Moritz Wagner hadn’t seen a rebounding gun before.
A common sight in American gyms, Michigan men’s basketball players frequently use the device, which funnels made and missed shots into a machine that shoots the ball back into its user’s waiting hands. It’s addictively convenient — instead of wasting time chasing basketballs around the court, players use their limited time and energy working on their jump shot.
So Wagner recently asked, a day after using it for the first time, if he could give the gun another shot. But the fresh-faced, 18-year-old German made an understandable mistake: instead of requesting to use the gun, he asked if he could go back on the “pistol.”
“Nobody knew what he was talking about,” said Michigan coach John Beilein.
Minor linguistic nuances are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the transition Wagner faces. Shifting continents is plenty to handle on its own, but Wagner is also in the midst of simply transitioning to college. Within the program, he doesn’t have much company.
Unlike senior guards Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert, who started at Michigan as part of a five-member recruiting class, Wagner counts only freshman forward Brent Hibbits, a walk-on, among his classmates.
“(Wagner) is still getting the slang down,” said sophomore forward Aubrey Dawkins. “They’re both really smart kids, and doing well so far, I think.”
But Wagner’s time playing in Germany’s Basketball Bundesliga, the country’s highest level of club competition, should prove invaluable.
“Fortunately, I think Wagner, since he’s been playing overseas, has been around older guys,” Albrecht said. “He’s played with some grown men. He’s a very high-IQ basketball player, so he fits right in here. He’s been picking up on things very quickly, and he brings an edge, a sense of competitiveness to the team that not a lot of freshmen do.”
Wagner — or “Mo Weezy,” as Albrecht calls him — averaged 16.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for Alba Berlin, one of the German league’s most successful clubs, in 2014-15.
After committing to Michigan in April, the freshman forward arrived in Ann Arbor in June and took classes during the University’s summer term.
Wagner had adjusted well, Beilein said Friday, and has begun adding weight to his youthful frame. At 6-foot-10, he displayed impressive touch from the outside at the Wolverines’ open practice on Friday.
Where Wagner might slot into the lineup is still in question. While he’s listed at one inch taller than sophomore forward Ricky Doyle, who established a firm hold on the ‘5’ position last season, Wagner weighs in at just 225 pounds, and likely lacks the physicality to command the low post.
Junior forward Zak Irvin is capable of filling time at power forward if needed, and with sophomore forwards D.J. Wilson and Kameron Chatman back from freshman seasons that showed flashes of promise, there likely won’t be many minutes available at the ‘4,’ either.
Wherever he slots in — if he slots in — Wagner’s talent is unmistakable, but Beilein acknowledged that he is very much a work in progress, albeit an exciting one.
“One minute, he’ll look very awkward,” Beilein said. “And the next minute he’ll give you a ‘wow’ moment. He’s 6-foot-10, and he just did that?”