After a productive offseason, Bufkin is ready to be a leader for the Michigan men's basketball team. Kate Hua/Daily. Buy this photo.

After a turbulent offseason, with more roster turnover than expected, the Michigan men’s basketball team must address a pressing question:

Who will step up?

With guards Eli Brooks and DeVante’ Jones graduating, forwards Moussa Diabate and Caleb Houstan entering the NBA and sophomore guard Frankie Collins — whom many assumed would become the Wolverines’ primary ball-handler —  transferring, Michigan’s roster lacks both leadership and experience. 

While the Wolverines expect an influx of talent from their eighth-ranked recruiting class and incoming transfers Jaelin Llewellyn and Joey Baker, they need more than just fresh talent; they need a leader in the backcourt. 

And this offseason, sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin put in the work to fill that role.

“One guy that I think everybody on the team and the coaching staff is definitely expecting to make a big leap is Kobe,” junior center Hunter Dickinson said in an interview with 247 Sports in May. “You can see the potential that he has, the skill set, everything like that. He’s got it all, I think it’s just a matter of him putting it together.”

Bufkin’s potential has always been apparent, but numerous challenges precluded him from living up to those expectations in his freshman year. He was the youngest on the team, turning 18 just a month before the season-opener, he was not as adept as the veteran guards, who used their extra COVID-19 eligibility year and he was small, weighing 175 lbs. despite standing at 6-foot-4. 

But after spending the offseason in Ann Arbor and working closely with Michigan strength coach Jon Sanderson, Bufkin has remedied those deficiencies, adding 20 pounds. 

“(Bufkin’s) put on pounds of muscle,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said on Aug. 11. “But the extra pounds of muscle … is lean muscle where it cannot prohibit him from being faster, quicker, athletic.”

In addition to his elevated physical strength, Bufkin has shown a work ethic fitting of a leader. This summer, the extensive time he spent on the court and in the weight room wasn’t to maintain Howard’s approval or meet stipulations; Bufkin’s drive can be attributed to one source: 


“He’s been like — which I’ve always known — a gym rat,” Howard said. “But he does it when it makes sense. … We can always come in and get work in and say ‘hey, check the box, I’m here, I’m here coach.’ Kobe is like, ‘I’m gonna get better, I need to get better, I need to be stronger.’ ”

Last season, with Brooks and Jones filling the backcourt and Collins being the primary option off the bench, Bufkin’s opportunities were restricted. 

However, despite averaging just three points in 10.6 minutes per game last season, Bufkin’s drastic jump in physical capabilities figures to yield a surge in his production.

“I notice (the strength improvements) every time I play basketball now,” Bufkin said on the Defend the Block podcast in July. “I put on nearly 20, 25 pounds since I’ve been here at the beginning of my freshman year, a lot of that being from this spring. I notice a difference every time I step on the court.”

Bufkin’s offseason training focused on shaping him into a strong two-way player, a role Michigan needs someone to fill. With his now-elevated physical abilities, Bufkin has the prowess needed to insert himself into that position.

Through his diligent work ethic, Bufkin has positioned himself to take on a bigger role. And as he does so, he can show that he brings more than just potential to Michigan. 

“It’s nice to see a young man who is not coach driven,” Howard said. “This is Kobe driven.”