The Michigan basketball team’s best recruiting class since the Fab Five has arrived with plenty of fanfare, and though it will be a few weeks before fans get a taste of the newest product, Michigan Media Day offered some hints as to what the team could look like come November.
Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas headline the freshman class, which also includes Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert. With the Wolverines holding an open tryout for the last roster spot, Michigan could see six freshmen on its roster by the time Slippery Rock comes to Crisler Center for the season opener on Nov. 9.
“They’ve come in here and picked up the offense pretty quickly, even though the coaches are only showing a glimpse of what it will be,” said senior guard Josh Bartelstein. “You casually bring the offense in and just teach the basics right now. They can just start playing and not think about all the things they’ve got to do for now.”
Though the freshmen have strong pedigrees from their high school, prep school and AAU careers, the only firm indication of where any of them would figure into the offense was that Albrecht would be a backup point guard behind sophomore Trey Burke. The Crown Point, Ind. native is a welcome addition for Michigan coach John Beilein, as the Wolverines haven’t had a true point guard to back up the starter the last two seasons.
Robinson III, the 11th-ranked recruit in the country according to Rivals.com, indicated that he was seeing time at both the “3” and the “4,” though he’d also feel comfortable at the “2.” McGary — 30th-ranked recruit — said he was working out in the post and as a “4” away from the basket. Stauskas and LeVert have been spending time on the wings.
It isn’t just the talent level of the competition that takes getting used to, but also the lifestyle of a college basketball player.
“It’s a lot different coming from high school to here, but that’s something you have to get used to, and that’s another advantage of coming here during the summer,” Robinson III said. “I’m starting to get used to everything that’s going on, the schedule that we have to go through daily.”
With so many youngsters, there has to be someone around to show them how things are done.
After living with Zack Novak and Stu Douglass last year, Bartelstein said that he learned a lot about leadership and has taken clues for what to do and what not to do when teaching underclassmen about the culture at Michigan.
Beilein pointed out how junior forward Tim Hardaway Jr. has become more like Novak by making sure his voice is heard constantly throughout practice.
“There hasn’t been any pushback of, ‘Well I’m used to doing this, how come I have to do that now?’ ” Beilein said. “For example, ‘I was sort of open, the next guy was more open, why do I have to pass it to him when I have done this my whole life?’ They have just said, ‘Okay, if that’s what we do, that’s what we do.’ ”
Sometimes, the leadership is more position-specific.
The six-foot-ten McGary said redshirt junior Jordan Morgan and redshirt sophomore Jon Horford have taken him under his wing, and showed him some of the intricacies of post play.
“We had a great moment yesterday,” Beilein said. “We got done with practice, it was the end of our preseason and we had Josh Bartelstein, Corey Person and Eso Akunne — three guys that very rarely play — all had freshmen pulled out to the side saying ‘Okay, this is exactly what we’re just talking about, you can do this.’ It was really a good moment for me.”
Whereas the veterans are taking up the leadership void left by the graduation of Novak and Douglass, the freshmen will have to take up some of the responsibility for replacing the lost stats. With the departures of the two seniors, along with the transfer of forward Evan Smotrycz to Maryland, Michigan must find a way to replace nearly 24 points and 12 rebounds per game.
Robinson, McGary and Stauskas are expected to shoulder a good portion of that load.
Stauskas’s teammates spoke highly of his ability to shoot from outside, while Beilein said that he also has the versatility to take a defender off the dribble and get to a desired spot on the court.
But if Stauskas’s words hold true, there could be a lesser-known freshman making an impact — one who wasn’t added to the recruiting class until the 2011-12 season had been long over.
“The only surprise I’ve seen so far is Caris Levert. I had heard nothing about him coming in here, so I didn’t really know what his game was like, but he’s a heck of a player,” Stauskas said. “He’s a scorer. He can put the ball on the floor, he can shoot, he can pass. He’s super shifty. We actually compared him to Jamal Crawford, so you guys better watch out for him.”