By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published August 14, 2014
Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein started Wednesday’s press conference by noting that it has been a busy summer for his team — and it’s about to get busier.
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On Friday, Michigan heads to Italy for 10 days, giving Beilein an opportunity to see the incoming freshmen in game action and figure out how he’s going to fill the spots of five departed players from last year’s team. The trip will also serve as a rehab of sorts for junior guard Caris LeVert as he recovers from surgery on his foot.
In Europe, the Wolverines will take on the Perugis Select Team, the Vicenza All-Stars, the Oderzo All-Stars and the Mantova Stings.
“We get to do this every four years and this will be my fifth trip, with different teams,” Beilein said. “I’m always excited to see what the game conditions look like, who performs in games, and this also gives us something to come back and grow with as a team.”
It will be Beilein’s first opportunity to see Michigan’s six incoming freshmen in game situations. The Wolverines’ newest class features guards Kameron Chatman, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Aubrey Dawkins and Austin Hatch and forwards D.J. Wilson and Ricky Doyle.
But Beilein and his team won’t just be looking to see who can step up on the court. The Wolverines will also enjoy some leisure time and have the opportunity to visit Rome, Verona, Vicenza, Venice and Lake Combo and will make stops at sites such as the Vatican and the Colosseum.
Most importantly, the trip will help this team find its identity as it tries to replace the talent it lost. Former Michigan players Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson Jr. all left to the NBA. Meanwhile, Jordan Morgan, the team’s lone senior last year, graduated, and Jon Horford transferred.
Beilein said the last time Michigan traveled to Europe in 2010 it helped turn a team that many had picked to finish last in the conference into a team that made the NCAA Tournament. This team isn’t necessarily in the same position, but it is young.
The Wolverines’ six freshmen are the most they’ve had on a roster since the 2010-11 season in which they carried six freshmen, though two redshirted that year.
With just two starters returning in sophomore guard Derrick Walton Jr. and LeVert, there will be plenty of opportunity for the freshmen.
The incoming freshmen have been on campus taking classes and practicing. Beilein said it has been a great opportunity for them to get to know the rest of the team but is looking forward to them playing in Italy without having any academic demands.
Chatman is the most likely of the freshmen to have an immediate impact. The 6-foot-7, 210-pound native of Portland, Oregon was ranked 38th overall in his class by ESPN.
“His basketball IQ has been outstanding,” Beilein said. “He’s picked up some of our concepts and some of our actions as quick as anybody we’ve ever had. We’re still trying to find out the sweet spots of his game and (teach him) when it’s time to make a play and be a player.”
Doyle is another freshman who could contribute early. The 6-foot-9 big man will share time with senior Max Bielfeldt and redshirt freshman Mark Donnal at the ‘5’ spot. All three are strong shooters — something Morgan and Horford didn’t bring to the position in past seasons — and their ability to be an asset outside of the paint will help open up the floor.
While the Wolverines are inexperienced in the post, several injuries across the board haven’t helped in trying to develop a rhythm. Michigan’s summer has been filled with injuries.
Early in the summer, the team announced that LeVert would undergo surgery to repair a stress fracture on his foot, and that Bielfeldt had undergone surgery on his hip which would sideline him for the summer.
A more recent announcement put Wilson out for four to six weeks due to surgery on his right pinky.
Wilson’s injury was least anticipated, and Beilein said it “kept him from doing almost everything.”
Wilson and Bielfeldt will most make the trip to Italy but neither will play with their injuries.
After being unable to play for nearly three months, LeVert has been back on the court and Beilein said he will play in Italy.
“Caris started playing last week, but he’s not himself yet,” Beilein said. “As you can imagine, he was pretty much dormant for 16 weeks and so you’ll see some of those flashes. It’s just a matter of him getting back in game shape.”