- Todd Needle/Daily
By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published July 23, 2013
After spending weeks in Russia at the World University Games, Michigan coach John Beilein struggled to pick up much of the Russian language. But he did learn one word.
It looks like this: спасибо
It sounds like this: spʌˈsʲibə (spasibo)
And it means thank you. Recently, there’s been a lot for which Beilein is thankful.
Take his stint as an assistant coach with Team USA at the World University Games in Kazan, Russia, during which Beilein worked alongside some of the best coaches with some of the greatest athletes. It was also fitting that, at the University Games, that Beilein noted how much he learned to implement later on.
Beilein, who has never served as an assistant coach in his entire collegiate career, worked under Davidson coach Bob McKillop and alongside South Carolina coach Frank Martin.
“I enjoyed saying, ‘Who do we play? Norway and Finland? I’ll scout it,’ ” Beilein said. “I wanted to scout other teams; I wanted to scout what other people did. That was always rewarding to me.
“(McKillop and Martin) would say things; ‘I never even thought about that in a game.’ I’m sure I was saying things to them that they were saying, ‘I never thought about that.’ It was a clinic every game.”
Beilein roomed with Martin during the trip, sharing what Beilein described as a “dorm room.” In a way, there is a connection between the pair — Martin took over at Kansas State after former coach Bob Higgins left to fill Beilein’s spot at West Virginia.
“We stayed awake talking about basketball and woke up talking about basketball,” Beilein said. “It was great. I think that we have a bond right now that will last forever. A lot of inside jokes about our time together.”
Held every other year, the World University Games are for any athlete who has been a student in the past year. This year’s roster included fellow Big Ten players, like Michigan State forward Adreian Payne and Iowa center Aaron White as well as Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey.
“Anyone that we played against last year, there was a great connection, and there was some ribbing now and then, but it was good,” Beilein said. “Between Yogi being the point guard — I recruited Yogi a little bit — Will Sheehey I had recruited as well, so it was good.
“I did do some offensive things, I gave them the names we give them, and so I think that they probably will recognize some of those things if they retain it. I certainly remembered some things they do well and don’t do well and may keep that in my brain sometime.”
Also included on the roster was Louisville forward Luke Hancock, who scored 22 points en route to being named the MVP of the Final Four. Hancock is most known for going 5-for-5 from behind the arc as Louisville erased a 12-point deficit to win the national championship game, but as Beilein noted, he lacked the touch during training.
“Obviously when I went to the tryouts at the Olympic training center and Luke Hancock couldn’t make a shot for three days,” he said, “that affected me a little bit.”
Beilein is also thankful that he can return to Michigan with his coaching staff still in tact.
Assistant coach LaVall Jordan, who had reportedly been a candidate for the head coaching position at Butler, ultimately stayed with the Wolverines. Though Jordan is an alum of Butler, the Bulldogs opted to hire from within, choosing assistant Brandon Miller.
“That was a very unique situation at his alma mater that he’d be interested in,” Beilein said. “If he would have been selected and he would have taken it, I would have understood 100 percent.
“That being said, that next day he was on the phone with me, talking about the whole recruiting dynamic going on right now. He jumped right back in and said, ‘This is where I want to be, this is where I want to coach.’ ”
Finally, Beilein is thankful to have signed a new contract extension that keeps him through the 2018-19 season — when he turns 66.
Since 2007, Beilein has compiled a .599 winning percentage, tying a program-best with 31 wins last year.
“My plan was to at least coach six more years,” Beilein said. “So that the 2015 class, that’s the class we’re recruiting now — along with the 2014s — I wanted to coach all those guys.
“That was sort of the plan we put in mind. Obviously you had to dot some ‘I’s’ and cross some ‘T’s’ and there was no rush, but I was really pleased we were able to work it out.”
But he also noted that the contract also arose out of need. According to Beilein, the move was important to the future of the program in an environment that stresses recruiting further into the future.
“I think back in the day when you weren’t looking at top 2015-2016 kids, this was big,” he said. “With young men committing earlier, just looking at the long range, they want to see who’s going to be coaching there. That’s the only plan that we have.”
And Beilein can be most thankful that his new contract will be his most lucrative yet. His contract is worth $2.45 million per year, which is probably more than he could have dreamed of when he began working at Newfane High School as a football, basketball and baseball coach for $7,900.
Most importantly, Beilein is just thankful to get back to work today.
“I’ve made all these trips (this summer) and all these miles and all these red-eyes and I couldn’t wait to get back to work (Monday),” he said. “I was up early this morning, couldn’t wait to get to work today. And I can’t wait to go recruiting tomorrow.”