Wagner ready to take the stage, introduce himself to America

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 - 8:26pm

Sophomore forward Moritz Wagner is gaining national attention for his play in the NCAA Tournament.

Sophomore forward Moritz Wagner is gaining national attention for his play in the NCAA Tournament. Buy this photo
Sam Mousigian/Daily

For Moe Wagner, it’s show time every time he steps on the basketball court.

The sophomore’s play has been eye-popping recently. What other 6-foot-11 forward can euro step to the hoop on a fast break, fool opponents with a patented behind-the-back dribble and nail a fade-away three with relative ease?

As Wagner’s play grabs more and more attention over Michigan’s postseason, his personality and emotions make him one of the Sweet 16’s must-watch players.

Over the past few weeks, Wagner has been seen laughing on the bench, roaring after putting down a huge dunk and looking appalled after getting hit with a surprise foul call.

Now in the Sweet 16, Wagner finally has a stage big enough to fit his bursting personality in America.

“One of my youth coaches used to say that I was someone who sees the basketball court as a stage and really enjoys it,” Wagner said. “Last year I really started to understand what that really means and embraced that this year. That’s just me. I really love it and I really enjoy it. I try to use it as my advantage.”

In the Wolverines’ win over Louisville on Sunday, Wagner put on one of his most signature performances of the season. The forward scored a career-high 26 points while shooting 79 percent from the field. He showed scalpel-like precision cutting through the Cardinals’ long, lengthy and deep frontcourt and helped Michigan overcome an eight-point halftime deficit to stay alive and advance in the tournament.

Also on display Sunday was Wagner’s unique personality. No one rode the emotional roller coaster of that game to higher-highs and lower-lows than Wagner.

The sophomore was relishing every moment, yelling whenever he got inside and finished a dunk or layup at the hoop. He was seen embracing his partner in the frontcourt — redshirt sophomore forward DJ Wilson — when the pair combined for a big play. And when it was all over, Wagner stopped and kneeled down on the court where he stood, and shed a couple tears as his teammates ran over to celebrate.

But that’s all the good stuff.

Wagner has struggled to contain his negative emotions at times, and he showed his emotional cracks against Louisville. After scoring baskets, senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. had to remind Wagner multiple times to get back and play defense.

“You can see (Walton),” Wagner said. “He always hits me in the chest like I’m a tree. I’m like ‘Dude, chill, relax.’ I guess you can do that with me because I’m so emotional. I think that’s how it is supposed to be. We’re so close with each other, we give (each other) a lot of crap and we all love each other after the game when we win.”

And then there are Wagner’s reactions when he’s called for controversial fouls. Coming from Europe, Wagner wasn’t accustomed to hearing so many whistles when he first began to adjust to the college game. While he’s gotten better about it, the sophomore still has moments when he’ll freak out or put on a very surprised face that stands out to everyone.

One of those reactions happened against the Cardinals toward the end of the first half. Wagner was called for a reach-in foul on a play that looked like a clean steal upon replay. Shocked by the call — which was his second foul of the half — Wagner kept running down the court displaying a face of disbelief.

“I saw in the (Louisville) film I got called for a foul before halftime,” Wagner said. “I just ran and kept running. In the NBA two years ago, that’s a technical foul. So I’ve got to stop. I guess that’s a lot to experience, just keep working on it.”

Wagner realizes he needs to limit moments like that, especially as the stage gets bigger and bigger for the Wolverines.

“I’m still in the process of learning how to control my emotions,” Wagner said. “It’s really good at sometimes having good emotions, just being positive, and helping the team with that. At the same time, negative emotions can take energy and can be dangerous to a team’s chemistry during a game. I’m still trying to figure out the right balance.”

But if there’s anyone who’s ready to star for Michigan when it takes the court for the Sweet 16 on Thursday, it’s Wagner. The German is ready to let America get to know him, especially if it’s in the context of the Wolverines continuing their postseason hot streak in Kansas City.