Basketball Exhibition v. Wayne State. 7PM ET, Crisler Arena. BigTenNetwork.com
After the Wolverines did in John Beilein's second year what they couldn't do in six under Tommy Amaker, expectations for the Michigan basketball team went through the roof. Suddenly, this is a tournament team. Suddenly, it's the #15 team in the country.
At his latest press conference Beilein joked about not being on the wall mural in the Junge Family Champions Center like Rodriguez is. Maybe he should be. If last year's scrappy group started 2 different walk-ons during the year, and made it to the second round, what can this year's edition pull off?
Though Laval Lucas-Perry, Stu Douglass, and Zack Novak are no longer freshmen, the team still will rely on first year players. Freshman Darius Morris may start at point guard. "His head's swimming like any other freshman," Beilein said, "It would be, I'm sure, what you go through in football when it's a quarterback that's a freshman. Boy, it's really hard."
"He's a good passer and he can score," said junior forward Manny Harris. He also likes defending—maybe a little too much, as he can get into foul trouble.
Classmate Matt Vogrich is known as a shooter, but he has to adjust to the athleticism and size of college defenders. "Being open in high school is a whole lot different than being open in college," he said. Sophomore forward Zack Novak praises his young teammate, saying "Yeah, he can shoot it. There's definitely no question about it. He can really shoot."
Forward Blake McLimans will add some serious size to the frontcourt, at 6-10. As the 11th or 12th player on the bench, he doesn't get as many practice reps as the rest of the team and will probably redshirt.
The other scholarship member of the recruiting class, Jordan Morgan, won't even be able to run full-court as he's coming off a knee surgery. He may not hit the court for Michigan this fall. "If there's any question in my mind, we will redshirt until we burn it," Beilein said, "You can't go the other way now." If Morgan can get healthy by the time the season begins in earnest, he may be a contributor.
Laval Lucas-Perry, Stu Douglass, Zack Novak, Anthony Wright, and Zack Gibson are all back in the maize-and-blue jerseys. The first three are only sophomores, and are expected to take a big leap forward in year 2. "You just feel so much more comfortable, knowing what to expect," says Novak. Novak, by the way, looks like a completely different player, replacing extra weight on his body with muscle.
This team will look different than last year's. There are more talented—though not as gritty—options at point guard, and DeShawn Sims won't have to spend the entire season toiling away against the Dallas Lauderdales of the world with Ben Cronin and Zack Gibson around to take some of the burden at center. In what is probably the last season for both Sims and Manny Harris in Ann Arbor, they are the team's leaders. "I mean everyone talks and helps," says Harris, "It ain't like we're the two biggest talkers on the team." Like many great leaders, they prefer to lead by example.
(One grim note: Harris is struggling with a hamstring injury. He doesn't participate in team sprints, and doesn't quite have the explosive moves that he's become known for.)
The season kicks off tonight against Wayne State in an exhibition game at Crisler Arena. It's not unheard of for Division 2 squads to pull off the big upset. Just this week, Lemoyne College knocked off Syracuse. Beilein, a former Dolphins coach, received a text that read "Finally Lemoyne has a good coach."
Joking aside, the Wolverines aren't taking Wayne State lightly. "We do not want to lose this game now," said Beilein, "We're trying to get 9 or 10 guys ready for our first game, which is in a week, so we'll be treating this like a game-like situation, as will Wayne State."
"My expectation for the team is that we're better than a lot of people think we are," says DeShawn Sims, "It's all about winning right now. Everything is about winning." Every great journey starts with a first step. For the 2009-10 Wolverine basketball team, that step comes tonight.