The past week has been quite a whirlwind in relation to Karan Higdon. It started however, nearly 2 years ago with a brief conversation with Coach Singletary. I told him about Karan and how he'd be one to watch more or less. I sent a few emails regarding his recruiting profile that seemed to be lost in the shuffle. At that time Derrick Green was being recruited and Hoke was on a tear. After a few months I took the lack of response as them not wanting to recruit Karan. By that juncture several middle level SEC offers were starting to roll in and in the coming months Karan's offer sheet grew to be fairly formidable. Karan even collected an offer from South Carolina, which was a school with many family ties and one he really loved growing up. There didnt seem to be a connection however with his recruitment there for whatever reason.
In-state schools like FSU and Florida began to show genuine interest and Karan began to do well on the camp circuit. FSU was very close to offering this time last year. A log jam at the 5ft10 190lb back position was the reason why he was not offered at FSU. They simply needed bigger framed backs to compliment what was already on the roster. Karan committed to USF initially in an effort to stay home as he is the central figure in his family and viewed as a sort of pillar. Staying close to home allowed him to be close with his mother and younger brothers amongst other things. It became apparent quickly that he was going to simply be bigger than USF.
Iowa entered the picture and did everything right. Coach Chris White and Kirk Ferentz were first rate the whole way through. In fact Chris, stayed through the heat of a pair of our practices and watched Karan. That is not usual practice as most coaches don't hang around August and September practices in our 90+ degree weather. Karan would take an official to Iowa and fell in love with the blue collar style and the people. Everything with Iowa was genuine. Karan virtually shut down his recruitment at that juncture. He had interest from many bigger schools but offers from Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, USF, Arizona, Duke, South Carolina and of course Iowa. Karan was content with Iowa and just turned his focus on doing everything to help our team win games. We were struggling a bit and Karan was battling with being in a situation where he felt like he cared more than many others on the team.
Through the last month of the season Karan began to really dominate posting several 200 yard games including a 260 yard performance against our hated rival Sarasota High.http://youtu.be/2UKQSs4KC3U Karan actually had 150 yards worth of runs called back due to holding calls that I still feel were awful and would have broken our school record with over 400 yards. All water under the bridge, as we wound up winning 33-7. At this point Notre Dame and Florida began to creep back into the picture. Duke was attending games and really making Karan their number 1 priority. Throughout December and January the attention from Notre Dame and Florida really picked up. Notre Dame especially. They wound up offering over the phone and Karan didn't feel the connection with the RB coach. I told him that ND was certainly worth thinking about but at that juncture Iowa seemed like a really good fit and opportunity to play right away. http://youtu.be/FhoSMHYpqfo I remained very pro-Iowa as I envisioned Karan being a great fit for the B1G in general. The B1G has produced so many great backs and the linemen are simply top notch.
This all brings us to last week. In addition to coaching the defensive backs with my coaching mentor Jim Anderson, I also coach JV basketball with Coach Fro at Riverview and Karan's younger brother Kavon happens to be our backup point guard. After a tough loss to North Port, Karan came up to my truck as I was preparing to pull out. It was unprompted but not out of the ordinary as he and I have developed a truly unique relationship over the years. He is everything that you could hope for as a young coach and the type of kid and athlete you would want your son to grow up and be like. A star that isn't afraid to share his shine with others. We shared a joke or two and I asked him how he felt with his recruitment and if he was still solid as I figured he was. He gave me a look and sort of let out a breath through his teeth. I could tell that his head was swimming a bit and the pressure of signing his life away was beginning to mount. I told him that Iowa was a great school and that he was in good shape. He then began to tell me that Florida and Notre Dame were still in pursuit and that it was making him think a bit about his recruitment.
Upon Hearing about ND and UF still in the picture, I simply asked him, if he would be interested if Michigan would take another look. When we first spoke about Michigan in 2013, he expressed genuine excitement at the thought of being recruited by Michigan. He told me yes and I said that I would resend his recruiting profile to the football office as I had done 3 times over the past 2 years. I told him that I would catch up and we went our separate ways. On the drive home i thought about the new staff at Michigan and the recruiting situation. I had long thought that Karan could be a fit at Michigan and despite my love and affinity to The Florida State University, where I played my college football, I always knew that Michigan is a truly elite opportunity and one where a true student-athlete like Karan could flourish. On that drive home is the first time in over a year that I really thought that it may be worth a shot to send his stuff out again and see what happened.
I woke up at 830am the next morning, which is odd because I work midnights, coinciding with my day coaching schedule. I immediately called the Michigan football office and spoke with a secretary. I told her that there was a running back in Sarasota that may be worth a late look and she advised me to send and email with his profile. I sent his recruit profile and his HUDL highlights. I was contacted almost immediately afterwards and spoke with Chris Singletary. The first thing he asked was what type of kid is Karan and what his grades were. The next step was simply sending his transcripts. Singletary was professional and thorough. Thursday and Friday passed without hearing a peep. Saturday morning I was awoke by a text from Karan that coach Jim Harbaugh had called him and offered him. Jim Harbaugh....the guy who was just the hottest name in all of coaching. It was shocking to me to be honest. Everyone was shocked.....and then everything started spinning.
Karan initially declined the offer to take a visit as he was skeptical about the last minute nature. After speaking with his mother and fighting off pressure from elswhere to not take the visit, he was convinced to at least see Ann Arbor. He never took any of his other 4 visits. He never had anything to compare Iowa to. Iowa was obviously not pleased at the thought of the visit and by many accounts rightfully so but at the end ot the day myself and our staff were in his corner to at least find out about Michigan. "Michigan is hard to pass up", professed one of our coaches. We haven't had a kid get offered by Michigan since David Baas. David Baas turned out to be a Super Bowl winning lineman. Karan decided to take the visit and that last minute flight plans were stormed together...and I do mean stormed. Karan had been interning that morning and had to make it from Venice back south to North Port to gather his belongings just to scoot back up to Sarasota where were going to convene to get him to the Tampa airport. The flight was arranged at 115 and left at 345. Karan was at work in Venice at 115.....yeah. This was nearly mission impossible.
We arrived at the airport 42 minutes early at 303pm. Karan made it through the kiosk with his boarding pass and at that juncture i had to move my car from the flight arrival drop off area. I told him to call if anything arose and let me know when he was boarded. I left the airport on a sort of natural high. As a coach your kids become almost like...well your kids. We had worked hard to at least present this opportunity for him. I viewed it as one that would either inspire him to take a hard look at Michigan, or solidy his heart with Iowa and give him concrete piece of mind about being a Hawkeye.
At 342pm I recieved a call. He told me that a bottle of lotion resulted in him being held up for 15 minutes at the security check point. He rushed his bag together and forgot about the lotion. Karan got to his gate at 342pm.....2 minutes after they closed the doors. Karan pleaded with the attendant and watched his flight standing by still connected to the walk way from inside the terminal. Karan plead with the attendant and I spoke with her on the phone. Protocol was followed and I tried as best I could to calm a pretty heartbraking situation. I advised Karan to hold tight and just be easy. "No worries bud". At ths point it felt as if maybe it wasn't meant to be. I turned around and doubled back 40 minutes to pick him up. The Michigan coaching staff handled this in harmonic stride, "We will get over the hurdles" (Coach Harbaugh) and he was able to book a 520am flight for the next morning and execute a true day trip. A 530pm option was available but it had a first class connection through Atlanta and first class flights are non-permissable per NCAA rules. On the way back I received a call from Kirk Ferentz, he was understandably frustrated and we spoke about the situation for a about ten minutes after he had already spoken to our Head Coach prior to me. Our biggest concern as a staff was Iowa throwing heat at Karan. We made sure that they did not and Iowa directed their frustration at the nature of Karan's last minute recruitment to Michigan. It was understandle and I did feel Kirk's sentiment. He was honest and real. He is a good football coach and I would've had no issue with Karan playing for him. None of us would've. At this point i wondered if Karan even wanted to go anymore. I picked him up at the airport where he was clad in Maize and Blue. As I picked him up I joked that he had at least looked good in the colors, if only for a few hours. He got into my truck and we laughed off a growingly frustrating situation.
Karan got in the car with a look of determination on his face. It was kind of wierd to be honest. He looked at me and said, "I'm still going coach." That was that and that decision was supported by his family. I had prepared to advise him that taking a day trip wouldn't be so bad even though it wasn't ideal. I prepared to explain to him why the piece of mind was so important on Wednesday. I knew from looking in his eyes on Tuesday night, that he was not 110% set on Iowa. It was the first time in a few months that I had thought that. On the way back we talked about the situation. I told him that both schools were good options and that Iowa was a place where he would certainly see that field faster. I owed him that honesty. I told him that Iowa was a solid school and put out solid NFL talent. They had done things right and there was simply nothing negative for me as a coach to say about them. Michigan is just Michigan. I told him about what it was like to be there on gamedays and about the tradition. I told him abou the greatest rivalry in all of sports. I told him that a Michigan education was a life decision and not a 3-4 year decision. I also told him that Iowa could present a tremendous opportunity for him as a student athlete. I kept things as nuetral as possible to not taint the situation but I did not hold back about what Michigan was. The last "snaffu" in relation to the flight was the fact that we were looking at a possbility of Karan getting snowed in until Monday. The Michigan staff could have no contact with him after the dead period and this meant that Karan may be stranded without shelter or food. That was was quickly remedied with a phone call with some loving relatives of mine and they offered to put him up for a night in an emergency situation. I put Karan's mother on the line with my relatives to ease the discomfort of that possibility and took the "stranger" element out of the situation. Karan's mother was on board with our emergency plan and Karan was determined to see Michigan.
The next morning Karan made his flight and was picked up by coach Wheatley. The two immediately hit it off and Karan was genuinely impressed by Tyrone. The visit went quickly but effeciently and I never asked for details. Karan was able to spend time with Coach Harbaught and see the campus and facilities. He was able to see the Big House. That night he returned and said the visit made his decision very tough. In my gut I felt that he was going to stick to Iowa. I spoke with his mother on Monday and checked on her as she was very stressed. The parents go through even more than the recruits because they are relegated nearly powerless in the end. I spent Sunday night celebrating some Tom Brady heroics and shaking my head at Pete Carroll's play-calling. I also looked up the stats academically on Michigan and Iowa. No bias.....just raw stats. Like Iowa having an 86% freshmen retention rate for instance. Like Iowa putting out 22 current NFL players and Coach Ferentz having won COY in the B1G 3 times. I put the enrollment data on the table....college town populations. Numerous data points free of bias.
I presented the facts to her on Monday. At the end I told her that Iowa was a great oppotunity and that Michigan was a special place and had a lot to offer. I told her that relationships are very important and she agreed that relationships were the biggest thing holding her back on Michigan. I told her that Karan Higdon is exactly what Michigan strives for in a "Michigan Man" and that he would be loved if he decided to go there. There was no hiding the fact that Chris White and Kirk Ferentz held the advantage with relationships. They earned that with their hard work. I told her that Karan should pick the SCHOOL that he loved the most. He should go with his heart. Karan's mom explained that she had already ordered the Iowa Hawkeye shirts for the announcement and went to put the number on them when Karan called her that Monday. She said he sounded confused and that it was odd because the night before he had said that he was going to stick with Iowa. I was not made aware of that and applied no pressure to know to be honest. Karan told her on that conversation that he had seen 4 Michigan plates and flags on the way to his internship. The power and sprawl of Michigan was starting to surface to him and he was looking for signs. "I don't know mom!" His mom smiled as she told me this and she said that at that moment her gut feeling on Michigan was born. Until then she had thought that it was simply Iowa and that Michigan was a tool to solidify the choice more or less. I told her that in case of an emergency selection of Maize and Blue that I would have no problem lending out a couple of hats and tshirts I've collected a bunch over the years and it was an obvious alternative to purchasing a second lot of college gear. She laughed it off. I told her of Coach Butch Wade, who is a good friend and teacher/ basketball coach at Riveriview High School. That evening I made him aware of the situation and told him that he should at least speak with Karan about the decision. Coach Wade did just that on Tuesday morning.
Tuesday morning I got a text from Mom that said "Have some Michigan Gear on Standby" . So i put together a nice Maize and Blue care package and delivered it on the off chance. In my heart I still beleived that Iowa was going to be the choice. I honestly thought that Michigan was the better choice and one that would set him up for life but the playing time and relationships built with a quality group of men at Iowa really made me think that they would win out in the end. I refused to tell him where I thought he should go on the off chance that he would listen and allow me to sway the biggest decision of his life. Karan didnt answer any texts or phone calls on Tuesday. He went radio silence. I sent him a text message with a picture of IOWA taking the field and one of Michigan taking the field to touch the banner. I told him that he was a special kid and that God had a plan for him. I told him that he couldn't go wrong with either choice and to pray on it and go with his heart. My mission in this whole ordeal was to provide as many quality opportunites to Karan as possible. The Michigan opportunity is one that came up ironically just in time and I made sure that he knew about what Michigan means. I made sure that he knew what the brand meant and the magnitude of the opportunity. I owed it to him to be honest about Michigan. I owed it to him to give Michigan a fair opportunity to earn his services. My biggest fear was him regretting his choice in the years after Wednesday. I also was honest about what an great opportunity Iowa presented. I did both of those things and laid down Tuesday night with a sort of restless piece of mind. I didn't sleep much to be honest.
I did not get a hint or a hunch on Tuesday or Wednesday morning. There were no clues. Karan went radio silent. Karan is a very mature young man and this was not uncommon for him to focus when it was called for. On Wednesday the crowds gathered and after nearly 200 people piled in to watch the announcement there was a sort of quiet anticipation. Karan made his way wearing all black through the court yard. His head was tucked into his neck as if he had a bar bell on his back with his squat max on it. He walked with a quickened and miitant pace. He had two hats in his hands. One Iowa. One Michigan. He looked me in my eyes as I shook his hand and embraced him. In his eyes I saw determination. I still didn't quite know but Iowa would've been my guess. He looked very focused and walked in and took his seat. We went through our announcements until he was the last one left. There was obvious anticipation and his mother was a nervous wreck. She was shaking and fiddling and honestly looked near tears. She really didnt know and neither did I. The only one that knew was our Head Coach- Todd Johnson, who was doing the speaking.
After a few kind words, Coach Johnson paused and announced, "And we are all looking forward to Karan playing this fall in the Big House for the University of Michigan!" Karan let out a breath and a smile emerged from inside of him. Karan put on a Block M Michigan ball cap with the words "Beat Ohio" on the side of it. He had a look of determined joy on his face as the place erupted. There were chants of Go Blue and an electricity in the air. If you were ignorant to it prior to, you would understand in that moment the Power of Michigan. Pictures were taken and interviews were conducted. The weight had been lifted an it felt amazing as a coach to see a young man make a tough decision and make the right one. Michigan is a truly elite opportunity that you cannot pass up. It's a "Life Decision". In a moment with him I asked him "why Michigan?" He told me that, "It was all God's plan. God doesn't come when you want him, he comes when you need him and he's always on time". There were no funny hat games or clever tweets. Just a mature young man making a "business decsion" with the help of faith. I'm not an emotional man. At that moment I realized what just happened and what Karan had just done for his life. I shed a couple of tears and stared at the tile floor for a moment. What seemed like "Mission Impossible" just a few days prior was now just Michigan. A kid from humble means in Sarasota Florida was going to have the opportunity to not only add to Michigan's historic athletic legacy, but to share Michigan with his family and himself for a lifetime. That was a truly powerful moment.
Karan's story is a pretty cool one. His drive and motivation is elite. Karan IS coming to "Play School" and he is also coming to bring some "Juice" to Michigan's football program. Michigan was a challenge for him and one that he couldn't live without excepting. He isn't afraid of depth charts or Rivals Ratings. He knows that what he does in the classroom, weight room and practice fields will determine what he does in the Big House. The hardest part of this entire ordeal for Karan was telling Kirk Ferentz that he wouldn't be coming to play for him. In the 36 hours leading up to the decision, he didn't eat or sleep much. He felt like he was letting Kirk down. The pressure that is placed upon this kids is underestimated to be frank. Looking back at it I think all of us feel a little bit of pain for Iowa and their staff. They worked hard and it truly ate Karan up to make the phone call to Kirk Ferentz in the end, telling him that he was going to Michigan. Overshadowing that discomfort is the excitement of where Karan is going. Karan turned to his faith in the end and his faith, not a coach, directed him to Ann Arbor. He searched for signs in the final 36 hours and they were overwhelmingly colored Maize and Blue. I can't wait to see this young man grow and mature as a student-athlete in one of the greatest atheltic and academic enviornments in the world. He is going to make fans of many of you. You don't know it yet but just wait on it. The recruiting services have done a job, categorizing and limiting him. He's read every review and projection. Karan Higdon was never meant to be placed in a box and told what his limitations are. He is a talented over-achiever with heart and character surpassing his physical ability. This kid was built to be a Wolverine.
I will be the first to admit that I've been as critical about Nik Stauskas as anyone. I questioned his ability to combat athletic on ball defense. I questioned his short area quickness and his consistency. I also cringed watching him defend other elite wings. Nik Stauskas is not a finished product....but I'll be damned if he is not the Player of The Year in the B1G. This kid has shown such tremendous growth in just a year's time. He has transformed from a corner shooter to a playmaking offensive machine. Nik Stauskas has answered the bell and his contributions this season have spearheaded the best conference run in recent Michigan History.
I'd like to bounce some ideas off of my fellow Michigan enthusiasts of which I'm referring to as the Stauskas Effect. There are several chain reaction events that I have identified and have attributed to the development of Nik Stauskas's game. These are opinions and this post is meant to spark positive conversation so please chime in!
The Stauskas Effect:
1. Led to the Pressure-Less development of Caris Levert in a sort of Robin-like role to Nik's Batman. Caris has been able to ease into the #2 scorer role without the pressure of the opposition's top defender. This will be huge next season as Caris may be a #1 option.
2. Nik's development has also lessened the pressure to rush Zak Irvin into the fold which likely makes Zak a 3-4 year player all while allowing Zak to have substantial contributions this season. I see a lot of Nik in Zak and I believe that Zak is in for a huge jump next season. Caris Levert's assertion offensively and GR3+ The Beast hopefully returning will still render Zak a 3rd or 4th scoring option....which means hes sticks around a few years :) This also means that DJ Wilson and Kameron Chatman will have time to develop behind Irvin and Walton which will allow for seemless changing of the guards leadership wise over the next 4 years of Michigan Basketball. This is truly huge and does NOT happen if Nik doesn't morph into the POY candidate that he is. His development has added years onto Zak.....GR3...Walton .and likely Chatman's career.
3. Nik's 1v1 ability has also lessened the pressure of Derrick Walton's development due to Nik's ability to create and the rate in which we give Nik the rock at the top of the key. Walton has been able to play off of Nik and hasn't had to face the oppostion's best defenders as a result. This has allowed Walton to avoid being thrown into the fire so to speak and will pay dividends down the road. (Spike is also due much credit for easing Walton in)
4. The Internationa (Stauskas)l Effect. Nik is Canadian...duh. It's one thing to claim that your a world wide recruting program. It's another to take an underrated kid from Canada and develop him to Stardom in the Nation's toughest conference. Belein has done just that. Somewhere there is an underrated Canadian...or Australian...or British kid with a world of talent just waiting to be tapped into. He will be approached by a few universities that will promise the world. When Michigan comes calling....he will have a real life example to follow and believe in. Canada is an untapped gold mine that is just waiting to flourish. Nik has opened the flood gates for future Canadian athletes in Ann Arbor amongst other nations.
5. The Re-inforcement of "Michigan Swag". Michigan has been known for having players in the past that had a little spice in their game. Players that were better than you and they let you know about it with demonstrative gestures and maybe even a little jaw-jacking. Some purists may not prefer this type of behavior and to each his own. Nik Stauskas has "Swag". He plays with a chip and an extra bounce. He makes being a "Shooter" cool...even though we now know he is much more than just a shooter. Nik is what we used to call on the playground, "a Bad Ass White Boy". I think Nik has taken right where Tim and Trey left off and carried the load as the Michigan Star player. He had a Februrary lull but has really picked it up. I think kids that watch Nik will gravitate to our program because at Michigan you can be a Scholar Athlete of the highest caliber and look damn good doing it. A lot of people not in tune with the 16-22 year old mindframe may disagree....but "Swag" is important especially in recruiting. Nik has it and has made us look damn good this season. Luke Kennard is a name that I would watch going forward....he is the perfect example of a kid that could replicate Nik's game in college. (and not just because he is white)
6. Nik's probable B1G Player of the year award will cement Michigan as a guard/wing hot bed in the Midwest and start to pay even bigger dividends on the recruiting trail. Manny....Darius...Trey....Tim...now Nik in just the past 4 years. We are putting elite NBA talent out year after year and it's going to get noticed. Tim and Trey last year could be looked at as a rare output. Not with Nik following up their departure in as grand a fashion as this. We are approaching Guard U status....at least as far as the Midwest is concerned.
I'll be honest with you...I think Nik Stauskas goes pro. He is a top 20 pick and despite his defensive inability and need for additional strength....he is still a solid 1st round draft pick. Another year could make him a lottery lock and folk hero in Ann Arbor to the Nth degree......but I just don't think we're going to be that lucky.. I'd love to be wrong.