CLEVELAND — If there was one thing that separated former Michigan coach John Beilein from the rest of the pack at the collegiate level, it was his ability to teach and develop his players — the same quality that made him the clear frontrunner for the Cleveland Cavaliers head coaching job last week.
Beilein’s reputation as someone who could extract the most out of each and every one of his players was something Cavaliers’ general manager Koby Altman said he looked for, in addition to the common qualities he considered to be in a great head coach: culture driver, leader, innovator and communicator.
“Coach Beilein checked all (the) boxes to the point where, after our initial meeting, some of my guys were looking at us like, ‘What are we doing here? This is our guy,’” Altman said. “On top of that, just his incredible track record in player development.”
Known as someone who treasures the opportunity to watch his players grow, Beilein was often unable to keep players for longer than a couple years due to their tendencies to depart for the pros after spending a short time in college. As a result, he preached on how he recruited players who didn’t treat college simply as another stop between making it to the NBA.
With Cleveland, Beilein can capitalize on player retention for years to come — a luxury that was scarce to come by with his previous jobs.
Rather than worrying about whether a player will make the jump to the professional level after one breakout year, he can focus on continuous development. Perhaps an even greater incentive is that he can spend the offseason with the current roster rather than going out to find new recruits like he was forced to do so in the collegiate scene.
“When you have a kid that is a freshman and is a very good player and you only get him one year, I’m back to coaching junior college again, so it is nice,” Beilein said. “The relationships that I have with the Duncan Robinson’s and even (Moritz Wagner) for three years and Muhammad-Ali (Abdur-Rakhman) and Jordan Morgan, those guys, Caris LeVert was four years, those are special relationships. But you don’t have enough of it when (players) leave so early.”
Beilein thinks that Cleveland boasts some of the best young talent in the league. With point guard Collin Sexton at the helm accompanied by a plethora of weapons who also have significant room to grow, Beilein noted that he would not only have the privilege of helping these players achieve their goals, but he would get to stick around them for more than just one or two years.
The learning experience doesn’t just stop with the youth of the team. Though many players develop the most during college as well as their first few years in the league, Beilein will finally get the chance to teach players much older than those in college, something he’s never done before.
“You never stop learning,” Beilein said. “You never stop getting better and that will be even with our veteran players. We’ll still be working at the little things, the skill-level things, because you got to keep evolving in this game. But if things continue, I think it’s (2021), no one-and-done, they’re gonna be the same players pretty soon that we’ve been developing.”
And as far as Beilein’s tenure with the Cavaliers simply being a short-lived rebuild similar to those of recent Cleveland coaches, he quickly put that notion to rest.
“We’re gonna take our time here. We’re gonna put no labels, we’re gonna put no limits on this team. We’re just going to do our best every day. I’m a huge growth mindset guy, that every day, we’re just gonna grow a little bit more.”