John Beilein was on the podium with Moritz Wagner and Duncan Robinson to preview Michigan’s final test against Villanova.
COACH BEILEIN: I got back, obviously with all the media responsibilities after the game I didn’t get to see the first half of Villanova. I’m sure glad I didn’t get to see it. The second half I did get back to my hotel in time to watch it.
It was a great, it was an offensive clinic against a very good defensive team and we’re just pleased to be, it’s in this forum right now where we’re playing this last day. And today there’s very few times that a coach gets to say to his team, this is the last practice of the year and we get to say that today.
It’s the last time we had to focus in practice. I feel blessed to be in this situation and a tremendous challenge ahead of us with what we have with Loyola — what we had with Loyola and now Villanova. The reason (indiscernible) is Villanova is just another form of Loyola and probably a little taller, a few shot blockers inside and just probably better in some respects and maybe not in some others.
And really a great example of how the game should be played, just like Loyola was. We’re going to do everything we can to meet that challenge.
Q. I’m curious what your relationship with Jay Wright was like when you coached against him in the Big East? And then if this NCAA Tournament was a movie what actor would portray Jay and what actor would portray you?
COACH BEILEIN: That’s an easy question. When he broke in, he was brought in to — Villanova had a couple of tough seasons — and he was, he came in to bring Villanova back. And we followed at West Virginia one year later.
So I think we were both in the bottom of the, just the first couple of times we played they were great games, that we were both just trying to win a game. And the NCAA Tournament was a dream at that point for both of us.
And I made one move after that but we’ve known each other for a long time. Patty and Kathleen are friends. We have a great relationship.
And tomorrow, at the end of tomorrow’s — to answer that question, at the end of the game tomorrow, he’ll still look like George Clooney and I will look like Columbo by Peter Falk at the end of that thing. So there’s your comparison. I’d like to say Kevin Costner, but I can’t go there. (Laughter).
Q. Jay, after the game last night, said he never thought about one, never mind two and three years, he never allowed himself to think about that. How often do you think you’ve thought about it — of the clock going zero and you being the one that’s won that game?
COACH BEILEIN: He never thought about being the champion, is that what you’re referring to? No, I never think about that either. You just think about the next game. That’s all we think about. The two things I get most common would be are you enjoying this? I’m not enjoying this. I’m working. I love working. But it’s not like I’m sitting around laughing all day long and saying isn’t this great.
I got a great view of the concert and a great sound for the concerts right outside me. And I’m looking and saying, boy, those guys are all having fun. But we have work to do.
The other one would be with what would this mean? It would just mean that we did our best and we ended up having more breaks than other teams. And it would be great for all our fans and the university.
Q. I know you’re focused on a lot of weapons that they have, but I wanted to ask you specifically about Bridges. What concerns you most about a guy like that, both he can score within the flow of what they do without needing the ball, but he can also really affect the game defensively?
COACH BEILEIN: He does so many things well, and I’m like — Jay’s probably the same way, he didn’t spend the whole year watching Michigan play. But my assistants have been on it all week. And I’m looking at, really getting my first glimpses of him. I don’t watch other basketball games unless we’re involved with it. That’s the truth.
So just watching all the things he brings to the table from 6.00 a.m. this morning until we just came over here. And he’s a complete player. And actually they’ve got a lot of those guys. And that’s why they’re playing tomorrow night. And that’s why they have 35 wins or something like that, 35-4, I think they are. That’s why they have all those wins.
Q. You guys have done as good a job as anyone winning with under-the-radar recruits and developing them. Are there certain qualities that you look for in those types of players when you’re recruiting them? And then is there a process with Jon Sanderson, that you go through in terms of identifying which ones you can develop?
COACH BEILEIN: I think that too many times people that do recruiting ratings do not look at, well, what is the development like at this school they’re going to go to and what is their strength and quickness and strength training, their overall development, the athletic training, all these things that we study so much at Michigan?
And they try and — it’s such an inexact science, and I don’t think you can ever do the numbers of the three-stars and two-stars that turn out to be five-stars in four years and the five-stars that turn out to be three-stars in four years. And it happens like every day.
And as a result, we’ve had great fortune with highly rated players. And then we also have the Caris LeVerts and Nik Stauskas and even the Spike Albrechts, who probably never thought he’d play pro, but he had a heck of a college career.
We always say and I think it was Rudy Tomjanovich who said this, we’re not amassing talent when you’re building a team; you’re building a team. You’re not amassing talent. And we just try to build a team.
And, so, but Jon Sanderson, development is an understood approach to when you recruit. You think all these — you get a freshman and all of a sudden he’s going to turn the program around. Not if he’s not going to develop, he’s not going to turn any program around.
I think that’s what Villanova is specializing in right now. I can’t believe how many guys have redshirted for a bunch of reasons, I’m sure. That makes them a much older team and that’s really an advantage today in college basketball.
Q. How, if at all, do you think you would look at your career if you have a national championship in it or you don’t?
COACH BEILEIN: I honestly say I wouldn’t look at it any differently. I really would not. Others may. But I don’t think Kathleen and I would look at it any different. This is what — this is like approaching some 12 — I haven’t done the math — like 1200 games as a head coach.
And it’s just like you hang in there and you just do your absolute best every single day. And some day you’re going to say, I gave it everything I had, and if I’m falling into my grave, that’s okay too.
But you just do everything you can to be the best coach, the best mentor, the best teacher, the best husband, the grandfather, father every day, and you go do it again. And that’s all I want to be.
Q. What would you say has been Luke’s biggest imprint on your defense? And what’s your confidence level and thoughts on his stopping and his plan for stopping the 3-point barrage that Villanova has?
COACH BEILEIN: He has a tremendous influence on our defense right now. And when we did this a few years ago, I just wanted somebody that just thinks and breathes defense. Let me take care of offense and defense, but we need somebody only concentrating on this. Where it would be — so he actually doesn’t have every scout, but Saddi’s got this scout. But he’s watching the film.
You know what he’s doing right now? He’s cutting our defense from yesterday that would look like what Villanova is running, so that we could watch ourselves guarding similar action. And there are some similarities. So he’s got a great influence, just a great influence and a very strong presence in practice. And the second part was, there was a second part?
Q. Your confidence level and his thoughts on how to deal with Villanova?
COACH BEILEIN: I think we have to watch a lot more film and make some decisions, and I’m probably not going to give the whole scouting report to everybody in this room or to Jay. We’ll talk about that after the game tomorrow.
Q. John, piggybacking off a question, when you look back at the 2013 game, do you think about it any differently now, or what are your feelings about that? And is there any part of you in even like the deepest corner of your mind that thinks I’ve already won one?
COACH BEILEIN: No, we didn’t win that one. It was fair and square. They didn’t have six guys on the court. They didn’t have Rick’s brother-in-law reffing or something like that. There was nothing going on in that game. We lost the game. They won it. I’m going to leave it like that and that’s the way it should be.
And we had our chance, and we couldn’t quite get it done. And we didn’t get breaks in that game. Maybe it all said, Coach, you’re not going to get any breaks in this game, but you don’t know it, but in five years Jordan Poole is going to hit an incredible shot to give you another opportunity.
So it was a great basketball game. It was really a great game. When you think Luke Hancock, who was virtually unrecruited in high school, and Spike Albrecht, unrecruited out of high school, that’s all anybody talked about at halftime. The rumor was Spike’s Twitter account went from 5,000 followers to 20,000 followers at halftime. It was a great event, but we didn’t win it. And we’ll not say we’re national champs.
Q. Villanova’s two big, Paschall and Spellman, have unique skill sets because they can face up and shoot 3s. Bill said he had some difficulty trying to determine how to guard them, whether to go to four out out on the floor or stay home. What problems do they present as players?
COACH BEILEIN: Anytime you have this — this is Golden State Warriors here. This is Draymond Green type of thing where your guys can shoot it, they can pass it, they can do everything.
It’s like we like to play as well, and it’s a great concept. It’s one I’m very familiar with. It doesn’t mean we can stop it. But really when you have whether it’s a Pittsnogle and Tyrone Sally at our West Virginia teams, we had similar things in there.
In the last couple — we had Glenn Robinson and, well, I guess we didn’t have a shooting 5 then. But with Moe Wagner right now and last year Duncan Robinson and this year with Duncan Robinson, it’s the same thing, the 4 and the 5.
They’re guys are probably just a little taller than Duncan and they’re not taller than Moe, but probably they have some similar characteristics and also some differences.
Q. I was noticing your team is very good at defending the 3-pointer. But not just the amount made, but also it seems like the team is good at holding the attempts down. How do you do that? What’s the strategy to keep them from shooting as often, shooting from 3 as often as they do, because I would imagine that would be a big thing coming up tomorrow?
COACH BEILEIN: Yeah, it’s important with some teams that you play. There’s certain teams you want to take those things away from them. They may meet you. If you just look at the analytics of it, the 3-point, it’s like baseball; people don’t sacrifice bunt anymore, which still bothers me when we don’t sacrifice bunt.
But the analytics say don’t do it; go for the three-run homer or the two-run homer. And this is sort of the idea that some teams, that’s what they do. And you’ve got to — every coach, every sport you’re trying to take away what other people do. And we have sort of a plan for that that I won’t share. But I’m not talking about Villanova. Over the year, we have some different analytical columns we try to fill to make sure we are on the best way the numbers say that we can beat a team.
Q. I know you want to win this for Michigan, but it’s been a while since the Big Ten has cut the nets in this game. Do you carry that in? How much would you like to be the one to put an end to that drought?
COACH BEILEIN: At this time of year, I’ve heard those thoughts before, I just can’t — I think every team gets to this point and wins this game, it’s not always the best team, it’s the team that had a few breaks along the way. And the Big Ten has had some tough breaks along the way between our Louisville game, Wisconsin game — could have gone either way. We could have had two more.
One thing happens, one thing happens here. The Big Ten would love to win another one. But it’s not like any of us are saying, well, Big Ten is not very good. We haven’t won a national championship.
The Big Ten is as strong as any league as out there, and the breaks haven’t gone our way in a couple of games and other people have. And maybe things will change. If they don’t, it doesn’t change. The Big Ten is good and it’s really good — 14-deep good with incredible coaches. And I’m not carrying that weight on our back or the Michigan weight.
Q. This tournament has a rich history of teams that made it to the final Monday night after having escaped an improbable, unfavorable probability, somewhere back in the bracket. You had one in Burke’s shot from downtown Dallas in ’13. I was wondering how would you describe the dynamic of having done that and carrying on?
COACH BEILEIN: We’re there right now with Poole’s shot, too. Who did Villanova barely beat when they won it in Buffalo, New York? Saint Joe’s. Went down to what, last shot? And I think it’s that type of adversity sometimes — but exactly what I’m talking about with the gentleman over here.
It’s not the best team; it’s a time that — funny bounces of the ball will determine the champion. And that’s why we love it. We just absolutely love it. And things could turn a game just like that. And so we’ve had those breaks.
It’s been an incredible year for Michigan with very few injuries, a ton of breaks to be to this point. And I feel guilty sometimes about some of the games we won because we just had this grace fall on us all of a sudden. But at the same time it’s gone the other way many times for some of our teams and you beat yourself up as a coach, and what could I have done. But as I get more experience in this game, I realize that’s what it’s about, and you can’t do anything about those things.
Q. I wonder, of all the characterizations or mischaracterizations or stigmas that have been attached to you, the program over the last 10 years, if there’s anything that has particularly grated you or that you thought was not accurate?
COACH BEILEIN: You know that’s a bad question because I just throw off the perceptions that people have, because I know that what’s real may not be what the perception is. And that we’re trying to get a program that can just sustain itself. And it’s very hard to sustain when you have the kids go pro who should have gone pro. But you didn’t plan on that when they were freshmen because nobody else thought they were going to go pro and all of a sudden they’re good enough to go pro.
And I think that perception that we dipped a little bit in ’15 and ’16 when we lost our back court and five guys in the pros, and, oh, this doesn’t work, they don’t understand college basketball today. In some programs — and actually every program right now, right, it’s going to be seasons of up and down because there’s such a lack of consistency because of transfers and everything like that and people have to understand that.
You just can’t be a national champion or in the Final Four every year. And there’s years you might not even make the NCAA Tournament. And there’s usually a reason behind — it’s not a lack of support, it’s not coaching, it’s not players, it’s just that the roster changes and you gotta build it back up.
Q. We asked casual fans about Michigan basketball. I think the thing they associated with most was the Fab Five. Last night Steve Fisher was here, Ray Jackson was here. They were mobbed by fans. You can see the love and admiration for them. Yet the university still does not acknowledge that team whether it was with banners, with all the asterisks in the media guide. Do you foresee a day when that changes and the university acknowledges that team and should have changed?
COACH BEILEIN: The university acknowledges that team. Right? The NCAA has just put certain restrictions on that team for what we can do. The university is — we love the Fab Five, and we continue to reach out to the Fab Five and that team. It wasn’t just five guys on that team, now. That was a team of champions as well.
But we have embraced every part — that period is over with. But we are doing everything we can and then everything else lines up to — we have a lot of things still going on in the future. We have more banners to raise. We have more jerseys to raise over time. Just stay tuned to all that.
But the university, when you have the NCAA violations in there, that’s a time that it takes some time to heal. But I’m looking forward to the times when we get everybody in that group together and all of that isn’t under our control, if you understand that. That’s not all under our control.
And if invitations are sent and they’re not accepted, then that’s okay, we just keep doing it. But one day, The Supremes, one day we’ll be together. We’ll get it all together at one time. In the meantime, we’re not going to dwell on it.
We’re just going to keep moving and it’s Michigan basketball, in the past we love and the future we love, it’s Michigan basketball; we’re all a family.
Q. You were talking earlier about three stars who should have been five stars. Five stars who should have been three stars. I think Muhammad was a two or three star. Did you foresee that he could be developed, he could grow into the player he is last season and this season?
COACH BEILEIN: Absolutely. With almost everyone that we recruit, we’re projecting. We are projecting. We’re not saying who he is.
I studied birthdays like crazy. You’ll see a kid and somebody will rate him in a 17-under league, the kid is about to turn 19, he’s playing 17-under. Oh, he’s terrific.
You see another kid that’s still 16 playing 17-under, oh, he’s not good enough. I mean, there’s three difference. Anybody who has had children, you look at three years’ difference, that’s a huge difference.
When I’m looking at Muhammad — is he here? When I’m looking at Muhammad, I’m looking, I’m a Buffalo Braves fan from way back. I watched his athleticism and I said: How many people know the name Randy Smith? He’s an elite athlete that just needed a jump shot. Because he could take the ball to the basket.
He came from great DNA, and that he could develop over time if he had the right attitude. And this is a kid who was forced to play as a freshman because of injuries, that we just talked about. Forced to play again as a sophomore.
We lose Caris LeVert, first rounder, two years in a row. And he had to play. We weren’t terrific during those times, but it allowed us to be very good right now.
Q. Jaaron Simmons was a big-time scorer at Ohio the last couple of years. How has he adapted to his role on your team this year?
COACH BEILEIN: It’s incredible. He could have gone the other way with it. Certainly doesn’t have the numbers he had at Ohio U. Great attitude.
It’s not about an offensive system, it’s about defense and taking care of the ball. He’s gradually just got better and better at that.
Our whole philosophy is we’re not turning the ball over. And I think last year we were number one out of 366 teams in not turning the ball over and that was an issue for him earlier and defense is a different scheme in defense, and he’s just every day tried to get better in it.
That jump shot he made last night, that’s something. He hasn’t — he hasn’t had the opportunity to make a jump shot in two months. And that form, he goes up and makes that shot, that tells you what type of kid he is. He’s not complained. He’s just come to practice every day and worked his tail off. And I’m going to admire his attitude and his parents the rest of my life.
Q. Can you talk about Jude Stamper, the impact he’s had on this team from his day in November and to a shot at a title Monday night, and Duncan and Moe?
COACH BEILEIN: I’m going to let them answer that because he hits the training table with us some days, and many young men, they want to go eat and sleep before the game. Both of these two, everybody’s gone, and these two are still sitting next to this young man in a wheelchair and just kicking it with him. They’re great. Speak to that. (Laughter).
DUNCAN ROBINSON: First of all, he brings a constant perspective, his energy and just always having a smile, whether it’s a tough loss or a tough practice, or just having a bad day, you look over, see him, everything that he’s been through at such a young age, he’s still smiling ear to ear. It’s pretty hard to get down on yourself with that.
And on top of that, I know it sounds corny, but it’s true, he’s really a part of our team. Like Coach said, he’s at a lot of our film sessions, pregame meals, stuff like that. We love having him around and he’s a special kid and he’s meant a lot to us.
MOE WAGNER: Going off what Duncan said, adding up to that, he really believes in us. That’s something that gives us perspective 24/7. He really believes we can win any game. He believes in us as people on and off the court.
And at such a young age, with everything he’s been through, it’s something that we have to admire and that I look up to. And I’m very happy to have him on my team.
Q. When you go up against a game-changing player like Brunson, player of the year, how much — not only can he score, but the way he can control the game, just your thoughts on the kind of headache he presents and how much of your attention does he grasp?
COACH BEILEIN: If he was the only one out there, you could do some things. I think Kansas might have tried to double him last night. And he’s got incredible poise and a presence with the game that he sees open people.
Now, he makes it very difficult. And he’s got good enough size to how he posts up or he dribble posts up. And those are things that we see a little bit of. But usually the guy is not a guard position. So he’s a really difficult matchup.
That’s why I voted him as well as the player of the year. And I don’t watch — like I said, I don’t watch a lot of college basketball. We recruited him. We know him. He’s a tremendous, tremendous basketball player. He’s a basketball player in so many respects.
I think I heard the analogy, he plays like an old man. He does. He plays like a guy that’s played forever and just outsmarts everybody.
Q. What have you seen from this Villanova team that you guys need to be ready for tomorrow night?
MOE WAGNER: They can all shoot. They’re really, really efficient at multiple positions. Usually when you play a good team, there’s usually something you can give up and can make a defensive game plan. But that’s not the case here. You know what, it’s not supposed to be easy. It’s the national championship. So, yeah, they present a tremendous challenge.
DUNCAN ROBINSON: Obviously the bigs and the sixth guy, their ability to shoot 1 through 5, that’s not something you see very often particularly at this level.
I think they’re unselfish in how they play on offense, certainly stuck out to me. And obviously they compete on defense as well. Like Moe said, we definitely have a challenge in front of us, but we’re ready to embrace it.
Q. You guys are on a nice run of second half play. How much of that is the team being in front of the bench; is it this team just taking to the halftime adjustments you’re making, or what’s going on there?
COACH BEILEIN: I think that first half, we try to project how a team is going to play us in the first half, both offensively and defensively. And the team’s sort of away from you on offense in the first half, and then at least we can see what they’re doing offensively in front of us a little bit better.
But I think it’s just adjustment, not some tremendous coaching at halftime or adjustments in the game; kids get familiarity with what they’re doing, because we’re giving them all these different looks in practice.
And now it takes us a little bit to just read what’s happening out there. And then as they get more and more familiar with it, they make what adjustments have to be made.
Q. Can you talk about the growth of Moe from his freshman year until now, and just the meaning of him to this team?
COACH BEILEIN: We only have two minutes, don’t we, to do that? That could take a long time. But, no, what are his strengths still is just his love for this game and love for Michigan and his teammates. And that’s meant so much. When he was a freshman, he would have a good game, then he would have a game that he was still learning the game. We had to get him right out of there. It didn’t change him. The next day it was like, “Coach, how are you?” (Speaking to Wagner) I do good imitations of you, you know that? (Laughter).
And that’s just it. And the team loves him. Loves him. And he’s been a great, just an asset in every way to the team.
Q. You talked about you can’t tell when players are going to develop as five-stars, two-stars, three-stars. It seems like Charles Matthews is kind of the symbol of that, five-star, and what he’s doing now and how he’s developing. Is anything what he’s done shocked you, surprised you, did you see this in him?
COACH BEILEIN: There was flashes last year in practice where I said, wow, we’ve got something here. But I know better than — the great practice player, that when the lights go on, as we say, can he still do those things?
And I think there was moments this year where he probably questioned himself where he could do some things. If you remember the UCLA game earlier, I said right now you’re the MVP for UCLA. We want you to be the MVP for us. You can’t turn the ball over. You’ve got to make some shots here and you’ve got to defend your man.
And as time has gone on, this young man has bought into — we didn’t invent this game. I’m watching Loyola playing and Villanova playing, they’re doing the exact same things we are and the fundamentals of offense. And so he’s just sort of had to learn the fundamentals of offense and defense that are just not drilled the way they used to be done. It just doesn’t happen. Nobody goes to a Five-Star camp anymore and spends two weeks there learning how to jump stop.
And so it’s our job to teach him those things and then they can take off from there. And he’s just bought in — I mean, it’s incredible what a calming influence he is and what a great example he is for the Jordan Pooles and Isaiah Livers and Eli Brooks, who are looking at him saying: I was highly recruited, too, and look at how he’s bought in like he’s Duncan Robinson.