On Friday, as a part of the Michigan men’s basketball team’s Media Day, reporters were allowed to watch a portion of the Wolverines’ practice. Here are four takeaways from what we saw:
Joey Baker is on the mend
The graduate guard transfer from Duke wasn’t practicing today, but not because he’s unhealthy. Baker underwent hip surgery at the end of last season, missing the Blue Devils’ four NCAA tournament games.
After taking his year of Covid-19 eligibility, Baker transferred to Michigan as a highly-touted outside shooter. And the Wolverines are taking no chances with another injury.
“Well, because we’ve had pretty much four days in a row of practice, I just wanted to give him a day off just to rest” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “ … But I don’t want to break him down. Nor do I want a big flare up. But just want to give him a nice little ‘pitch count’ as we head into November.
Despite not taking part in practice, Baker was shooting in warmups and his status as a top outside shooter has followed him to Michigan. He could be found all over the floor in warmups, taking deep shots, and making them consistently. Baker’s form is fluid and graceful. And if he lives up to the hype, Baker could be just what the Wolverines need after losing last season’s top 3-point shooter, Caleb Houstan, to the NBA and another dependable option in Eli Brooks.
Jaelin Llewellyn might be the answer
The other graduate transfer Michigan nabbed in the off season, guard Jaelin Llewellyn, seems to be another great find for the Wolverines. Transferring from Princeton, Llewellyn has quickly had to become adjusted to a Power Five offensive scheme. But according to his coaches, he has had no problems acclimating.
“Llewellyn is really like an elder statesman,” Michigan assistant coach Phil Martelli said. “He’s been through so much. He’s a Princeton grad, and is quiet, but he’s a good player.”
The main focus for Llewellyn has been the pick and roll offense that the Wolverines like to play. Just the second drill of practice was based on this offensive scheme, and Llewellyn was at the forefront of the drill.
Dribbling down from half-court, Llewellyn accepted screens from junior center Hunter Dickinson or freshman wing Youssef Khayat and fired passes all around the floor to open players. Whether it was connecting with Dickinson on the roll, or finding junior guard Jace Howard in the corner, it’s clear that Llewellyn can be the playmaker the Wolverines need him to be.
Dickinson looks better than ever
After declaring for the draft but electing to return to Michigan for his junior year, all eyes are on Dickison at the start of this season. But for a player who has dominated his competition for two seasons, questions abound about his ability to improve and how far his ceiling can go.
But rest assured, Dickinson looks good. Like, really good. Whether commanding the post or talking to his teammates in a more vocal role, it’s clear Dickinson is the leader Michigan needs. Without a single true senior on the team, Dickinson — one of only three juniors on the team and the only returning starter — is not only an integral part of the Wolverines’ play on the court, but their team building off the court, too.
“This year I challenged (Dickinson) this summer,” Howard said. “I said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna need your leadership’, and he accepted that role and he’s been more vocal, knowing that he doesn’t have an Eli (Brooks) he can rely on.”
Dickinson’s moves in the post were crisp and savvy, and his outside shooting looked solid. His on-court awareness is clearly an asset. Expect to see the same consistent improvement between freshman to sophomore year Dickinson in his junior year.
The puzzle pieces might be clicking
With nine new players on the roster, including five freshman and two graduate transfers, nobody seems to know what to make of Michigan this year. Concerns have been raised about how all of the puzzle pieces are going to fit together. Are Llewellyn and Baker going to fit into the Wolverines’ offensive scheme? Are the five freshmen going to have the impact Howard touts them having? Is it all going to work?
While most of that remains to be seen, it’s clear that the players have formed real connections in the short time that most of them have known each other. Every one of them mentioned how easily Llewellyn and Baker have fit into the team dynamic, and the improvements they’ve already seen.
“It’s been amazing,” sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin said. “Obviously two guys, (Llewellyn and Baker), that are very experienced on this college level, so they’ve been a real big help to this team.”
Redshirt freshman forward Will Tschetter echoed a similar sentiment.
“It’s been great,” Tschetter said. “I feel like they’re both gonna bring a sense of experience. Veteran leadership that we may be missing compared to other teams. It’s been great, they’re great dudes. I love playing with both of them.”
And at practice, whether joking around or communicating about drills, it was clear each player has a respect for one another necessary for the foundation of building a season the Wolverines can be proud of.