Half of Michigan’s backcourt for the season has never been in doubt.
Zavier Simpson, senior point guard and leader of the Michigan men’s basketball team, has had his starting spot locked up since before Juwan Howard came on as head coach.
The other guard, though, has been a question mark since an injury to freshman forward Franz Wagner has forced Eli Brooks into starting at the ‘3.’ For the beginning of the season, Howard has turned to sophomore guard Adrien Nunez to complete his starting five. But as Nunez has struggled on both ends of the court, Howard has relied increasingly on another sophomore guard: David DeJulius.
Usually the first off the bench, DeJulius has embraced his sixth-man role on this team.
“That’s kind of my identity,” DeJulius said. “Before the season, we had our meeting to make sure I can affect the game, and make sure that I’m improving and getting to another level, so that’s my job. That’s my main focus.
“I just try to be aggressive — take what the defense gives me, and at the same time, defend. I don’t get any plays ran for me, really, but I just continue to stay aggressive. I just play my role and do whatever I can to stay out there on the floor.”
But he may not be the sixth man for long.
Despite having started in all three of the Wolverines’ games this season, Nunez has only played 41 minutes —the other four starters average 98.5. As it stands now, DeJulius ranks fifth on the team in minutes played, with 81 on the season, followed sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr., and then Nunez.
In crunch time during the season opener against Appalachian State, when the Mountaineers whittled the Wolverines’ 30-point lead to a slim four-point margin, DeJulius — not Nunez – was Michigan’s second guard.
Howard, it seems, trusts DeJulius, and is leaning on him more and more.
“He’s super confident, and that’s great – he’s a competitor,” Howard said after Michigan’s 20-point defeat over Elon on Friday. “David wants it. He puts in a lot of work – comes in at practice, comes in on off days. Now he’s just getting up shots, but he’s also getting into the film, learning the game, and that’s some of the best teaching right there, so overall, I’m so happy for him.”
DeJulius has not let his coach down. He’s shooting 46.2 percent from the field, and an impressive 37.5 percent on his three-point attempts.
In statistic after statistic, he leads the bench. His rebounding — a favorite point of Howard’s — has looked better and better over each game, notching 17 on the season so far, second-highest on the team behind only Teske.
“We talk about rebounding a lot, but that’s just something that I do, because every game, I don’t hit shots – that’s just kind of how it is – but at the end of the game, I want to know that I affected the game defensively, and rebounded the ball,” DeJulius said. “You can’t be mad at yourself if you know you gave it your all at the end of the game.”
Nunez, though, has been less than stellar, shooting 41.7 percent from the field, and 30 percent from the arc. At times, he’s appeared to struggle defensively, playing just 11 minutes in last Tuesday’s game against Creighton, easily the most talented competition this Michigan team has faced so far this season.
More and more, it seems that DeJulius is the natural choice to start, and that it’s only a matter of time before he does. After riding the bench for much of his freshman year, looking up to and learning from Simpson, it’s a challenge DeJulius is ready for.
“Every game, I’m just trying to continue to grow, I’m continuing to grow,” DeJulius said. “I’m still going through growing pains, getting more experience, so I try not to rush anything. I just try to take whatever the defense gives me.
“Each and every game, I watch film, and see where I can be more aggressive, and I just feel like it’s more of a feeling thing.”