Michigan's point-guard battles slowly shaping themselves up

BY GJON JUNCAJ
Daily Sports Writer
Published November 12, 2009

Now in his third season coaching the Michigan men’s basketball team, John Beilein started each year by addressing a problem.

Two years ago, it was transitioning a woefully inexperienced team from a motion offense to a perimeter-shooting attack.

Last year, it was convincing players they could compete in the Big Ten under a system that many thought didn’t match the roster’s makeup.

But this fall, it's a favorable dilemma.

Beilein will struggle to distribute minutes to three point guards he believes are capable of running his offense — freshman Darius Morris, redshirt sophomore Laval Lucas-Perry and sophomore Stu Douglass. It's an issue of luxury instead of urgency, and one that the coaching staff will let play out in Michigan’s season opener tomorrow against Northern Michigan.

Morris was recruited specifically to play point guard but has just one preseason game of experience. Meanwhile, Lucas-Perry and Douglass are natural shooting guards who have been immersed in Beilein's system for more than a year.

For the coaching staff, the idea of what each player’s role should be will take a while to show itself on the court.

“It’s a different mindset,” Beilein said at Big Ten Media Day. “I say, ‘Stu, you’re a shooter who can help us as a point guard. Laval, you’re a scorer who can help us as a point guard.’ Whereas Darius is a point guard that can help us as a scorer and a shooter. All three of those guys can get it done if you take care of the ball and you guard on defense.”

Morris started in the Wolverines’ exhibition game against Wayne State last Friday, and Beilein said yesterday he is leaning toward the same plan for tomorrow. Beilein suggested Lucas-Perry’s improvement this offseason in defending other point guards off the ball has put him ahead of Douglass – but behind Morris – for now.

“A lot of people think they can play defense,” Beilein said. “And then when you’ve got big guys setting screens on you, and people who don’t miss much that you’re guarding, it’s difficult. So that’s a big thing … (Laval’s) made good strides.”

Though each has different strengths, Lucas-Perry and Douglass are likely to be combo-guards this season. Lucas-Perry’s challenge will be finding a balance between slashing to the rim and simply letting the set plays run through the progressions. For Douglass, the hardest part about the transition is shaking the perception that he is a one-dimensional, spot-up shooter.

“I worked a lot on trying to get into the lane and creating more in open gyms, and who knows how much that’ll do this year, since we have playmakers already,” Douglass said. “In open gyms, I tried not to really shoot threes this summer, but it’s what the team needs me to do.”

Though Douglass said he’s grown more comfortable with what’s expected of him at the point now, Beilein indicated that Douglass must remember in games he is a shooting guard at heart.

“We can’t have Stu out there running the team sometimes when he has a dagger of a jumpshot,” Beilein said. “He’s got to know his talent, what it is and look for that. And he’s passed up several shots thinking like a point guard, and we can’t have him passing up shots in practice, in scrimmages and in our game.

“Everybody would like to do more, but it’s about what you do for us right now.”