As the dust settled following Monday morning’s news that John Beilein would leave Michigan to become the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Wolverines’ recruits waited for a phone call.
They — like the rest of the basketball world, and according to reports, those in and around the program — had no idea this was coming.
“I was just shocked,” Jalen Wilson, a 2019 commit, told The Daily. “Right now I’m just evaluating everything. I haven’t asked for a release or anything like that. I’m just looking at the situation and seeing how everything’s gonna fall out.”
Wilson, a four-star forward and top-50 player per 247Sports’ composite ranking, affirmed his commitment to Michigan, saying assistant coaches Luke Yaklich and Saddi Washington both called him for reassurance on Monday afternoon. He also talked with Cole Bajema, the Wolverines’ other 2019 commit, who he said has no plans to back out as of now.
Still, that may ultimately depend on who Michigan ends up hiring — a question whose answer seems uncertain as the aftershocks hit Ann Arbor. Yaklich and Washington can affirm Wilson’s commitment for now, but, though both have been floated as potential candidates for the job, neither know what their own futures hold. Wilson, for his part, said he wants the Wolverines to hire, “Someone who I know, at least. Having a random head coach is not an ideal situation you want to be in as a player.”
The impact of any decommitments in the class of 2019 would be massive, as Michigan is currently trying to fill scholarships left open by the early departures of Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis. (Though he is expected to, Brazdeikis has not yet confirmed he will stay in the draft and did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.)
“Everyone knew that (Beilein) tried for the Detroit job a long time ago,” Wilson said. “What every head coach in the NCAA would love (is) an NBA job. I have no — if someone told me, go to Michigan for four years or go to Michigan one year, play in the NBA, NBA is everyone's dream. No matter if you’re a coach or a player. So, I never knock down anybody for going (pro).”
After losing out on grad transfer Justin Pierce and 2019 commit Lester Quinones, among others, the Wolverines have been heavily recruiting Franz Wagner along with grad transfer Jaevin Cumberland. Where those currently stand is yet to be seen.
The impact of Beilein’s departure, though, extends beyond Michigan’s 2019 recruits and into its 2020 class. The Wolverines’ only current 2020 commit is four-star shooting guard Zeb Jackson. Jackson declined comment when reached by The Daily, “until I figure out what to do right now.” But Quincey Simpson, his uncle and father of current Michigan point guard Zavier Simpson, tweeted, “My son is going to play hard for whoever is coaching him. My nephew Zeb will do what he feel is best for him.”
Michigan’s other 2020 targets include four-star small forward Jabri Abdur-Rahim and five-star center Hunter Dickinson. Like Wilson and Bajema, they found out about Beilein’s departure Monday morning when the news became public.
Given that both are high school juniors, they had been in closer communication with the Wolverines’ assistant coaches — Abdur-Rahim with Washington and Dickinson with DeAndre Haynes — than Beilein. However, both mentioned the shock of Beilein’s departure and acknowledged the uncertainty it casts of Michigan’s recruiting efforts. Neither had been contacted by any Wolverines’ coaches since the news broke, as of Monday morning.
Abdur-Rahim, who had an official visit scheduled for May 27, didn’t know yet whether that visit would still happen.
“Well, obviously it depends on what happens with the staff,” Abdur-Rahim said of his recruitment. “I’ll have to see who they bring in and stuff like that. But I’m sure the program will be in good hands. But as far as my recruitment goes, my family and I — we would just like to see who they bring in.”
Dickinson did not have an official visit scheduled, but was in the process of scheduling a visit before the end of his junior year.
“I was pretty highly considering Michigan,” Dickinson told The Daily. “They were one of my top schools. They still have a chance, like, if they hire somebody who would be a really good coach and I feel like I could gel with in a short bit of time. I feel like they still have a high chance of me going there. I just have to see.”
Retaining current assistants — Washington, Yaklich and Haynes — could be key to Michigan keeping its standing with recruits. Steve Finamore, who coaches JW Sexton High School in Lansing and formerly coached current Michigan forward Brandon Johns at East Lansing High School, told The Daily that Washington should get an interview, citing his relationships and connections throughout the state.
“I really think Saddi has all the boxes checked,” Finamore said. “Obviously he has a relationship with all the players, he's recruited some of them, he's been with them every single day. There's nobody that knows those players better than Saddi. If you bring in a new head coach now, he has to re-establish relationships with these players.”
Still, it will be hard for anybody Michigan might hire to keep the level of clout Beilein has when he walks into a gym.
“The head coach always closes the deal, the assistants do the groundwork,” Finamore said, “and I think a lot of kids go to a school to play for a Tom Izzo, to play for a John Beilein, to play for an Archie Miller.”
The question now is whether kids will go to a school to play for whoever comes next.