PARADISE ISLAND, The Bahamas — Moritz Wagner started to talk, Derrick Walton Jr. started to giggle, and a reporter asked what was so funny.
“Just listening to him talk,” Walton replied.
Wagner, a freshman forward from Berlin, Germany, nodded in agreement, not minding that his teammate still finds his German accent amusing.
“It’s mean,” Wagner said happily.
Smiles and laughs were the order of the night for Michigan on Thursday. Wagner came into his own during the Wolverines’ 102-47 win over Charlotte, scoring 19 points in just 16 minutes. It was a career high in scoring for Wagner, who had tallied just four points so far this season.
Among his highlights: He backed down Benas Griciunas, a 7-foot Lithuanian, and finished at the rim with a reverse layup. He made a 3-pointer late in the first half and finished with a tip-in at the rim minutes later to give Michigan a 44-22 lead entering intermission. He went 8-for-9 from the field on the night, missing only once — a dunk attempt during which two defenders met him at the rim.
It was Wagner’s second straight night as Michigan’s first big man off the bench, but this performance firmly entrenched him as the Wolverines’ second option at the ‘5’ spot, behind sophomore Ricky Doyle.
“When I watching all his European film, I could see him being in the right place (on the court) a lot,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “That, believe it or not, is not easy for some people.”
Neither is “making tough catches in small spaces,” Beilein continued, and neither is finishing around the rim the way Wagner did against the 49ers.
Beilein then reiterated a point he’s made throughout the young season: There are plenty of moments during which Wagner will seem awkward and overmatched on the court. But there are plenty more that will elicit a ‘wow’ reaction from fans, teammates and coaches alike.
Wagner, the team’s lone scholarship freshman, had his work cut out for him when he arrived in Ann Arbor in June. Since then, he’s added 20 pounds of muscle and jumped two players — junior Mark Donnal and redshirt freshman D.J. Wilson — on Michigan’s depth chart.
Now he’s playing at a high-profile tournament at a resort in The Bahamas, pacing a Big Ten team in scoring despite playing less than half of the game.
“Sometimes I wake up and think it’s a dream,” Wagner said of the whirlwind. “In Germany, it’s a different world. Being here, that was kind of a dream for me to play NCAA basketball, and now I see myself on the court, and I actually can contribute to the team.
“That’s awesome for me to be here in The Bahamas. When I FaceTime with my parents, my family, I kind of get back to reality. It’s unbelievable. I probably will realize it after my college career — how great that is.”
Wagner didn’t mind that Walton still finds his accent amusing, and the 18-year-old more than held his own in his first appearance at a postgame NCAA press conference. Asked to evaluate his performance, he didn’t focus on the 19 points.
Instead, he touched on his performance on the glass — he finished with zero rebounds — and his need to improve on defense.
The brief moments of awkwardness are still there, too, and Wagner’s night actually began on a sour note. For a brief moment in the first half, Walton became visibly upset with him after a miscommunication down low resulted in an unforced turnover.
“It was a slow break, and I saw him at the last minute,” Walton said. “I tried to drop it to him late, and he wasn’t looking. How Moe is, he just smiled and said he’s got me next time.”
Nineteen points, a pair of blocks and a funny accent? Wagner did more than enough to earn his forgiveness.