By quickly scanning the Michigan men’s basketball team’s roster, one might notice a couple things. Yes, there are 12 underclassmen on the team. Correct, Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht are the only juniors.
And lastly, forward Max Bielfeldt is the lone senior on the squad. However, until mid-July, that wasn’t true.
It wasn’t until July 17 that Bielfeldt and Michigan coach John Beilein decided to change his classification from a redshirt junior to a senior, opening up another roster spot in the 2015 recruiting class.
“We had a meeting and he said, ‘We’re going to list you as a senior,’ ” Bielfeldt said. “I was fine with it. I’m just looking to have the best year I can.”
For Bielfeldt, this season represents his best opportunity to play a pivotal role for the Wolverines.
After taking a redshirt in the 2011-12 season, Bielfeldt played in 20 games the next season, tallying 23 points and 31 rebounds total in 5.3 minutes per game. For a while in the 2013-14 season, it was thought Bielfeldt’s minutes could increase after former Wolverine forward Mitch McGary had season-ending back surgery, but that didn’t hold true.
Instead, Bielfeldt played just 89 minutes, usually only when Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford got into foul trouble — such as in the Big Ten Tournament Championship game against Michigan State and during the second half of Michigan’s Elite Eight game against Kentucky.
But a door opened for Bielfeldt when McGary declared for the NBA Draft, Morgan graduated and Horford transferred to Florida. He would be the lone big man with collegiate experience coming back to Michigan.
With such a major opportunity for minutes, this season represented the chance to show what he had left, while competing with redshirt freshman Mark Donnal and incoming freshmen Ricky Doyle and D.J. Wilson.
However, before competition could even start, Bielfeldt underwent hip surgery in early June that kept him out for the team’s four-game Italy trip in August. While the operation and opportunity to play in Italy could have been seen as a setback, Bielfeldt said it felt it would help in the long run — especially in terms of improving his leadership and health.
“I’ve kind of been struggling with the whole hip (and) knee issue for my college years here,” he said. “And I felt I could finally benefit more from getting that surgery done. This summer, it was a little weird, because the guys were doing the Italy trip stuff and I was there doing senior support. So I had a little different role.
“But overall, I think it was a great idea. I’m feeling great. I’m just working on getting my explosiveness back, like the speed I had before. I know the ceiling’s higher. I can feel when I’m doing stuff that I have more of an ability to keep working hard.”
Bielfeldt isn’t alone in his progression and confidence. Beilein said at the team’s awards banquet in April that Big Ten opponents were going to learn “nobody can guard” Bielfeldt.
Hyperbolic or not, Bielfeldt believes now that he is 100-percent healthy, he can make a significant difference on the court.
“I think I have the opportunity to (have my most impactful year),” he said. “I think the door’s open with my health, along with the guys we have and my position as a leader.”
Though Bielfeldt said he will contribute more than ever on the court in his final season at Michigan, he knows for certain the impact he has off the court on his new teammates is as important.
“We have a lot of guys that need advice,” he said. “As a person that’s been through it, from academics to athletics or anything, I think me and the other upperclassmen are just trying to advise them as much as possible because we have a lot of young souls that really have no idea what it takes to be a college student-athlete.”