Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein needs Mark Donnal to be in the best shape of his life. In Beilein’s mind, if his senior forward is supposed to become a leader, he needs to be able to run all day without getting tired and dive for every loose ball with reckless abandon.
But adopting the leadership role isn’t something that comes naturally to Donnal. As Beilein explained, “it’s natural for very few coming in the door.” Yet the stark reality is that Donnal is now the veteran piece of the puzzle that composes Michigan’s low-post presence.
And for that reason, Beilein is trying to bring the leader out from within Donnal.
“We talk about pivoting — pivoting from what you normally do just once a week (with) Mark,” Beilein said. “Pivot out of that and say something really strong, and really loud, and everybody will say, ‘Oh my goodness, you’re pivoting,’ and they listen to you.
“That wasn’t Trey Burke’s deal to come in like Zack Novak and tell everybody what to do. But he would pivot every now and then and just give some guys a look — including me — a look, that we said, ‘OK, I got it, I hear you.’ So that’s what Mark is working on.”
“It’s America, that’s your right.”
Over the past few months, the national anthem at sporting events has become a larger spectacle than the competition itself, as athletes have increasingly taken part in demonstrations meant to speak out against systematic inequalities in our country.
Ann Arbor is no exception, as members of the football team have raised their fists during the anthem throughout the season in an attempt to start a conversation about racial injustices within the nation.
It has become a controversial topic to say the least, and as college basketball season approaches, people have wondered whether the demonstrations would carry over from the gridiron to the hardwood.
“I think you will see it,” he said at Big Ten Media Day on Thursday. “If a young man wants to demonstrate his support for a cause, that’s probably a perfect opportunity for him to do that.”
The Wolverines say they haven’t discussed if any members of the team will take action during the national anthem in their first exhibition against Armstrong State on Nov. 4. Still, though, Beilein is keeping an open mind in his approach to the situation.
“We will have some real dialogue on that to make sure that we give our guys a chance to express their concerns, be proactive (and) discuss how you can assist in changing the world in many ways,” Beilein said. “If one of my players gives (the coaching staff) compelling reasons why he thinks this could be helpful, then I’ll support it just like just about every coach would. It’s America, that’s your right.”
Time for a change?
While in D.C., Beilein discussed rules he would like to see the NCAA change.
First and foremost, Beilein expressed his dissatisfaction with the current interactions between referees and coaches. While he admitted he rarely noticed it during the course of a game, Beilein explained that, during film, he can clearly witness coaches berating refs for calls every time they walk up and down the court.
“(It) would be almost like the baseball rule,” Beilein said. “If we argued balls and strikes on every play — you just can’t argue balls and strikes — you’d get kicked out. I want to have dialogue with the officials, but I don’t need to have it every time down the court.
“I think it’s very distracting to the officials, and it was distracting to me. The constant banter, between coaches and refs, it’s not allowed in other sports. I think there should be a limitation.”
Ultimately, Beilein believes it’s an issue officials are capable of solving, perhaps by granting each coach 15 seconds during each timeout to discuss something with the referee.
Off the court, Beilein had some ideas as well. He expressed his belief that the NCAA should not be able to limit student-athletes to just two hours of skill development when they are granted a total of eight hours per week in the spring and summer. In Beilein’s mind, the current approach limits the potential of certain athletes.
“I’ve always thought, ‘What difference does it make?’ ” Beilein said. “Like Derrick Walton, (he) does not need six hours in the weight room, but he may want to be with a coach working on ball handling because he wants to be a pro. Being in the weight room for six hours isn’t getting him closer to being a pro right now.”
Thursday, Beilein took the opportunity to clarify potential redshirt candidates on the roster.
Though senior forward Mark Donnal and sophomore forward Moritz Wagner are established as Michigan’s two primary options in the paint, as Beilein presented, the Wolverines “always need a third big man because of foul trouble.”
Junior forward D.J. Wilson could contend for this third spot after bulking up this summer, but freshmen Jon Teske and Austin Davis will also be competing for the opportunity.
While it seems that it would make the most sense to redshirt one of the freshmen big men, Beilein indicated that both Teske and Davis are willing to burn their redshirts. That decision will likely come after Beilein suggests a course of action for them later in the season.
Senior guard Andrew Dakich and senior forward Sean Lonergan have yet to discuss their respective one and two remaining years of eligibility, but Beilein is still cognizant of the advantages they might have if they were to finish their eligibility at a different school.
“These young men have paid a lot to go to college, and to earn a scholarship in their fifth year to play at a different school — maybe not a Big Ten school, but also not a lower level school — is appealing to them,” Beilein said. “You say you want to be a teacher, well in your fifth year you can be doing your student teaching and playing and not paying. They have both paid big money out of state to go to college. We haven’t had that conversation yet, (but) I’m sure we will.”