Ten minutes into a Friday press conference, faced with a slew of questions about the same thing, Michigan coach John Beilein stopped and offered up a comment on the presser itself.
“There must not be a lot of news right now,” Beilein said.
It’s hard to call him wrong. The Wolverines are 10-0 headed into three games with a win probability of 99 percent or better on KenPom, all with at least a week between them. At least for now, there’s a happy sort of stasis over Crisler Center. Any pressing questions have long been answered.
Thus, most of Friday was devoted to litigating the backup center situation — a scene that spoke as much to all Michigan has proven as it did to the subject of the questions itself.
Redshirt sophomore Austin Davis has struggled in that spot, looking like the game has yet to slow down for him and putting up a 24.2 percent turnover rate. The door, as a result, seems open for freshman Brandon Johns to jump Davis in the rotation, and this stretch seems like an opportune time for that to happen.
“It’s like me, with my football teams, my baseball teams,” Beilein said. “I want to see the Triple-A guy — I want to see him go up and play. I want to see the dude play. He’s got to get a chance.”
Johns has totaled all of 29 minutes on the season, nearly all of them coming in garbage time. A four-star recruit whose potential lay in athleticism, getting everything else to catch up has been the challenge for him.
Like any other freshman Johns worried about messing up in practice when he first got to Ann Arbor. He got self-conscious as a result — what Beilein calls “carrying a suitcase.” Johns said Friday that he’s since gotten over that.
“Coach (Beilein) talked to me about it,” Johns said. “I kinda realized, you can’t really have that mood or stigma about you going into the game or even in practice. Cause it’s just gonna hold you down and prevent you from getting better.”
Nobody’s perfect, and the chasm from high school to college is massive. The game is faster. The defensive demands are harder, with more concepts to remember. Initially, ball-screen coverage was a big part of the learning curve.
“In high school, I kinda tried it everywhere. I didn’t really — I played defense, but I didn’t really play defense,” Johns said to laughs. “So, coming here, it’s kinda like, you’re playing defense every second of the game at intense speed. So trying to build up to that speed took me some time. But I think overall I’m kinda comfortable with it now.”
Right now, it’s not even clear what position Johns will end up playing over the long term. As a recruit, he projected as a power forward, and Beilein said Friday that’s still the case down the line.
As of now though, the Wolverines have freshman Ignas Brazdeikis and sophomore Isaiah Livers manning the ‘4.’ They aren’t going anywhere, so Johns’ path too playing time lies elsewhere.
“I think his eventual position will be a 4-man, sort of a ‘4,’ ‘3,’ but you are who you can guard, and that’s where he is right now,” Beilein said. “I’m just trying to get him on the floor.”