DETROIT — While talent on the Michigan men’s basketball roster has come and gone, one trend has remained constant: The 22nd-ranked Wolverines have found an effective outlet for production in veteran transfer guards.
Since Michigan coach Juwan Howard arrived in Ann Arbor, the addition of transfer guards has been a significant element to compiling his teams. Last season, DeVante’ Jones proved to be a vital asset, the year before that Mike Smith served as an experienced leader, and this year, Jaelin Llewellyn has an opportunity to bolster that void.
With the departure of a stalwart backcourt in Jones and Eli Brooks, there was missing leadership coming into this season. On Friday, Llewellyn showed a glimpse of how he can help fill that vacancy.
“(Jaelin’s leadership) is very important,” junior forward Terrance Williams II said. “He’s our point guard, coach expects a lot out of him and he’s played a lot of minutes at Princeton as well. So he has valuable experience coming here as a transfer.”
Against Eastern Michigan, Llewellyn tallied 12 points, three assists and five rebounds over the course of 29 minutes. In that time, he flashed the potential that his experience and veteran stature can bring to the Wolverines.
Down the stretch of Michigan’s neck-and-neck battle with the Eagles, his high ceiling was especially apparent. He proved he was a threat with the ball by driving to the basket, scoring seven points in the final three minutes of play and hitting clutch free throws to seal the game.
Playing in front of over 14,000 fans in Little Caesars Arena is a big step up from Princeton’s Jadwin Gymnasium, which, at times, saw fewer than 100 fans in the stands. It was a challenge that Llewellyn didn’t shy away from.
“I’m just proud of how he had those clutch free throws at the end,” junior center Hunter Dickinson said. “He went a stretch without really shooting it, but we all look for him to lead the team and run the team as the point guard.”
Those stretches where Llewellyn didn’t shoot display that there’s still room for improvement. As his role in the Wolverines’ rotation expands, his ability to contribute consistently for the entire game may serve as a key factor in Michigan’s success.
Entering Friday’s game, that concept was clear. And after he stepped up late in the game, the sentiment of his important role grew. That showed on the statsheet, but beyond that, it stemmed from everything else he brings to the court that can’t be quantified.
For almost the entire game, the Wolverines and Eastern Michigan remained locked in a back-and-forth battle, neither team able to pull away. That was, until the final five minutes of the game, when Michigan began to gain traction. A main source of that shift was Llewellyn.
“I’m just really proud of him, the way he was able to lead the team out there and just continue to play even though sometimes his number isn’t called consistently,” Dickinson said. “Sometimes it comes and goes, but just staying the course and always being ready was really big for us.”
As Llewellyn sunk two free throws with 55 seconds left, pushing the Wolverines’ lead to a two-possession game, he illustrated the leadership he’s capable of filling.
Llewellyn joins a long line of veteran transfer guards, and with that, he has big shoes to fill. On Friday, his ability to step into that role was evident. Now, Llewellyn needs to prove that he’s capable of doing so for the whole game.