As he did last season, Max Bielfeldt will play Big Ten basketball this year. But given his new school, new state and new academic routine, the list of similarities pretty much stops there.
Bielfeldt transferred from Michigan to Indiana following his senior season with the Wolverines in 2014-15, accepting an offer from the Hoosiers after considering attending Iowa State and Nebraska, among other programs.
The lone senior on Michigan’s roster last season, Bielfeldt joins an Indiana squad that features three others players in their final year of eligibility. He’ll have a chance to make an immediate impact, too, despite playing sparse minutes last year for the Wolverines.
Following the May dismissals of two Indiana big men — Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Devin Davis — the Hoosiers were looking for help in the post. Mosquera-Perea was set to graduate anyway, and the dismissal of Davis, then a junior, only deepened the hole in their roster.
“They said they are in need of a versatile big who can score the ball in a multitude of ways,” Bielfeldt told the Indianapolis Star in May, “and that I'm just the guy who could come in and help them.”
It hasn’t taken Bielfeldt long to notice distinct differences in the coaching styles of Indiana coach Tom Crean and Michigan coach John Beilein. Crean’s offense is less rigid in terms of cuts and the freedom to make plays, Bielfeldt said, and the teams’ logistical practices and communication styles vary substantially as well.
“Coach Beilein has a month’s schedule printed out for us in advance,” Bielfeldt said Oct. 15 at Big Ten Media Day in Rosemont, Illinois. “(With) Coach Crean, you get a text three hours before practice.”
In some respects, Bielfeldt left Ann Arbor just in time. This season, Beilein has taken to scheduling occasional 6 a.m. practices, something Michigan’s ninth-year coach said he’s never done in his four decades in the business.
The new practice reached Bielfeldt’s radar quickly. Of Michigan’s current players, Bielfeldt said he speaks the most with the two closest to him in age: senior guards Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert, the latter of whom is his former roommate.
“Spike was telling me about that,” Bielfeldt said. “I think he got it from (Michigan football coach Jim) Harbaugh.”
Beyond the on-court differences, Bielfeldt’s day-to-day life outside of basketball is drastically different, too. As part of a 15-month master’s degree program in strategic management, Bielfeldt is taking classes exclusively online. The plan is to leave Bloomington after having earned a second degree in only one year.
Bielfeldt’s academic plan depended heavily on his school selection. Iowa State, for instance, tempted him with its impressive agriculture program, especially considering Bielfeldt’s father earned a degree in agricultural economics.
Ultimately, Indiana’s Kelley School of Business proved tough to turn down.
“I’m happy coming here and doing the management degree,” Bielfeldt said. “I think I made the right choice.”
While Bielfeldt had a plethora of high-level options for his fifth and final season, one choice was taken out of his hands: the option of returning to Michigan.
Whether Bielfeldt had the option of returning seemed to vary throughout the season. Beilein said early in the year that the 2014-15 campaign would be Bielfeldt’s last in Ann Arbor, but in March, he didn’t rule out the possibility of allowing the 6-foot-8 forward to play a fifth year with the Wolverines.
“I was playing all year under the assumption it was my last year at Michigan,” Bielfeldt said. “As the season finished and I was playing really well towards the end, (Beilein) was saying he was looking at the scholarship opportunity, and he had some recruits that he had to look out for.
“I understood, and I gave him some time.”
Bielfeldt says he holds no ill will for Beilein or for Michigan, calling the move “a business decision.”
Throughout the process of selecting a transfer destination, Bielfeldt cited Indiana’s proximity to his family’s home in Peoria, Illinois, as one of the most important factors. Bielfeldt is still not particularly close, but the drive from Bloomington to Peoria is more than an hour shorter than the drive from Ann Arbor.
All things considered, it’s not a bad deal for Bielfeldt. He’s closer to home, and he’s getting a master’s degree and the opportunity to play another season in the Big Ten.
He will, however, have to travel to Ann Arbor on Feb. 2 to face his alma mater.
“It’s going to be bizarre,” Bielfeldt said.