David DeJulius took the court at Crisler with his first real opportunity all season.
Junior guard Zavier Simpson needed a spell in the Michigan men’s basketball team’s game against Maryland on Saturday, and DeJulius was the first guard off the bench. He played just 40 seconds before subbing out, but with six-and-a-half minutes left in the first half, the freshman re-entered after Simpson got his second foul. He hit a layup and nabbed a steal two possessions later. He was in for four minutes this time, only coming out after missing a 3-pointer with 1:20 left.
It seems like a mundane accomplishment. But for much of the season, DeJulius was a little-used option, spotted mostly in long-decided games against the likes of George Washington, Chattanooga and Air Force. Entering when it was still anyone’s game, against a ranked conference team, as the first guard off the bench, is a far cry from garbage time. And afterward, Michigan coach John Beilein — not usually very forthcoming about playing time — hinted there may be more where that came from.
“It was a great layup,” Beilein said. “ … He’s been playing really well and we just said, you know what? We can use (sophomore guard Eli Brooks) in some ways, but it’s time for David right now to back up (Simpson).”
It was simultaneously a compliment of DeJulius and an indictment of Brooks. Halfway through the first period, Brooks had nothing but space in front of him and took what should have been an easy, uncontested jumper. It clanked off the front of the rim, the kind of shot of someone who’s lacking in confidence, who’s seemed hesitant to take a shot for the better part of the season.
But Beilein doesn’t just play freshmen in games like this. As he’s reiterated throughout the season, they have to earn it. DeJulius, it seems, has finally done so.
“I think Dave did a great job of coming in and relieving (Simpson) when he got in foul trouble,” said sophomore forward Isaiah Livers. “Even when he had that left-to-right crossover, it kinda mimicked Zavier Simpson’s little hook, but it was a strong finish.”
This isn’t the first time Beilein has teased more playing time for freshmen. The previous times, it was only to go back to the tight seven-man rotation he’s used all year. But with more depth needed as the Wolverines approach the home stretch in Big Ten play and Brooks struggling, the time may have finally come for DeJulius to get his shot.
“He played great, played great defense, knocked down a little three o’clock (layup),” Simpson said. “We just need that sense of urgency if there’s an injury off the bench. I was happy to see him come in and just be vicious and demonstrate what he can bring to this team.”