Michigan coach John Beilein demonstrated technique to a visiting coach while the Wolverines warmed up before a timed mile yesterday afternoon. As he positioned his legs and held out his arms, it was clear what he’s trying to do this year.

Chris Herring

Teach basketball – his basketball.

A little more than two hours before, Beilein addressed the press during Michigan Media Day. In stark contrast to the proclamation former Michigan coach Tommy Amaker made at the same event last year – “It’s no secret that the next step for us is to make the NCAA Tournament” – Beilein didn’t set any specific goals for his team. Rather, he said he’d just like to see improvement every day.

“Just focus small and dream big,” Beilein said. “Let’s get it done today and the long run will take care of itself.”

In addition to learning Beilein’s system, the Wolverines – who haven’t made the NCAA Tournament in nine seasons – have plenty of obstacles this season.

Michigan lost its top four scorers from a year ago and previously committed Alex Legion (’s No. 43 recruit in the class of 2007) defected to Kentucky.

In non-conference play, the Wolverines host Boston College and UCLA and travel to Georgetown, Duke and the Great Alaska Shootout, where they’ll face Butler in the first round. They also have to deal with a longer Big Ten schedule, up from 16 to 18 games.

Michigan’s roster features just one senior, Ron Coleman. And Jerret Smith is the only junior who averaged more than two points per game last year.

With the deck stacked against them, expectations are lower this year. A repeat of last season’s trip to the second round of the National Invitational Tournament wouldn’t be a disappointment.

Just the new atmosphere under Beilein has brought new energy to the program, a sharp contrast to the tense situation coming into last year.

A defensive Amaker spent much of his opening press conference last season explaining his decision to go from a tri-captaincy to a single captain. The incident surrounded a team that had underachieved on the court with more controversy.

Redshirt sophomore Kendric Price said the team was too focused on making the NCAA Tournament last year and it turned into a distraction. Others agreed.

“We all came here to make the tournament and hang up banners,” Smith said. “We haven’t hung up one yet. So it’s very frustrating to know that you haven’t made it nowhere in two years.”

This year, the mood is lighter. There was no hostility during the coach’s press conference. The players, dressed casually in polo shirts and jeans – a departure from wearing full uniforms – were looser and more open than last year.

And that mood carried over to the track following the day’s media event, where the players joked before and during stretches.

After the timed mile, in which smaller players had the target of 5:30 and bigger players had a slightly longer cushion, Beilein encouraged everybody, especially those who fell short of their goal.

The Wolverines are making progress, but they have too far to go to do an all-out sprint. Still, as Beilein enthusiastically pointed out, a 5:45 mile is a pretty good time.

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