mitch mcgary for coach of the year
It's been just over a month since Mitch McGary announced his "decision" to go pro. The scare quotes are present because there was no decision to make if McGary were to act at all in his own self-interest.
This sucked. This sucked because Mitch McGary is a joy to watch on the basketball court, a 6'10" mace attached to a giant pendulum, swinging violently back and forth while pausing only to wreck shit. This sucked because he's equally fun off the court, with his unicycle and Bieber-crooning and invaluable coaching advice and generally making Michigan's bench seem like the best party on campus, even if McGary was the only one partying:
What sucked most of all, though, was the feeling that McGary had only scratched the surface of his potential, and factors almost entirely out of his control* limited our exposure to just 12 career starts. Mitch McGary's Michigan career lasted all of 966 minutes played. That's just over 16 hours. That's not nearly enough.
So while I had no trouble writing effusively about Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III after their departures, I've spent the last month struggling to put McGary's career into words. I try to analyze and am left instead with a whole lot of feelings. How does one discuss an athlete hyped to Webberian proportions before he ever enrolled who, apart from one brilliant six-game stretch, never produced as expected yet was beloved all the same?
Probably by ignoring all of that, sitting back, and watching him work, because again: when Mitch McGary was on the court, the only proper response was to drop everything and watch Mitch McGary. He didn't give you a choice in the matter. He grabbed your attention like so many entry passes:
McGary was a defensive force with impeccable timing. His steal rate as a freshman easily surpassed that of Trey Burke, Master of the Halfcourt Pickpocket. He protected the rim. He seemingly rebounded everything. Michigan's defense suffered mightily last season without McGary's interior presence and game-changing ability to erase opponent possessions.
He also boasted remarkable skill for a big man. Defensive boards turned into fast breaks in the time you could say "Unseld." Sometimes he'd eschew that route and just do everything himself. Occasionally he'd finish his coast-to-coast forays with a Rondo-esque fake behind-the-back pass. Speaking of point guard skills, he could thread multiple defenders without looking. Perhaps my favorite McGary play came in the Kansas game, when he hit a baseline turnaround right in Jeff Withey's face like it was routine, not a work-in-progress shot he'd rarely—if ever—utilized to that point.
He did these things while accepting a backup role until it was time to unleash him for the 2013 NCAA Tournament, playing in an offense that relied on him more as a garbageman than a creator, and being the team's #1 scholarship cheerleader and hype man.
Look at the GIF at the top of the post, one more time. It's a 25-point blowout of Northwestern, and there's McGary, showing more effort in one play than some guys do in four years. Sure, he lost the ball out of bounds, but it's not like you can be mad about it; even if it didn't end well, that play brought life to a dull affair, and we were all better for having seen it.
That's how I'll choose to remember Mitch McGary. The flashes of brilliance. The occasional mistakes born from genuine enthusiasm that bordered on excessive. Most of all, the feeling, after everything, that I enjoyed my life just that much more thanks to a big kid from Indiana who seemed to enjoy everything.
*Yes, there's the weed thing. Read that David Roth piece, then think about the punishment for McGary's transgression versus one of another Michigan center—the football one, Graham Glasgow, suspended for part of spring practice and one should-be-a-cupcake non-conference game for drunk driving. I find one of these things far worse than the other, and it's the one that puts other people's lives in actual danger.
John Beilein, with 4:01 left, more enraged than he's been since Costco raised the price of tube socks:
John Beilein, 1:33 of game time later:
John Beilein is Walter White if Walter White is also Benjamin Button and boy did this sentence get convoluted in a hurry.
Also, note Michigan's 8-0 run over that span. Coaches, if you have the self-control to not lose your mind at every opportunity, the moments when you completely lose your mind have a much greater impact. This is the Law of Beilein, and I'm totally not basing it on one piece of circumstantial evidence. Nope.
[Hit THE JUMP for Nik Stauskas, more Nik Stauskas, various reactions to Nik Stauskas, and a whole lot more from the last two games.]
NIK STAUSKAS THA GAWD
I apologize in advance for my inability to form complete thoughts. That game was excruciating right up until the point when it was glorious, which was... the very end, basically.
After quickly losing an early eight-point lead, Michigan fell behind Michigan State by as much as eight points at the 13:29 mark of the second half, mostly due to the heroics of Gary Harris. While hounding Nik Stauskas on the one end, Harris was unstoppable on the other, pouring in a game-high 27 points while adding five rebounds, two assists, and three steals.
The Wolverines clawed back thanks to some remarkable guard play of their own. Nik Stauskas hit five of his six three-point attempts, scored 19 points, dished out four assists, and capped off the effort by trolling the Izzone. His triple with 3:12 remaining gave Michigan a three-point lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Michigan didn't lose that lead in large part due to Derrick Walton, whose 19 points matched Stauskas for the team lead. Ten of those came in the final 2:29, beginning with a fast-break and-one layup after Caris LeVert threaded a perfect outlet pass that hit Walton in stride. Walton also knocked down both of his three-point attempts, 2/4 of two-pointers, and 9/10 from the stripe—8/9 in the game's waning moments. On defense, he helped limit Keith Appling to ten points on 3/11 shooting. If the freshman point guard was nervous, it didn't show.
LeVert scored 17 of his own and pulled down eight rebounds. There was bad with the good—Harris often had his way with LeVert offensively, though that's not a huge knock, and LeVert's three assists were canceled out by three turnovers—but his ability to snake into the lane proved critical, as did his free-throw shooting down the stretch.
Jon Horford also stepped up big, connecting on all three of his field goals and contributing three boards and three blocks. Jordan Morgan rebounded well—four of his five came on offense—but was limited severely by foul trouble. Glenn Robinson III scored nine but struggled with his shot. Mitch McGary, meanwhile, provided valuable coaching advice in the late stages:
WIN THE GAME (via)
In the end, Michigan's total team effort overcame a remarkable performance from Harris and a shorthanded Michigan State squad (I'm required to mention this by law). It also finished off a three-game gauntlet that the Wolverines improbably got through unscathed:
KenPom gave Michigan only a 3.89% chance to beat all of Wisconsin, Iowa & MSU during this stretch. U-M's one win away.
— Drew Hallett (@DrewCHallett) January 25, 2014
Like, really improbably.
— Zack Novak (@novak3159) January 26, 2014
The end result: Michigan is alone in first place in the Big Ten, the last undefeated squad standing, and the schedule eases up significantly during the next three games—Purdue, at Indiana, and Nebraska. Despite breaking in a freshman point guard, dealing with the loss of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., and losing Mitch McGary before conference play began, Michigan is in the driver's seat on the road to the conference title.
Michigan State's seniors will finish with a losing record overall against Michigan. They're currently 2-5.
— Bry Mac (@Bry_Mac) January 26, 2014