BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Andrew Dakich began the season expecting to sit, watch and wait. A walk-on junior, Dakich was considering spending the year as a redshirt.
Dakich is finishing the season doing the exact opposite. He played five minutes in the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament victory over Tulsa on Wednesday, a statistic nobody would have predicted entering the season.
“It’s crazy,” Dakich said. “It’s kind of a dream come true. You play for Michigan, in the Big Ten, and now you’re getting postseason action with minutes here and there. I don’t really care about the redshirt — obviously, it’s gone for this year. But (the opportunity) is something special, obviously. I’m not looking back, and I’m very excited about my role on this team.”
The transition from captain of the “Bench Mob” to fill-in captain of the entire team — Dakich sometimes attends pre-game check-ins with referees and opposing team captains — is purely a child of circumstance.
It took an early-season injury to junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. to pull Dakich off the bench. As Walton sat with an ankle sprain, Dakich burned his redshirt on Dec. 8 after missing Michigan’s first eight games, marking the second straight season he has risen to the call of duty after beginning the year intending to redshirt.
Another pair of injuries kept Dakich in the rotation — first, senior guard Spike Albrecht’s decision to prematurely end his season as he recovered from a pair of offseason hip surgeries, then Caris LeVert’s still-mysterious lower-left-leg malady.
Now, Michigan coach John Beilein is asking Dakich for mistake-free minutes on a regular basis. Dakich acknowledges it’s a tough assignment for a player who relies on his ability to distribute and play solid defense in lieu of being the scoring spark many of his teammates provide, but it’s a spot he has come to embrace.
“That’s my role, and I’ve accepted that role, obviously, because (I’ll do) whatever we can do to win,” Dakich said. “At the end of the day, my job is to not turn the ball over, play the best defense I can and set guys up. There is pressure, but it’s what you prepare your mind for day in and day out.”
Dakich took a step beyond his role last week against Northwestern, draining just his third career 3-pointer on an open look from the corner. He has fulfilled another major part of his own listed responsibilities, too, turning the ball over just twice in his last 34 minutes, dating back to Feb. 10 at Minnesota.
“We tell him that we’re confident in him, and that he’s able to shoot the basketball — we see it in practice all the time,” said junior forward Mark Donnal. “He did it last year against Ohio State with D’Angelo Russell guarding him.”
That 3-pointer against the Buckeyes helped seal an upset and marked Dakich’s first points of his sophomore season, and it also came in transition and from the right corner.
“He’s been money from that right corner,” Albrecht said. “That’s what we tell him. Stick to the right corner.”
Nonetheless, Dakich has seemed more assertive lately, occasionally putting the ball on the floor and driving to the rim — with varied success — in Michigan’s last four games.
Impressively open about his limitations, Dakich simply acknowledged the obvious on Wednesday: Walton can’t play 40 minutes per game, and with Albrecht out of the picture, it’s up to him to bridge the gap in whatever way possible.
“I love what Andrew’s been able to do,” Beilein said, echoing Dakich’s own phrasing. “It’s a dream come true for him, and he’ll be in there again tomorrow (against 6-seed Notre Dame).”