As the Michigan men’s basketball team gathered with family and friends to celebrate the past season, two of its players were looking forward to an exciting, yet uncertain future.
Sophomore forward Moritz Wagner and redshirt sophomore forward DJ Wilson both declared for the NBA Draft on Monday. But both players opted to do so without hiring agents, leaving the door open for a possible return to Ann Arbor for the 2017-18 season.
In the weeks that followed the Wolverines’ Sweet 16 loss to Oregon, Wagner and Wilson spoke with family, the Michigan coaching staff and consulted with reports from the NBA Advisory Committee to make an informed decision on their respective futures.
“After we got all the facts — we got great input from the Advisory Committee — and they looked at those facts and I encouraged them to look at this aggressively and go after it,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Don’t go into this if you’re not going after it all.”
Beilein has yet to have an underclassmen declare for the draft since the new rules were established two seasons ago. They allow younger players to ‘test the waters’ and go through the NBA Draft Combine, interviews and workouts before making a final decision to go pro. So the process Wilson and Wagner will be going through the next couple months is just as new to Beilein as it is to his two players.
“It’s so new to so many different people,” Beilein said. “Everybody’s learning, because it’s like a game. You throw a game up and are they zone? Are they man? Are they pressing? Are they not? Are they overplaying? Are they not? And it’s the same thing we deal with when we talk about their futures.”
Just like preparing for any game, Wilson and Wagner will be treating the draft process the same way — working out regularly, checking the tape and gathering any information out there — despite the different end goal.
Beilein says he believes both forwards will receive invites to next month’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, and that will be the greatest source of information for both of them as they make the decision.
The final deadline to pull out of the draft is May 24, and neither Wilson nor Wagner have any idea if it will take that long for them to make the final commitment to stay or go.
As for how events will transpire between now and the deadline, Wilson and Wagner seem to have different approaches on how they each attack the draft process.
Wilson said he started thinking about his potential NBA prospects as early as the beginning of the season, when coaches began to instill the confidence in him that with a breakout season, he could get on some teams’ radars.
Within the past few weeks, Wilson has reached out to the likes of Marquese Chriss, Kelly Oubre Jr., Stanley Johnson and Ben Gordon about the draft process and life in the NBA.
Based on early feedback and the conversations he has had with coaches and current NBA players, Wilson realizes at this point he should be focused on working out and improving all areas of his game, rather than focusing on just his strengths or weaknesses.
“I think it’s just working on my overall game, working on everything,” Wilson said on where he’s looking to focus on improving in the coming weeks. “I can get better in all facets of the game, so there’s not really one particular area where I’m gonna key in on more.”
As for Wagner, his focus has been much narrower, as he’s only recognized himself as a viable prospect for a few weeks now, unlike Wilson.
“As a basketball player, you don’t think that far (ahead),” Wagner said. “You’re not successful if you don’t focus on the next thing. I’ll focus on preparing for the workout and for the combine and then we’ll see.”
Wagner has talked to former Michigan guard Caris LeVert and some other individuals he knows back from when he played in Germany. He says that from what he’s learned, moving onto the NBA will be nothing like what he’s experienced in Ann Arbor the past two years and completely different from the experiences he went through playing for his professional club — ALBA Berlin — through his prep days in Germany.
The sophomore has also been planning for the summer as if he’s staying at Michigan. Wagner believes he’s going to attend summer workouts in Ann Arbor and enroll in spring-term classes.
Neither Wilson nor Wagner will commit to saying if they’re leaning one way or another in terms of staying or leaving. Right now, the pair is focused on learning as much as they can about how well their games can carry over to the next level and if they personally are ready to bear the responsibility of NBA life.
While it may be agonizing for others waiting for their decision, Wilson and Wagner are taking solace in knowing they have time to make what could be the biggest decision of their lives, and are confident whatever way they choose to go will be the best choice for them.
“I have no idea what I’m going to do,” Wilson said. “As of right now, I’m a Michigan Wolverine. Ask me in a few weeks and that might be different. But right now, I don’t know.”