’m reading this book called Obstacle is the Way. You take the obstacles that get in your way and just turn them around, that’s really the answer. This has really been good for us to look at what we do offensively and defensively differently. Bill Donlon has had a great effect on us already with our defense. Saddi Washington has great effect with our big men. Vall Jordan and Bacari Alexander knew what they were doing, now we just add more knowledge and that really is going to help us in the long run.”
On preseason projections:
“This is a team that was really humbled several times last year. Those humbling experiences will be really helpful to us. Duncan Robinson was incredible through the beginning of the Big ten and all of the sudden people started taking things away from him and other areas of weakness showed up. Zak Irvin was up-and-down, Derrick Walton was up-and-down. These guys are taking it personally and I’m looking forward to see the results.”
On the most humbling experience:
“I think a couple of home losses. I’m thinking of the home loss to Indiana where we had just gone and won a couple of games. We beat Penn State in the Garden, we’re 7-2 in the league, Indiana comes in here and we were ahead like 19-4 and all o the sudden they went on a run like I’ve never seen and we were down 19 at half.”
“If there was areas of weakness last year, it’d be the mental toughness in situations like that.”
“The teams that win at this level really well have 8 guys that they can count on. Maybe three guards, three forwards that alternate and a couple of centers that alternate, maybe a third makes it nine. I think that we could have that rotation. I don’t think we’re probably ready at 10, 11, 12 yet. That’s more of a great future that we’re grooming, but those guys at 6,7,8 — whoever they turn out to be, because they could be former starters. We’re in that process right now and at 6,7,8 if they are strong and they get it and they give us minutes. You can’t have Derrick Walton playing 38, 36 minutes, if he’s at 32 the whole season goes much smoother for him. But if he’s at 38 every night in these wars it just doesn’t work.”
On new faces:
“One guy will be a new face but he’s not is DJ Wilson. He’s had a really good summer and fall. HE’s 6-foot-10, wingspan of 7-feet, it comes at different stages for some players and it’s starting to come together. I think he’ll still be out there and having some awkward moments here and there, but at the same time he’s one of our leading rebounders (in practice). DJ’s stats compared to last year are completely different. He’s a multi-position player, he can play 4, he play 5, he can play 3.
“Moe Wagner is another one that we just need him to play above his years. He did at the beginning of the year then in the middle of the year ran into a bit of a freshman wall and then down the stretch, tough breaks against him in the Notre Dame game with foul trouble.
“We’re going to rely on one of our freshman big guys. Jon Teske and it depends how he does, how good he becomes during that time. He’s really long. Austin Davis is the same deal, both of those guys are competing to be the third big man.”
“Xavier Simpson is going to be a really good point guard. It’s like the quarterback, taking a freshman quarterback and saying okay, here you go. There’s a lot to think about, a lot more than Ibi Watson has to think about playing forward. Those two guys we’re going to need them and they’ll probably play and have significant roles on this team.”
On five-star recruiting:
“We’re always trying to do that. We’ve been involved with. Zak Irvin is a former five star guy, we have a ton of four-star guys on this (roster). Mitch McGary was a five-star guy. We’ve been able to get those guys. We’ve finished second (for others).
“You look at last year, a guy like Henry Ellenson a tremendous player for the Pistons, did Marquette go to to the NCAA Tournament? The kid down at LSU (Ben Simmons), lottery pick, first pick in the draft, did LSU go to the NCAA Tournament?
“Our thing is whatever players it takes to get to the NCAA Tournament, then magic can happen. We care about are they five-star players when they come out of here. Is Caris LeVert? Trey Burke? Are they five-star players when they walk out of here? Yeah.
“That’s the whole idea.”
On the offseason:
“First and foremost we always gotta give great credit to our strength coach Jon Sanderson. Just the leadership role I’ve taken on in the last two seasons. I had a great chance to learn from a lot of guys before me. Jordan Morgan did a great job and then last year Caris LeVert and Spike. Just the way they took care of business, that’s something that I try to model myself after. This summer I devoted myself to just staying here and trying to be a model for guys to try to follow. Everybody’s in tip-top shape.”
On where he’s focused on improving:
“I try not to just take on one thing. I got back to my old roots of things, getting back into the gym and working tirelessly. Trying to get back in the best shape of my life to help these guys compete for a championship. So far I’m seeing some results, I’m really excited.”
“I’ve battled through my personal injuries over my career, but like I said I’m healthy as possible. I’m healthy as a horse right now.”
On what he likes from the freshmen:
“The competitiveness of Xavier is really something that stands out. Being a guy that loves competing myself, it kind of raises all boats. Their eagerness to learn is really something that’s special for this group. Their overall talent, there’s a lot of things that they don’t even know, but they make some plays without knowing it.”
On the ceiling of this team:
“Whatever we want. I don’t want to put any limits on it. Whatever our goals are set out to be, a healthy Michigan basketball team can do whatever we want.”
On the toughest stretch of his career:
“Last year was a tough stretch for me, not being able to play much in the offseason with my back injury. It was nice that I was able to overcome that adversity and I feel better than ever and I’m excited for senior year.”
On realistic goals:
“Everyone says they want to win a championship, but it starts now. It started in the summer. Our goal is that if we get better each day and we’re consistent with it then there is no ceiling for this team.”
On something Beilein taught him:
“As a basketball player, a big thing for me coming in was that I let my jumpshot determine how I played the rest of the game. That’s something he told me, there’s a difference between shooting well and playing well. That’s something that I’ve carried on since my freshman year.
On his relationship with Beilein:
“I guess we should go back 9 or 10 years ago when coach Beilein first rolled into town. IT was just kind of one of those things when he got in and we just kind of clicked right away on the recruiting trail. One of the things that I really appreciated about coach Beilein even before I got hired here was the way he made himself available to young coaches.
“We always talked on the road during recruiting events and things like that. I tried to help give him a lay of the land and from there we just continued to maintain a relationship and a good rapport with one another. 6 years ago when he had a staff changeover, I was kind of in the mix for one of those jobs, but didn’t get it and that really challenged me as an assistant to continue to hone my craft and continue doing what I’m doing. Six years later, things worked out for me.”
On what stands out about Beilein’s style:
“Coach Beilein lives in the details of life. I say that to say that he’s very structured on a day-to-day basis in terms of planning his day, whether it be meeting him to make recruiting calls and text messages and stuff like that to all of his daily duties as a head coach to planning practice. We’re always filled in on what’s going on.”
“He has a keen eye for picking up the slightest variations that could make a difference to a guy shooting mid 30s to 40 percent on their shot.”
On Michigan’s team:
“It’s definitely going to be by committee. Obviously there is a talented team coming back, you have an NCAA Tournament level team coming back. I think the injuries to Spike and Caris last year really made guys have to develop and mature quickly and develop in some roles, it sped up the learning curve for a lot guys. Going into the season guys have worked hard and are a better version of themselves.
On keys to the season:
“We return a team that won 23 games. We return starters so the nucleus coming back is a solid, experienced nucleus. But for us to advance and maybe take another step, we’ve just gotta be better defensively. That would be number 1 on the check list and coach Beilein has talked about that all of July, all of September and now we’re into October. Number 1 is our ability to defend better collectively.”
“You look at Derrick and he’s put in tremendous work this summer in terms of his ability to play in the mid-range game. His ability to finish through contact at the basket. He’s a guy who has, from day one, been our point guard for four years. This senior season, with both Zak and Derrick, there’s a sense of urgency.”
On a new face he’s liked:
“Moe Wagner has brought with him increased strength, increased weight. He had as a freshman an up and down season, but he’s come back with a fresh mindset and moving forward he will be someone that is very core to this group.”
On improved players:
“DJ has been the guy in practice. Leading us in rebounding, his ability defensively. He’s done a really good job day in and day out taking pride in his defensive ability.”
On his connection to Beilein:
“A long time ago 1997, 1998, I was a junior point guard for UNC-Wilmington. That was Coach Beilein’s first year at University of Richmond. We were in the same conference and we won the regular-season title and unfortunately lost in the conference championship game (to go to the NCAA Tournament) to Richmond.
“Obviously I fell in love with playing against coach and their style. Just how good they were offensively and then I followed him. He’s been great to me, he’s been a mentor throughout my career from when I was a player in Europe to my early days as a coach we would stay in touch. It happened at this opportunity presented itself and I was really really fortunate.”
On what stands out about Beilein:
“I think everything speaks for itself with his success and his work ethic is off the charts. It’s relentless, he’s here all the time and he’s constantly thinking about improvements. He certainly has his core values, what he believes in, one of those core values is improvement, always getting better. He reminds me so much of my father and that’s a great compliment.
“They are lifelong learners he’s been doing this, he’s constantly trying to learn. Right, wrong or indifferent there’s definitely been a shift in college athletics. Coach is very much about preparing the young man for the real world for their lives: discipline, dedication, hard work, that commitment to being a good person, commitment to community, and the University of Michigan.”
On the returning team:
“I think coming back, just the first thing about the players is just what great young men they are. It’s not a sound byte, they are great to be around every day. We’re together a lot, three or four hours, especially now until the games come. The enthusiasm, the energy, a guy like Zak Irvin brings, Andrew Dakich has been blessed with a quick wit. You have all of those kinds of things”
“Really really skilled at all the spots, pass it, shoot it, dribble it. Certainly there’s some areas where like any team we’re trying to get better. WE’re trying to develop. In terms of the strengths, we can play fast, we can score quickly, we can play different guys at multiple positions to create some matchup issues.”
On where he feels he can make an impact:
“He wanted Saddi and I to come in with a fresh set of eyes because we haven’t been here and I think Saddi is fantastic and we have both given him some different thoughts. I think certainly I see the game more on the defensive side of things so I’ve maybe brought n a different way to say something or a different drill. But again, as I said, coach Beilein, Jeff and Saddi all coach defense. That and some perimeter development things are some things that I’ve been tasked with.”
On offseason improvement:
“It’s tricky because we have a whole testing protocol that we follow. DJ Wilson has, since he’s been in our program, he’s jumping 8.5 inches higher than when he first got here. His vertical jump. I can’t claim that because of DJ’s training that he’s going to average x amount of more points, but I have to believe that a guy who can jump 8.5 inches higher or a Moe Wagner who’s jumping 6.5 inches higher has to be a better rebounder, shot contester, all of those qualities.”