For many student athletes, taking the leap to college represents much of the same, if just on a bigger stage with more responsibilities.
Wake up. Go to school. Go to practice. Complete homework. Eat a ridiculous amount of calories. Go to sleep. Repeat.
Very few incoming college athletes buck this trend in the time between their high school days and their fledgling college careers.
Franz Wagner is an exception.
After finishing high school early, the guard played a year of professional ball for Alba Berlin in Germany’s Bundesliga. Now, he’s back in a classroom, and the 6-foot-8 wing couldn’t be happier about it.
Any high school students reading this are almost certainly scratching their heads at the moment. How could someone ever possibly elect to go back to school, especially after getting a taste of a professional basketball player’s lifestyle?
For Wagner, the answer to that question comes in the form of all of the resources Michigan has to offer, including allowing him to become a more well-rounded human being. With the perspective of having played professional basketball, Wagner now appreciates a life that does not solely focus on the sport.
“(Last year) I played the whole year of basketball, and I felt like it was really for the first couple of months, and I enjoyed it,” Wagner said. “Not having to go to school because I finished high school a year early, and that was really cool for the first couple of months. But after a certain period of time, you feel like, at least I felt like, I needed something more. And that’s part of why I came here.”
As a college freshman, Wagner enjoys spending time in the dorms and meeting new people who are not enmeshed in the world of basketball. He’s embracing his classes as well as expanding on his hobbies which include keeping up with politics and the media.
It shows a wisdom beyond his years to recognize a desire to develop a well-rounded personality after having tasted life as a professional — an experience that will perhaps lend itself handily to his play on the court as well.
Coming in as a highly-touted freshman accompanied by a metric boatload of praise, many in the program are turning to Wagner to fill the void left by last season’s top offensive weapons in Jordan Poole, Ignas Brazdeikis and Charles Matthews.
The wing’s basketball IQ, passing ability, length and defensive ability have excited many around Crisler Center, which makes the news of his recent injury so devastating for the program. Wagner fractured his wrist and will now miss the next four to six weeks.
It’s a crucial blow for the Wolverines early in what’s sure-to-be a transformative season, but once Wagner steps back into the lineup, his talents will shine through. At least, that’s what associate coach Phil Martelli believes.
“I would just suggest that if anybody’s on the fence, if there are tickets available, get your tickets,” Martelli said, “because you’re gonna want to see this kid play. He’s a guy that you come to practice every day and you leave and you just scratch your head. To be that age, to be that cerebral, to be that pure.
“And it’s subtle. It’s like, how did he know to defend there? How did he know to go with the right hand? He’s, and I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on him, but he’s rain man. He’s a rain man in basketball. He’s a savant.”
With such high praise and professional playing experience already under his belt, it’s no wonder the freshman will play at the next level again one day. Whether it be in the NBA like his brother, former Michigan standout Moe Wagner, or back overseas, Franz Wagner will be a professional basketball player.
So, why come to college in the states at all? Surely learning the American game as opposed to the European style played a role in the decision, but Wagner strongly asserts that becoming more well-rounded is a priority at this point in his life.
“I came here for a reason, and it’s not just to play basketball at this time,” Wagner said. “I really want to make the most of my time here. I don’t want to think too much about the future and stuff like that, I want to live in the now right now, and I think that’s the only way to get better, really. If you think too much about the future, it’s not gonna help you.”