In the 2016-17 season, the Michigan men’s basketball team reaped the benefits of breakout campaigns from sophomore forward Moritz Wagner and redshirt sophomore forward D.J. Wilson.
The pair of big men teamed up to punish opponents on both ends of the floor in a year that saw the Wolverines capture their first Big Ten Tournament title since 1998, claim a 2K Classic championship and advance to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.
With two years of eligibility remaining at Michigan, both Wilson and Wagner entered the NBA draft in April, having garnered significant interest at the next level. But they elected not to hire agents in order to preserve their college eligibility if they decided not to leave the Wolverines.
Ahead of Wednesday’s 11:59 p.m. deadline for withdrawing their names from the draft or foregoing their remaining two years, the duo has chosen to go their separate ways, as Wagner announced his return to Michigan for the 2017-18 season and Wilson announced his intention to remain in the draft.
Thirteen hours before the deadline, Wagner announced he would be coming back next season.
“I gained a great deal of confidence from this process and I have a clearer picture of what I need to do in order to fulfill my dreams of playing professionally in the NBA,” Wagner said. “Michigan is where I need to be right now, and I am really excited about coming back. I learned a lot about myself and my game at the (NBA) combine. I feel like I still have a lot to prove on this level and cannot wait to compete with my brothers for another ring.”
Three hours later, Wilson released a statement to confirm he would stay in the draft and end his college career.
“This was not an easy decision, however, I have thought long about the next step in my career over the last few months,” Wilson said. “After many prayers and discussions with my mom, Coach Beilein and the staff, it is the right time for me to pursue my dream of playing in the NBA.
“I am confident I have the drive, work ethic and maturity for this next step. It’s never going to be easy, but if I have learned anything at Michigan, perseverance pays off. It has truly been a blessing to have had the opportunity to attend Michigan, and I will forever be grateful to Coach Beilein and his staff for taking the chance on me. There are so many memories over the past three years that I will always cherish. I will be a Wolverine at heart forever. Go Blue!”
The two big men formed a formidable tandem last season, as Wagner emerged as a potent offensive threat and Wilson as a powerful defensive force.
Wagner averaged 12.1 points per game with a 39.5 shooting percentage from beyond the arc, posting five games of 20-plus points en route to an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection. Wilson led the team with 203 total rebounds, becoming the first Wolverine to record 200-plus boards since Mitch McGary in 2012-13, and 57 blocks, the most in nine seasons for Michigan.
Throughout the draft process, including participating in the NBA combine in Chicago from May 9-14, Wilson and Wagner received a wide variety of projections. According to Michigan coach John Beilein, Wagner learned that he needed more time to develop at the college level.
“Moe had an extraordinary experience with this process, one that opened his eyes to what he needs to do next for his development,” Beilein said. “Moe loves Michigan, and he is excited about becoming a leader on next year’s team. His incredible personality and enthusiastic demeanor is a great plus for this team and his brilliant future. We are so pleased to be part of that and his journey moving forward.”
Meanwhile, Beilein said Wilson learned that he had enough reason to turn professional.
“D.J. and our coaching staff worked very hard over the last month to get as much information as possible on his draft status,” Beilein said, “Given the data and insight we received, D.J. is confident he is ready to take the next step in his basketball career. We love D.J. and he will always be a Michigan Wolverine. His development over the past three seasons, and particularly this past season, was phenomenal.
“With continued work, he shows great potential to improve in a similar manner in the NBA. We wish him and his family the very best and we will always be rooting for him during this draft process and for all the years to come.”
The news comes a day after Michigan announced that guard Jaaron Simmons, an All-Mid-American Conference first team selection at Ohio University, will join the Wolverines next season as a graduate transfer. Michigan will benefit from his veteran presence after losing forward Mark Donnal and guard Andrew Dakich as graduate transfers to Clemson and Quinnipiac University, respectively.
Though the Wolverines will face the heavy burden of replacing Wilson next year, the return of Wagner, as well as the addition of Simmons, will undoubtedly soften the blow.