CHICAGO — As Michigan’s trio of draft entrants — Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis — set out to prove their NBA draft worth at Quest Multisport in Chicago, it was all business as usual. Brazdeikis used an array of dribble moves to get to the basket, Poole shone in the spot-up shooting drills and Matthews showed his value on the defensive end in front of NBA general managers.
If this week consisted solely of Thursday and Friday, it would have all been part of the plan. Normal, even.
Those hopes, though, went out the window first thing Monday morning, when John Beilein left the Wolverines after 12 years to become the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. And even from Chicago, as their college careers fade into the rearview mirror, Michigan’s draft entrants felt the same shockwaves that hit the rest of the basketball world.
“I think everybody in America was surprised,” Matthews said Thursday. “I don’t care that he flirted with that idea (of going to the NBA) last year. The timing of it caught you off guard. I thought my agent was calling me to tell me I was (going to) miss my flight, but he was calling me to tell me Coach Beilein took the Cavs’ job.”
Added Brazdeikis: “I was surprised by it, I didn’t see it coming. But I’m happy for him.”
While Matthews was expected to enter the draft all season, Brazdeikis and Poole’s sudden departures had put Michigan in a precarious position for 2019-20, even before Beilein’s move to the NBA. Now, their departures have been compiled by four-star forward Jalen Wilson’s decommitment Thursday. Wilson could return to Michigan, but told The Daily, “I can’t rely on someone if I don’t know they’re gonna be there or not,” referring to the Wolverines’ assistant coaching staff.
Friday in Chicago, Brazdeikis echoed the importance of Michigan retaining its three assistants.
“I think (keeping the assistant coaches) would be big, especially for the veterans,” Brazdeikis said. “It’s kinda tough to just have an entire new culture. It’d be a culture shock. They’ve built such a great culture there at Michigan and now, I think the young guys can adapt because they’ve been there for only one year. But the veterans, it would be interesting to see how they handle it.”
For Brazdeikis, though — along with Poole and Matthews — it’s on to the NBA in their coach’s footsteps.
Poole tops spot-shooting drills
Among Michigan’s three draft entrants, Poole’s shooting stole the headlines.
He elected not to participate in scrimmages either Thursday or Friday, instead showcasing his shooting in both spot shooting and off-the-dribble drills. Safe to say, Poole’s decision paid off.
He finished first among all participants in the spot shooting drills, shooting 76% across 10 different shooting spots — five from NBA 3-point range and five from 15 feet, forgoing the five shooting spots from college 3-point range.
“I loved it, I see his name all over there,” Brazdeikis said. “I wasn’t surprised, though. I’ve seen this guy not miss before. I told everyone that I talked to beforehand that once they see (Poole) shoot, their jaw’s gonna drop.”
Poole’s performance in off-the-dribble drills didn’t quite live up to the level of his spot shooting but he still finished third with a 62.5% shooting percentage across six spots — three from college 3-point range and three from 15 feet, where he hit at a 83.3% rate.
Brazdeikis shines in drills and scrimmages
Like Poole, Brazdeikis excelled in shooting drills, finishing seventh overall and third among forwards in spot shooting drills, including 80% from four of the five NBA 3-point range spots.
“If it’s catch-and-shoot, me and JP will go at it,” Brazdeikis said. “We do a lot of shooting drills at Michigan so it’s a blast.”
Brazdeikis, who led Michigan in scoring with 14.8 points per game, finished in the middle of the athleticism drills — peaking with a 17th place finish out of 58 in the standing vertical jump at 31 inches — but his biggest impact came in the scrimmages.
His team won both days, with Brazdeikis scoring 11 points in Friday’s game, second only to Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell Jr. on his team. As expected, Brazdeikis’ biggest impact came on dribble drives as he showcased an array of moves to get to the basket.
“I think I was able to show a little bit of my maturity out there,” Brazdeikis said. “I definitely showed how I can score the ball, but I think I rebounded the ball well, I defended pretty hard. So I think I just showed that I can be out there and play among the best.”
Perhaps more impressively, though, Brazdeikis showcased a court vision that he didn’t always have at Michigan, finding teammates for open looks on kick-outs and interior passes.
“He’s a really good player,” said Virginia guard Kyle Guy, who played against Brazdeikis on Friday. “I watched him all year. Very physical. Actually a little more agile, versatile than you would think so tremendous player.”
Matthews flashes defensive ability in long-awaited combine appearance
For Brazdeikis and Poole, the 2019 combine was always part of the plan.
Brazdeikis is a one-and-done. He could have been here a year ago without taking a prep year before going to Michigan, but for two years, he has known that this was the earliest he could be here. Poole, meanwhile, flourished off the bench in his freshman season a year ago before becoming one of the Wolverines’ go-to scorers this season. For him too, this moment came on schedule, if not a year early.
Not for Charles Matthews.
It was supposed to happen after his freshman year at Kentucky — back in 2016. Then, after a year in transfer purgatory, it was supposed to happen last season, before an injury prompted his return to school. But now, just 8.4 miles up Western Avenue from his old high school, Matthews is finally where he’s always dreamt of being.
“It’s amazing,” Matthews said. “I remember being a kid up here just seeing other people being in this position, coming into Chicago, getting ready for the draft and now I’m here so I’m trying to make the most of it.”
On the court, Matthews’ performance was more expected, with his biggest impact coming on the defensive end.
He finished with just 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting and 1-of-5 from deep across the two days, but was among the best defenders on the floor in both games. And for Matthews, that was enough to consider the combine a success.
“I think I’ve shown teams that I can help win,” Matthews said. “I can guard the ball, I can make the right play, hit the open shot.”