Max Bielfeldt will generate more than a few double takes Tuesday when he takes the court at Crisler Center. The former Michigan forward, known to fans and teammates as “Moose” and revered for his large calves, returns to Ann Arbor as the Michigan men’s basketball team plays host to No. 22 Indiana. And to those who have watched Bielfeldt play since 2011, everything will seem a little bit off.
Bielfeldt, who is finishing out his college eligibility with the Hoosiers as a graduate transfer, will be wearing different colors, for one. He will enter the court through a different tunnel, he will line up on a different side of the court for the national anthem and he will spend the game competing against the program he spent four years with.
The transition has been seamless for Bielfeldt, who is averaging 8.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in just over 17 minutes per game with Indiana. Michigan has struggled to solidify its rotation in the low post throughout the season, and the Wolverines have room this season for another scholarship player, but Michigan coach John Beilein said Monday he hasn’t had any second thoughts about not bringing Bielfeldt back for a fifth year.
“That was a tough decision, but we decided to go with a lot of young players who were trending up last spring — Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle, D.J. Wilson,” Beilein said. “We decided, ‘Let’s move forward. Let’s plan for the future.’ ”
The Daily sat down with Bielfeldt in October at Big Ten Media Day for a Q&A about his new life in Bloomington, the back-and-forth that transpired over the course of his senior season and his expectations for Tuesday’s return to Ann Arbor.
The Michigan Daily: There was no shortage of back and forth last year about whether you’d return to Michigan for your final season of eligibility. How tough was it dealing with that uncertainty?
Max Bielfeldt: I was playing all year under the assumption it was my last year at Michigan. That was just what I thought. I was concentrating on the season. When I started starting games toward the end of the year, I kind of thought about potentially getting offered that fifth year. As the season finished and I was playing really well toward the end, Coach B was saying he was looking at the scholarship opportunity and he had some recruits that he had to look out for. I understood, and I gave him some time.
TMD: At this point, how would you characterize your relationship with Beilein?
MB: Like I’ve said, it was a business decision. Honestly, it was the best opportunity for me, incorporating the closeness to my family’s home in Peoria, Ill., the business program, the guys from the team, just the tradition of the program, I think it all lined up and it was my best opportunity.
TMD: Is it going to be weird to play Michigan?
MB: Oh, super weird. It’s going to be bizarre. Going back up to Ann Arbor — that’s going to be the most insane thing I think I’ve ever done in my 22 years. I don’t know what the atmosphere’s going to be like. I left there on senior night on a very positive note, with no hard feelings. We’ll see how well college fans can embrace that. We’ll see how it goes.
TMD: Given your knowledge of Beilein and Michigan’s system, do you expect to be more involved in game planning for that game than you typically are?
MB: When the time comes, I’ll just see how it is. It’s not like I’m going to hand over the entire playbook and be like, “All right, here’s what it is.” I think my most valuable ability is to know the player tendencies pretty well, playing with some of those guys for so long. But as far as some of the deeper playbook stuff, I’m not planning on (saying), “Here’s every single thing you need to know.” I don’t want to be that guy. That’s just not who I am.
TMD: You’re getting a master’s degree in strategic management at Indiana. How does your academic life compare to your time as a sport management major at Michigan?
MB: Well, it’s completely different, because it’s 100-percent online. It’s a 15-month program. I’m going to be able to finish playing in Bloomington in March or April, and I can go wherever after that. Whatever job opportunity I have or whatever I’m doing, it’s pretty free.
TMD: Is it helpful to only have online classes?
MB: I think it completely depends on the person. … As long as I keep myself to my deadlines and make sure I’m getting things done, you know, I’m having a lot of success. Honestly, I think I’m getting more out of it. It’s tougher when you have class at 8 a.m. and you might not feel like it that day. If you don’t feel like it that day, in this program, you can work on it at 10:30 a.m. and get things done when you’re more apt to do it.