Following every win, Michigan coach John Beilein nominates one player to lead the team in ‘The Victors.’ Wednesday night, at the conclusion of the 2013-14 Michigan men’s basketball team banquet, fifth-year senior forward Jordan Morgan was asked to lead the team in the fight song for one final time inside Crisler Center.
A little more than an hour earlier, while addressing the audience, Morgan’s speech lasted a mere 20 seconds before he began to cry, just as he had six weeks ago during Senior Night festivities.
“It’s just been an amazing experience. I will always remember this place and …” he said, pausing to wipe away tears. “Aw man. I said I wasn’t gonna do it.”
The crowd responded, giving Morgan his second standing ovation within a minute. Finally composed, the fifth-year senior dedicated a good portion of his speech to Beilein, who offered the Detroit native a scholarship when no other major-conference team did.
“Coach B, thank you so much for just giving me this opportunity to play here,” Morgan said. “In 2007, my junior year of high school, I remember you telling me that we would rebuild this program, and it’s amazing to see it unfold.
“It was all hard work and proving everybody wrong.”
Fittingly, the fifth-year senior took home a team-high four awards. Morgan won the Wayman Britt Outstanding Defensive Player Award, the Thad Garner Leadership Award, the Bodnar Award for Acade`mic Achievement and, with a team-high 185 boards, the Loy Vaught Rebounding Award.
“This is the school for the leaders, and no one, no one will ever go in front of this man as far his overall leadership,” Beilein said of Morgan. “His team looked at him and said, ‘If J-Mo is doing it, it must be alright.’ ”
The biggest award of the night, though, went to sophomore guard Nik Stauskas. Along with the Bill Buntin Most Valuable Player Award, Stauskas took home the Gary Grant Award for Most Assists — he had a team-high 118, 3.3 per game — and the Award for Outstanding Free Throw Shooting with an 82.4-percent mark.
The sophomore, who announced Tuesday that he will forgo his final two years of eligibility in favor of the NBA Draft, scored a team-best 17.5 points per game, earning him Big Ten Player of the Year and a spot on the National Association of Basketball Coaches All-American First Team.
“I had no clue what I signed up for when I first came here,” Stauskas said. “I just want to leave you with one of my favorite quotes. The quote goes, ‘The real happiness is in the journey, not the destination.’ My whole life, my goal was to get to the NBA, and although I’m leaving and I’m happy that I’m pursuing my dream, I’m starting to realize that the real happiness was in the two years that I spent here.”
Sophomore guard Caris LeVert captured the Rudy Tomjanovich Most Improved Player Award, along with the Steve Grothe Hustle Award. LeVert, who will likely be tasked with carrying the offensive load next season, was expected to redshirt last year. Eventually, he was inserted into the lineup and averaged just 2.3 points and 1.1 rebounds in a little more than 10 minutes per game. This year, he was second on the team in minutes played and responded with 12.9 points and 4.3 boards per game.
Freshman guard Zak Irvin, who averaged 6.7 points per game thanks to a 42.5-percent clip from beyond the arc, took home the Sixth Man Award. Sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III, who also declared for the Draft, received the Iron Man Award, and sophomore point guard Spike Albrecht rounded out the night with the Travis Conlan Sportsmanship Award.
MCGARY UPDATE?: In what could’ve been an oversight, but perhaps was an indication of what’s to come, both Albrecht and LeVert failed to mention sophomore forward Mitch McGary when speaking of next year’s team.
When asked who next year’s leaders will be, LeVert said, “The sophomores — me, Spike, (redshirt sophomore forward Max Bielfeldt) — (freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr.), Zak.”
Albrecht, still only a sophomore, quipped that he’ll assume the spot as the team’s veteran.
“Someone told me I’m the oldest man on the team, now,” Albrecht said. The point guard is younger than McGary. “I’m like, ‘Jesus Christ, that’s crazy.’ It just goes to show you the evolution of college basketball, guys leaving and all, lots of young teams.
“Obviously, I think both myself and Caris, along with many others, are going to have to step up our leadership roles.”
When asked by a reporter where that leaves McGary, Albrecht said, “Yeah, yeah, big Mitch. Still waiting to see what he does. Who knows?”
CARIS TO COME BACK: Unlike McGary, LeVert’s plans for next year are solidified.
“I’m coming back to school — for sure,” he said. “100 percent, I’m coming back.”
The sophomore said he submitted his name to the Draft Advisory Board, and though he wouldn’t disclose the feedback he received, he did admit to contemplating whether he should leave Michigan with Robinson, Stauskas and perhaps McGary.
But, after talking it over with coaches and family, he said, “It was kind of an easy decision.”
LeVert plans to attend the highly regarded Kevin Durant Skills Academy, which invites some of the top collegiate talent from across the nation. He’ll spend most of the summer back in Ann Arbor like last offseason, though, working with Michigan strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson. The work LeVert and Stauskas put in throughout the summer was instrumental to each player’s dramatic improvements. LeVert indicated that a number of other Wolverines will follow suit.