When the lights inside Crisler Center go out and are replaced with the glow of hundreds of cell-phone flashlights, you won’t hear PA announcer Anthony Bellino say David DeJulius’ name.
Instead, the sophomore guard stands in line during player introductions, high-fiving his teammates as they jog onto the court.
By tipoff, DeJulius settles in on the bench with nine other Wolverines –– eagerly waiting for his number to be called. And, while he’s not a starter for the Michigan men’s basketball team, so far this season, he hasn’t had to wait too long.
In the Wolverines’ first two games, DeJulius has played a total of 56 minutes, which is good enough for fifth on the team.
Against Appalachian State, DeJulius’ considerable floortime seemed to be a result of foul trouble for senior point guard Zavier Simpson. While that may have been a relevant explanation in the opener — in which he went scoreless — those same circumstances didn’t apply to Michigan’s game against Creighton on Tuesday.
Even with Simpson and junior guard Eli Brooks both playing 34 minutes against the Bluejays, DeJulius was still the first Wolverine off the bench.
He scored nine points, collected seven rebounds and went 4-for-4 from the foul line. While not the most eye-catching of statlines, it’s a solid one — and one Michigan coach Juwan Howard can feel good about.
“It just so happened David was playing well,” Howard said. “So, I decided to go with David. He gave us some big minutes defensively and offensively.”
DeJulius’ contributions extend beyond statistics, though. Despite being a point guard at his core, DeJulius’ work off the ball has opened up the floor offensively for Simpson and Brooks to the maneuver. If his defender commits elsewhere, he can also knock down a perimeter shot.
But it’s the defensive end where DeJulius has shone brightest. While sophomore guard Adrien Nunez may be a more polished offensive player and provides the Wolverines with greater size, DeJulius’ energy and defensive instincts have given him an edge. As a result, despite starting both games, Nunez’ minutes — 13 and 11, respectively — pale in comparison to those of his classmates.
“At my position, if I’m hitting shots, good,” DeJulius said. “Each and every night, I can’t have a night off, where I’m not rebounding or where I’m not guarding. That’s gonna keep me on the floor.
“Hitting shots just adds to that. But, at the very least, I’m going to give my teammates all I can on the defensive end and in the muscle areas.”
Coming into the season, it seemed likely DeJulius would serve primarily as either Simpson or Brooks’ backup, playing mainly when one of them needed a quick break or had gotten into foul trouble. That notion seems to have evaporated rather quickly, as Howard seems to favor DeJulius’ style of play over Nunez’.
The only problem being that a starting lineup featuring Simpson, Brooks and DeJulius lacks size. Howard has rolled that dice, though, playing all three of them at once. And it’s worked, too — albeit in a small sample size.
Despite having to play second, or even third fiddle, DeJulius appears comfortable alongside Simpson and Brooks.
“Defensively, it’s just being alert and being able to switch with those guys,” DeJulius said. “You know Eli and Zavier are very good defensively, so it just raised my level up as well. Just trying to match their intensity and match their cleverness.
“Offensively, you have two crafty guys there. So I just try not to force anything, take what the defense gives me. Make sure I’m in the right spots at the right times. Make sure I’m spacing the floor for Zavier to operate and for Eli to get his shots off.”
Added Howard: “I’ve used him in combo guard situations … out there with Eli and Zavier. David is smart enough to adjust and adapt when he’s out there with two other guards.”
DeJulius’ emergence as a significant role-player also comes in the absence of injured freshman wing Franz Wagner. Wagner is set to return later this month, and when he does, he will undoubtedly feature significantly — if not enter the starting lineup.
That will likely impact DeJulius’ playtime and render the small-guard lineup of him, Simpson and Brooks nonessential. Though he’s aware of that possibility, DeJulius knows it will only help Michigan in the long-run.
“I think (the three-guard lineup) was always kinda on the table, but a little bit with that as well,” DeJulius said. “I feel like when Franz comes back, you’ll still see it, but not as much because he’s a great player and will need his minutes as well. It was always in the cards though and when Franz comes back, we’ll be a better team.”
Regardless of how minutes are divvied up when the freshman comes back, DeJulius’ development from last season has impressed Howard and his teammates and given the Wolverines another guy to rely on.
“He has grit,” said junior forward Isaiah Livers. “He loves that defensive end and doesn’t mind taking a shot or making an extra pass. He doesn’t mind speaking up as a leader now, which I think is him just growing up as a player and as a man. He’s definitely grown up from his first year on campus.”