With nine newcomers on the Michigan men’s basketball team, it would be easy to write off the team and discount the fresh faces. But, expectations remain high for the Wolverines after earning a preseason No. 23 ranking, and the freshmen won’t be immune from the pressure of that projection.
Freshman guard Dug McDaniel is up to that task.
As one of five freshmen on a roster full of turnover, McDaniel isn’t your typical first-year player. As a four-star recruit out of the DMV area, McDaniel has already received high praise.
When asked at Big Ten Media Days on Oct. 14 about a potential sleeper on the team, Michigan coach Juwan Howard didn’t hesitate.
“Dougie McDaniel is going to be special,” Howard said.
Howard praised McDaniel’s competitive edge and great basketball instincts while conceding that as a freshman the young guard is going to make mistakes as he adjusts to the college game.
“That kid right there is going to be someone that everyone needs to like grab a seat belt and strap in,” Howard said at Big Ten Media Days. “He’s going to do some things out there on the floor, and you’re going be like ‘wow.’ ”
Hailing from the DMV — a hotbed of college basketball talent that produced junior center Hunter Dickinson and junior forward Terrence Williams II — McDaniel got a preview of the highly competitive atmosphere he will run into at Michigan. McDaniel already proved to be up to the test during Michigan’s trip overseas, where he fared well against professional, European competition.
Coming in as a highly-rated recruit, McDaniel can learn a thing or two from Dickinson on carving out his role as a freshman. McDaniel grew accustomed to being the No. 1 option in high school, averaging 17.6 points per game as a senior. Nevertheless, the freshman will most likely start the season coming off the bench.
Still, McDaniel is joining a thin backcourt that likely necessitates a lot of playing time for the freshman. It is unclear right now what his role will be, but paired alongside graduate transfer guard Jaelin Llewellyn and sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin, the trio has already meshed well.
“(The three of us) bonded very well together,” McDaniel said at Michigan Media Day on Friday. “Me and Jaelin always get along. We have a very bonded group. We just learn from each other. There’s certain things that they see while I’m out there. They told me or vice versa. I told him what I see. So we’re very connected.”
Standing at 5-foot-11, McDaniel will force the Wolverines to go small in the rotation. Pairing him up with Llewellyn, another undersized guard, would cause trepidation for some coaches. But not for Howard, as McDaniel’s skill set already speaks for itself in earning big minutes on the floor.
Self-aware as an undersized freshman, McDaniel isn’t shying away from making his mark and setting his own expectations higher than one might expect.
“I feel like my personal goal is to make myself known,” McDaniel said at Michigan Media Day. “My presence is going to make people doubt me, but just making myself a presence is a big thing and letting them know I’m here.”
There may be doubt, but, rest assured, McDaniel will see the court quickly. McDaniel’s skills necessitate it, but so does Michigan’s thin backcourt. Llewellyn, Bufkin, and McDaniel comprise an almost entirely new rotation for the Wolverines. The group’s on-court chemistry will be tested early, but Howard already has trust in the group — especially in McDaniel.
That only adds to his confidence.
“(The praise) means a lot to me,” McDaniel said at Michigan Media Day. “Especially being a freshman. Some freshmen may think ‘Oh, I’m not going to play a lot because I’m a freshman.’ But just having the confidence and that trust in me early lets me know I have nothing to worry about.”
Outsiders might be worried about Michigan’s roster turnover and thin backcourt. But with McDaniel there, those questions shouldn’t last long.