In 1975, before coaching his first basketball game at Newfane High School in New York, Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein vowed he wouldn’t make a career out of coaching.
“Before the game, I was physically nauseated,” Beilein said on Friday before the team’s first practice of the season. “I said one thing I do know: I can’t do this for a living.”
Fast forward 41 years, and Beilein is getting ready for his ninth season at the helm of Michigan’s program. With more than four decades of coaching experience, Beilein has developed some routines he keeps religiously: He doesn’t foul when down by three points late in the second half, and he pulls a player as soon as he’s committed his second foul in the first.
But Beilein, at 62, isn’t afraid of changing some things up. So, at 6:30 a.m. Friday, his team met for a run-through of what it would work on that afternoon in practice — a first in his 41 years of coaching.
Beilein said the idea to incorporate morning practices, which he’ll continue to do twice a week, was the result of feedback from people inside the program. His players think the influence might have come from elsewhere.
“I think he might have stolen it from (Michigan football coach Jim) Harbaugh,” said senior guard Spike Albrecht. “I don't know if he mentioned that. That’s my thought. It’s working out for (the football team), so we’re going to try to piggyback off them.”
Regardless of whose idea it was, it’s just one example of Beilein looking to implement new ideas. He noted he wanted to make this year’s offense and defense “extremely versatile, even more versatile than ever.”
And while he works on grooming a roster that includes six sophomores, he also takes time to learn from other coaches. During the offseason, he sat in on Michigan football and Detroit Pistons practices to watch Harbaugh and Stan Van Gundy, respectively, at work.
“We have trouble with some of our guys learning how to cut. I was over at (Michigan football’s) practice, and one of (their) coaches told a kid, ‘Stick your foot in the ground and go,’ and I’m sitting there and I said, ‘That is terminology that I needed,’ and we’re having trouble cutting. I went over here, and I told our guys to stick your foot in the ground and go.’ ”
Beilein said that when he comes back from observing another team’s practice he’ll pick up a handful of new ideas — from terminology to plays — that he tries to implement immediately.
The seasoned coach, who ended up sticking with basketball despite his promise 41 years ago, will have plenty of time to test new ideas before the Wolverines kick off their season on Nov. 13. Odds are that this time, with 12 returning players, he’ll be less nauseous before tip off.
LeVert and Walton at full strength
After being plagued by injuries last season, Beilein said junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. and senior guard Caris LeVert are at 100 percent. Walton was sidelined due to a toe and foot injury, and LeVert missed most of the second half last year with a foot injury.
Albrecht is nearly at full strength after recovering from surgery on both hips over the summer.
“We’re trying to just rotate Spike out of drills,” Beilein said. “There’s really no restrictions other than he’s not moving the way he’ll be moving in a couple more weeks.”
Added Albrecht: “It’s not where it needs to be right now, but that’s expected. … I’m close, just trying to get back into — there’s nothing like basketball shape — so I’m in pretty good shape right now, but getting back into basketball shape, getting my rhythm, my handle back, things like that.”
Junior guard Zak Irvin had back surgery on Sept. 10, and it was announced that he would be out six to eight weeks.
Beilein said that he’s been dressing for practice and said he “anticipates him to be on the court either in practice or in games by the start of the season.”
Wagner learning system, language
Michigan’s only true freshman is forward Moritz Wagner, a 6-foot-10 recruit from Berlin, Germany. Since getting to Ann Arbor, Beilein noted it’s been a transition phase for him to adjust to American basketball. It helps that Wagner previously played with older players in Europe, Albrecht said, adding that he expects Wagner to play a substantial role in the Wolverines’ system.
“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,” Albrecht said.