Looking over the postgame notes from Saturday’s win over South Florida, numerous players tallied career-highs in various statistical categories. But it wasn’t your usual suspects, such as Dion Harris and Courtney Sims — it was Sherrod Harrell, Ashtyn Bell and Ron Coleman.

Brian Schick

For better or for worse, this will be a record-breaking season for the Wolverines.

I don’t want to keep beating the injury drum, but it’s definitely going to be the story of the season. Every player on the Michigan basketball team has seen his role on the team change, and Michigan coach Tommy Amaker is looking for everyone to take more responsibility. Guys who figured to be role players on the team now have to step up, and the remaining starters now have to carry the load.

Amaker has said on numerous occasions that he is proud of his team’s depth. Well, we’re getting a good look at Michigan’s bench, and chances are we’ll be seeing more of them as the season progresses. I take that back — I shouldn’t even call them bench players anymore, since they’re going to be the guys who will have to fill in for Daniel Horton and Lester Abram.

I applaud Amaker for recruiting players who want to stay for four years, as opposed to the growing number of players that support the “one-year-and-done” mentality. While it’s tough to recruit quality players to ride the pine for a few years, it seems that Michigan will need to start looking for players who won’t be just role-players anymore.

All that aside, the players don’t seem to think anything is different. Harrell doesn’t feel any of his teammates’ roles have changed, stating that he believes that players shouldn’t change their game, or that will have disastrous results.

Well, I’m not sure if I agree, but, if that’s what it takes to keep winning, I’ll accept that. I think they’re just trying to downplay the injury bug without admitting these players were “role-players” before. And even starters like Harris have a different role on this new team.

Harris saw his responsibility change last season as he moved off the bench into the starting lineup. Now he’s moved from being a second or third option behind Horton and Abram to being the go-to guy on this squad. He’s also assumed the duties of point guard, as well as being the floor leader and motivator. That’s asking a lot of a sophomore who has started just 20 games at Michigan.

“For me to run the point, I have to be active and have energy the entire time, no matter how good or how bad it’s going,” Harris said. “I just have to stay active and keep everybody energized, and that’s what I tried to do today.”

Harris has slowly stepped into the role of team leader pretty well. He might have notched the quietest 22-point game in Michigan history — despite shooting 6-for-17 from the floor.

Coleman has also quietly moved into a prominent position on the squad, going from playing single-digit minutes in his first few games to playing 39 minutes on Saturday. Not much was made of Coleman during the offseason, and more focus was on the high school players who didn’t commit to Michigan. But he has slowly improved from the beginning of the season, and it appears Amaker has rewarded him with more playing time.

“I just went out there,” Coleman said. “Coach told me to go out there and have fun and play hard and battle. And that’s just what I did. I was out on the court for a long time, but I just have to fight through it.”

Bell might be the one who has seen his situation on the team change the most dramatically. From being a walk-on and not making the team his freshman year, he played a career-high 10 minutes against the Bulls, defending their best guard, Brian Swift. Bell was also bitten by the injury bug, suffering a broken nose. He sported a Rip Hamilton-style facemask over the weekend. This was the first situation where he saw meaningful minutes and had the responsibility of attempting to slow down a South Florida comeback late in the second half.

Bell also mentioned that some teams that suffer injuries the way Michigan has could easily fold under the pressure and start losing games they shouldn’t. Up until this point, Michigan has managed to pull out wins against teams it was supposed to beat when the season started. The bigger tests loom on the horizon with a road trip to UCLA over winter break and the start of the Big Ten season in January. The outcome of these games will show if these players can adjust to their new roles — whether they will acknowledge them or not.

 

Brian Schick can be reached at bschick@umich.edu.

 

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