"There's a certain level of confidence and composure he brings to the court," said sophomore forward Aubrey Dawkins, who played the bulk of his minutes as a freshman while LeVert sat on the end of the bench in a sweat suit. "When you know you have a player like that on your team of that caliber, it's just like, we're in his hands and he can do a lot of things for this team. It's a comfort. It's nice."
"I just really wanted to see him in a game and I loved what I saw," Beilein said. "He was active. He's got a motor. He's got some things he's got to work on. He doesn't have the strength to (play) the way he'd like to in the Big Ten yet, but that's what we're going to work on in-between (games) without inhibiting his ability to play the next game."
Before I post a partial transcript of John Beilein's press conference, a few player interviews, and photo galleries from both Eric and Bryan, here are my main takeaways from yesterday's basketball media day:
First and foremost, John Beilein is serious about playing two bigs and having a lot of lineup versatility—this sentiment echoed from Beilein himself down through the players, almost all of whom discussed playing multiple roles in some capacity. Everything from Walton/Spike/Stauskas/GRIII/McGary to LeVert/Stauskas/GRIII/McGary/Morgan is on the table; this team can play small or go very, very big—both Stauskas and LeVert are capable of running the point.
Mitch McGary's health is a major question mark. Beilein isn't sure if he'll be ready for the first exhibition game—it certainly didn't seem like it—and would only say he's "day-to-day" when asked about a timetable. When asked about the nature of the injury, McGary responded that it wasn't an injury, but a "lower back condition" that the team is being cautious about right now. That's obviously a point of concern, even though McGary maintained that he felt good about where he's at right now and the upcoming season. He's definitely missing critical practice time—Beilein noted that he hasn't had a chance to practice his perimeter defense, a crucial area for improvement if McGary is going to be able to play the four.
The physical development of the sophomores has been rather remarkable. Glenn Robinson III's improved vertical is getting a lot of attention—yes, he touched 12'3", maxing out Michigan's device for measuring vertical leaps—and similar gains have been made by Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. All three look noticeably more muscular; though LeVert is still very much on the skinny side, he's no longer rail-thin, and Stauskas appears capable of playing the three if need be. GRIII, meanwhile, looks the part of an NBA player.
When asked about their new break-the-huddle mantra this year, Beilein responded that it's simply "champions"—whether that applies to the Puerto Rico Invitational, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Big Ten regular- and post-season crowns, or even loftier goals. Last year's team took the expectations to an entirely new level; it's clear this team is comfortable with that.
For direct quotes from Beilein, player interviews with Jon Horford, Jordan Morgan, and Derrick Walton, and photo galleries from media day, hit the jump.
On the health of Mitch McGary ... "He's making great progress, but we're super cautious. He's been doing underwater treadmill workouts that are really productive. I know I couldn't do some of those, and so it's really good but we're being very cautious as well. If he keeps making this progress day after day (he's still day-to-day), one of these days he's going to have to get out there to see what he can do. But we're very cautious."
On the strength and depth of the front court ... "It's flipped, hasn't it? All of a sudden we have a very experienced front court, not very experienced but one year of experience. I think that we can multi-position those guys, that's one thing, and we can continue to do what we've been doing, I mean really multi-position, like something no one's ever seen. Guys like Caris and Nik, who are all 6-foot-6, and ones that are almost 200 pounds and ones that are over 200 pounds; they can play a lot of positions."
On handling the point guard position and who will start on Tuesday's exhibition ... "We have to put a thing down and make sure we get enough minutes during those days, and it's real good to have a local school, Concordia, be able to come over. It's really neat for them and good for us. I'll wait a couple more days, but between Derrick or Spike, I guarantee one of them will be at point guard.But it's very different than everybody knowing that Trey was going to be at point two straight years. But we'll play with that a little bit and see who is best coming off the bench. You know the deal with me, sometimes the guy coming off the bench may be the better fit for the team, or who he's in with. It took Trey a little bit to get in front of Stu [Douglass]. Derrick is coming on really strong, but I think Spike right now - I think the other day he had 20 assists and two turnovers, and I'm saying, 'I'm still mad, Spike, about those two turnovers,' because I thought they were turnovers that he knew better than to make. Spike's teams traditionally win in scrimmages no matter who we put him with, so we're still trying to figure that out. Some of those answers are fundamental; it's just about the right guys."
On getting Glenn Robinson III involved in the offense, rather than him creating his own shots like last year ... "The things he is doing right now with his game are things that he never even dreamed of doing last year. We'll continue to experiment with what's best for him. I'll make a comparison with football, you've got a guy like MegaTron (Calvin Johnson) and you've got a guy like Barry Sanders. You might throw MegaTron the ball seven times a game, but he may score three touchdowns. Barry Sanders might have the ball 30 times a game and he might score two touchdowns. It's the same thing, so whether he [Robinson] is playing with space or playing with the ball, he's basically important to everything that we do."
On his confidence that the NCAA will enforce those contact rules ... "I watched the video yesterday, and I think there's a pretty big emphasis on it. We'll see what happens between that and the charge rule, those are very significant changes. Our scoring has gone up every year in the last three years, and apparently they feel scoring is going down. I don't know if I agree right now, but they got some really skilled and well educated in the game of basketball men making those decisions. Whatever they do, we'll just adapt."
On any changes he has seen in Stauskas' game ... "His pace is really something that we work on a lot, but his pace is terrific. It's like finding a running back that learns how to spot his holes, or a quarterback that knows when to step up. His pace is so much different than it's been and it's continuing to grow because he's a big perimeter player that can throw over the top, like Darius Morris used to run a pick-and-roll. That can be really effective when you have a guy who can not only see over the top, but can throw over the top as well as throw underneath."
On who will assume the role as defensive quarterback ... "Nik got back there a little bit and wasn't as loud. He knew what he had to do but didn't tell others. Caris has really taken on that role. If you see Caris for a few minutes, you'll see what he's doing. Last year I think he played 6-to-10 minutes, and this year he'll play a lot more minutes than that. You could put a defensive team out there that is really good. So when we do that, we better be better, because you act like you may give up some offensive things, who knows? We can put four or five guys out there that can really guard people."
Questions from me, transcribed by... yeah, me.
On going into the season injury-free ... "Going into the season I feel excellent. I'm healthy, which is key, I'm very happy about it. I feel like being healthy and being able to go through a whole year without an injury for the first time in my career will be key."
On what role he expects to play this year ... "Whatever the coaches need me to play, really, is what I'm going to play. Wherever they want to play me—I mean, what am I going to say, no? Wherever they throw me out, I'm going to happy to help the team out. I just see myself as somebody who's been in this system for a while, who can guide the younger players, just keep people focused, keep people on the path. From that standpoint, a little bit of leadership. From a basketball-playing standpoint, do the things that they need big men to really do: defense, rebounding, finish the ball around the basket, and do all the little things in between that can help the team be successful."
On the benefit of frontcourt depth and competition ... "It's huge. You don't get any better unless you start doing new things and experiencing new stimuluses [sic]. For us to improve, we're not only improving ourselves, we're improving to improve the people around us. This summer, with everyone coming back better, everyone able to push everyone else else, is going to make the team better as a whole, and I believe it has already.
On the biggest difference in the returning players from last year to this year ... "A lot of it is the experience. We have that experience, we have that voice, you know, when the young players need to hear something, when they're looking for something, they look to us. That's different from the way it's been in the past."
On being the team's only senior ... "Looking at it on face value, when this offseason started, it was a pretty intimidating task coming in knowing you were going to be the only senior on a young team. With the help of my coaches and those close to me, I think I've been able to really grow and embrace the challenge that lies in leading this team. At this point, there's no looking back now. it's a great opportunity to be able to help these young guys grow in more than just basketball. What I want to do is be able to help them in any way that I can—in the classroom, in life—so that's what I try to do, just get outside of myself and focus on my teammates every day."
On learning from last season, especially coming back from being hurt and losing his starting role to making key plays against Syracuse ... "It was just a great experience to be able to be a part of that team and to be a part of making that run. If I don't take that charge [against Syracuse], it's not necessarily a given that we go to the national championship game, so just to be a part of our team's celebration and know that little play really made a difference for our whole team, it just kinda reinforced my whole mindset at that point anyway, which was whatever the team needed from me I was going to do it. I think that it's given me a lot of perspective. I've been able to grow a lot from that experience and realize what's most important in life. Basketball isn't always going to be there. I think I've been able to get back to a stable point emotionally because I had to go without basketball as I was used to it—I wasn't without basketball, but it wasn't what I was used to and it was like, just do it and grow."
On what role he expects to play this year ... "Honestly, whatever needs to be done. I'm still going to be the same player. I'll play the four, I'll play the five, cleaning up rebounds and defending hard, helping teammates out and directing teammates. I'm still going to be me, we're just going to have the opportunity to maybe be a little bigger and match up better against teams that try to play that way."
On the differences between playing the four and the five in Beilein's system ... "There's a lot more motion at the four, you've got to move a lot more, so your conditioning level really has to be up. You've got to be able to guard, obviously, on the perimeter. Those are some things that I've worked on and focused on a lot, just being in great condition, being able to guard out there. I still work on that every day, guarding our point guards, our two-guards, just to be able to work on good guarding outside of the perimeter."
On what he wants to see out of this team by the time they travel to Iowa State ... "I would really just love our team to really just band together, to commit to each other. I think that's the most important part about winning, and I think this whole change that you've seen in our program since that game up at Michigan State has just been our commitment level to each other, and it's hard for the freshmen to really grasp that right away. I hope that as we've gone through these weeks of practice and go into these battles in these games that they can start to realize and understand the commitment level to each other that it takes to be successful at this level."
On what's been the toughest part of the transition from high school ball to college ... "I'd probably say the physicality and the length difference. There's a lot of guys on our team that are 6'4" and above. Playing against and trying to score over that length is a big difference."
On how he expects his defensive ability to translate ... "I'm a guy that, you know, I take pride in not being scored on. Guarding guys that are taller than me probably won't make a big difference, I'll just guard the guy the same way."
On what he's learned from Spike Albrecht ... "He tells me just to be myself and be uplifting and always show strength, not let your teammates see you with your head down and stuff like that. He's been a great mentor for me over the last few weeks."
On his expectations for this season ... "I expect to not really do anything different from high school, just make the right play when it's possible and not really get outside of myself as far as ability-wise. I think if I do that I can have a successful season."
GLENN ROBINSON III
On developing as a scorer off the dribble ... "It's something I've been working on a lot, is my ballhandling, creating my own shots, one-on-one skills. I definitely learned a lot at the different camps I went to this year, like the Kevin Durant and LeBron James [camps] this summer. I definitely learned a lot and took a lot of those different skills and improved my game."
I think the mark of really great NBA teams have been the ability to beat you no matter what you want to do. If you want to try to play an up-and-down game? We'll outscore you. Grind-it-out? We can defend and rebound better than you can. Etc. If the hoops team has that kind of flexibility they could really be great this year. If you can out run OSU and out Wisconsin Wisconsin, there aren't many teams that can beat you.
really excited for this team.
"Over? Did you say, over? Nothing is over until we decide it is!"
I invited Coach Harbaugh to my wedding. He did not attend.
I don't have quite the same "Michigan basketball is going to be better than it has been in at least fifteen years" feeling that we had before last year, partially because of how great last year was. But it's a great feeling.
I was thinking the same thing. It seems like the last couple of years, broadcasters would consistently over-state the role of the 1-3-1 in Michigan's defense. But imagining (say) Stauskas at the top, Levert running baseline, GRIII and Irvin on the wings, and McGary/Morgan/Horford in the middle, I'd have to think that it gets broken out as more than just an occasional change-up.
I hope McGary is alright. Back problems are somethig that can go on for a very long time. I feel bad for the kid.
"the Spirit of Michigan...is based on a deathless loyalty to Michigan and all her ways....and a conviction that nowhere is there a better university, in any way, than this Michigan of ours" - Fielding Yost
A herniated disk, if it hasn't been ignored for a long time, can respond really well to physical therapy. I went through it three years ago and it hasn't been an issue since. Hopefully, McGary is one those for whom it is not a chronic issue.
I'm with you. Saw what you said last night and again here; this is not a good sign at all. I do think this team can and will be good without McGary but with him this team can do some great things again. Now maybe keeping him out and letting him heal will do the trick, though, we will lose some games early on as even if he's playing he'll be out of shape and not in game form. But if he's healthy by February and March, then all bets are off and this team has the potential to do some awesome things.
Where I'm skeptical and I think we agree is I'm not sure this whole back issue is going to go away. Of course I've no clue or inside information to base this specualtion off of but the lower back in general is not something one wants lingering as an issue, moreso if it's something of a serious matter.
This is some awesome armchair diagnosis we're doing but . . . seriously guys, we have no idea what his back issue is. There is no particular reason to believe Beilein is lying to downplay an injury. He's had players seriously injured before (Horford) and hasn't played coy. I think we just have to wait and see.
Among other things, the reference to Stauskas running the pick-and-roll made me very happy. I can imagine this being absolutely deadly, given his ability to see over help and knock down 3s off the dribble with even a sliver of space.
Can't wait to watch this team...love the versatility.
I wouldn't play McGary until we get to Puerto Rico.
“True loyalty is that quality of service that grows under adversity and expands in defeat. Any street urchin can shout applause in victory, but it takes character to stand fast in defeat. One is noise — the other, loyalty.”