John Beilein was joined on the podium by Moritz Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman this afternoon.
COACH BEILEIN: It’s a good day. It’s a great day to be a Wolverine. It’s been fantastic, great experience last night. All the teams getting together to sort of enjoy the exhibition hall and the Fan Jam, Fan Fest whatever it’s called. It was tremendous. And had a great little dinner together last night. So we’re blessed to be here and going to have one more day of prep for a tremendous, not a good, but a tremendous Loyola team. And we’re going to be as ready as we can be.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Looking at your own Jesuit education and your work as Jesuit schools, what do you think of the sensation that Sister Jean has become?
COACH BEILEIN: It’s absolutely terrific, just being in Catholic institutions for probably either attending or coaching at them for, what would it be, almost 19 years, almost half my educated life, or my adult life, I’ve got great value. I can name — I think I can name every Jesuit school if you asked me to including the Spring Hills and Rockhursts and everybody.
So I’ve got a lot of admiration for what they’ve done there and the Jesuit education was a tremendous influence on my life — St. Ignatius, the whole deal. As a result, I admire them and they have a great program.
Sister Jean, that’s another story. I have some religious in my own family, aunts and great aunts and Kathleen’s aunt in our family. I have great admiration for them.
I will tell you I have heard from many religious that I personally know that tell me their prayers are doing everything they can to counter Sister Jean. And I had a priest, not even at my own parish, stop mass at the end of mass on Tuesday and say, they have Sister Jean, you have everybody here praying for you. It’s been a lot of fun and it’s great.
Q. As somebody who has coached some very pretty offenses yourself — passing, shooting, cutting, everything — I’m wondering what you think of Loyola and what they’ve been able to do?
COACH BEILEIN: You’re right where I’ve been thinking the last few days. This thing is a thing of beauty. This is not Princeton in any way, but they cut on and off — they cut without the ball. They dribble with the ball. They post. I think having the great, not good, but great passing center has really had a great impact on them. And they’ve got shooters everywhere.
Now, people have great offenses. Do they have people who can all shoot and all see the floor? That’s the real thing here. Their plays are pretty. But their concepts, the way the team runs their concepts is a thing of beauty.
Q. You’ve coached a number of players who maybe came into college not necessarily projected to go to the NBA quickly, but because of how they performed at Michigan, had that opportunity. Given that, how do you view this concerted effort on the part of college sports to kind of drive the one-and-done element away and basically say we don’t want you here in our league?
COACH BEILEIN: I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think we’re trying to drive anybody away. And we’re not saying we don’t want you. We’re saying if you really want us, here’s who we are. We’re student-athletes, we want you to — particularly in our place, I would never turn down a kid that’s a projected one-and-done if he understands that it’s Michigan and he should unpack his bag for four years.
But after one year he’s got great options, we’ll drive him to the airport. That’s the mentality I think we need to have right now. So we’re not — nobody’s driving anybody away. We’ve just got to make sure that guys are playing college basketball for the right reasons. It’s a destination. It’s an experience in your life you’ll never have again.
And if you’re fortunate enough to have opportunities early in that career to go pro, like we have, I think every coach endorses that. But the kid that is just putting in his time and it is not a destination, that doesn’t work out well for most.
Q. Do you see any similarities between your team and Loyola?
COACH BEILEIN: I hope so. I hope we play a lot like them. They’re good. They’re good. And I think that they — we have a lot of guys that are unselfish, a lot of guys that shoot the ball well, a lot of people that pass, and we both play very good defensive if you just look at the ratings. You look at our assist/turnover numbers — if you look at the stats, just compare the stats between the two teams, you’ll find some remarkable similarities.
Q. And off the top, you did say they are a tremendous team. Is it easier said than done not to see them as an 11 seed or an underdog?
COACH BEILEIN: The seedings, they do such a great job. But we’re seeding 19-year-old, 20-year-old kids and playing — no one’s playing on home courts anymore. And there’s a lot of neutrality to every game that balances things very much.
So they probably weren’t mis-seeded given the fact that I don’t think there’s a big difference between 1 and 4. And maybe 9 to 14. There’s not a big difference. Maybe 16 and 1 there’s a big difference. But we all saw that for the first time, something can happen.
But it is so hard for them to do this. And they could have very easily, if they were playing in a power conference, they might have been a 6, 7, 5, 4 seed. They might have won one of those conferences, they’re so good. They might win the national championship. So I’m not saying that seeding is wrong. I’m just saying it’s an inexact science to try and figure out.
Q. Several of your players are coach’s sons. Is that something that you seek out or is that just happenstance? Muhammad was saying how he — he’s been around a lot of coaches and it may make him a little even more stubborn.
COACH BEILEIN: Yeah, I think — you know what, I coached my own son, it’s not always a bowl of cherries. It can be difficult at times. So I think we’ve seen both parts of that. We’ve seen the part where the coach just says that, the coaching father says to me you got them. You don’t have to worry about me.
I’ve had a coach and father tell me in games when I apologize maybe why he wasn’t playing so much. I say, I’m sorry, there’s a process you have to go through. I have had a parent tell me, I’m trying to figure out why you’re playing him at all. He shouldn’t be out there.
You get both of those. And obviously anybody that’s ever had their son play for another coach, the DNA takes over in that one. The genetics take over and it’s very hard for them to separate that and see really that their son — they have to go to practice — I always tell people, I write a letter to every parent. You have to be to practice every day for the last four years I’ve coached to understand why we make decisions on playing. And you can’t do that. So just gotta trust us.
Q. To follow up on the one-and-done question, do you have a theory why so many of the teams that have one-and-dones don’t make it to the Final Four? The Final Four teams generally are the more experienced teams.
COACH BEILEIN: I think there’s a process of going through the season that you have to experience one, two, three times before you can really have this type of success under this pressure in March. I think that comes down to it a lot of times.
They’re just young. They’re just young. And they have a lot of other options presented in front of them. I’m all for it. I don’t have any issues with the kid that’s a freshman that comes in and — or a sophomore that comes in, has a great year and decides to go pro. I’m all for it.
At the same time it is difficult to win. I remember when Carmelo Anthony did it with Syracuse, and Duke did it a few years ago with some young kids. There may have been some other times where freshmen have dominated in the NCAA Tournament. It’s very few that’s really been able to happen.
Kentucky had some success as well. I’m sure John would have liked to have been more experienced. Then they would have even more experience, but you can’t teach experience.
Q. Coach, there’s a football adage that says defense travels. I think that’s been proven true of this Michigan team. How much, I don’t know if confidence is the right word, but maybe peace of mind do you get knowing that even on an off shooting night, the defensive effort your team brings you’re going to be in the games?
COACH BEILEIN: There’s no peace of mind, first of all. There’s never peace of mind. Even if we’re up 22 with 2 minutes to go. But at the same time it is good to know — I think you could see it in a couple of our games where we couldn’t score a basket, but we kept getting the ball back and the score, we’re still up 7 or 5 or 4. And that’s been good.
But I do know that if you play good defense, and these two guys are really good ones, it’ll give you a chance to win every day.
Q. Coach, what led you to believe that Duncan Robinson could go from Division III to being a contributor at a major Big Ten school?
COACH BEILEIN: I knew his coach, Mike Maker at Williams. I’ve coached at Nazareth which is a very good Division III program, and Le Moyne, which is Division II. So I had seen those guys.
And then all of the sudden you’re the coach at Canisius. And you’re saying, well, these guys at Canisius are good. But there are some kids at Division II that can play in Division I, remembering some of my Division II teams.
So it was that, and then I watched his films extensively. A freshman leads his team to the final two, to the championship game in Division III. And I trust him with my assistants, former assistants, head coach at Williams was saying, said this makes sense for us. He fills a void of a shooter — and also knowing our strength coach, Jon Sanderson, could develop that body over time with a redshirt year.
Q. Moe, last week in LA one of the German reporters was talking to you about the growth of college basketball in Germany. If you don’t mind kind of expanding on that. He said that I think people are now filling out brackets and doing the things that we here in the states — I was curious if you had any personal experience with that?
MOE WAGNER: I know just as much as he told me, to be honest. My family told me a little about it. It makes me proud, honestly. It’s a really cool thing that people care about Michigan basketball all of a sudden. So, yeah, it’s cool.
Q. Coach, if Loyola hadn’t won its conference tournament, there’s a pretty good chance they would not be in the field. And the trend in recent years is for fewer and fewer at-larges to go to mid-major programs. Do you think their run maybe should spark some conversation about changing the selection format to allow more of these teams in?
COACH BEILEIN: I think a consistency of these type of runs, where you saw the George Masons, the VCU, the Butler, which the Missouri Valley, compared to the Horizon at one time, I would think people would have thought the Missouri Valley. Wichita State made a run.
I think the more that happens, I think it’s natural that they’ll value, hey, this team was outstanding. I think the biggest issue would be having more and more teams be able to schedule teams like this so that they had their out-of- conference wins. That’s the beauty of being at one of the power five conferences or the Big East as well is that you can schedule games and you can choose who you schedule.
Loyola Chicago can’t do that. Wichita State can’t do that. That’s a tougher thing. But I would assume it’s going to have some impact because — if this trend continues.
Q. Moe, can you tell us which family members or how many family members are here from Germany? And did they just make the trip this week or have they been here for a while?
MOE WAGNER: My parents came all the way over here. They arrived Wednesday.
Q. Just two?
MOE WAGNER: Yep.
Q. Moe, one of the big differences, a couple of the players from Loyola said in facing Michigan, would be you and your versatility as a big man. Do you see yourself as a possible big difference maker tomorrow?
MOE WAGNER: To be honest with you, my approach doesn’t change with who we’re playing. I think it should be the same whoever we play. I think we’re all very confident in each other. And, yeah, that’s going to be the same either way. So aggressive and confident as always, and we see what happens.
Q. Muhammad, you seem like, obviously on the court the more calm serene player, and Moe seems more like the volatile, exuberant type. How do you think that’ll play out tomorrow on the big stage? Do you have to calm him down, or does he have to fire you up? How does that dynamic work?
MUHAMMAD-ALI ABDUR-RAHKMAN: I think he might have to fire me up a little bit. No, I’ll be excited to play. But I’ll try to stick to what I know, and that’s being even keeled and being ready for anything.
He calms himself down in the timeouts. He talks in German. We let him calm down and he gets right back out there.
COACH BEILEIN: He enters into third person. He starts talking to Moe. When he starts talking to Moe, we are quiet and let him talk to himself.
Q. Because Moe is viewed as the exuberant villain, so to speak, in games like this, as a — and of course on Saturday with Loyola and everything — how do you keep him under wraps, so to speak?
COACH BEILEIN: He’s so resilient. We have had interesting conversations over time and even in the heat of the moment where he just listens to me and he’s really good at filtering out the message despite whether I’m angry about it or whether I’m just teaching him. He sees it all as a teaching aspect. And it’s yes, no and I get this.
Some things come a little slower than others at times, but he’s really a good student about the game. But some days he gets Cs and Ds in his tests, right? And then the next day it’s a D-plus. The next day it’s a C-plus. He just keeps improving.
Q. Coach, I was wondering if this week in practice or in the preparation for this game you sensed any antsiness from the team? And if not, on a team where there’s players who haven’t been here before, how they kind of stay relaxed?
COACH BEILEIN: I haven’t sensed anything. But I’ll tell you what, we’d love to be playing today, I think. It’s great to have all this prep time. But they want to play. We want to play because this is our fortieth game and we’ve been preparing for a long time. They’re probably sick of the same fast facts and walk-throughs and practicing.
But we have to continue to do what we do all year long. But if you’re in a journey like we’re in with these type of young men and staff we have, we can get through this last weekend. And I don’t think they’ll ever forget this experience regardless of what happens.
Q. Muhammad and Moe, I asked your coach about the value of experience. Can you describe how much your experience at Michigan is helping you right now? And really with the benefit of having stayed in college for a few years, what has that done for you?
MOE WAGNER: I think obviously it let me grow as a basketball player, but most importantly as a person, learn how to live by myself, take care of myself. I think very important for me.
And obviously you know at Michigan we don’t only worry about basketball. It’s a big thing for us that we take care of the stuff off the court as well. So it’s been significant for me and my life, and I’m very happy I’m here.
MUHAMMAD-ALI ABDUR-RAHKMAN: Just like Moe said, being in school for four years, Michigan’s made me into a man, learning how to do the essentials of life, everything, really. And, I mean, and on the basketball side, no stage is too big. And just always being able to be poised and composed.