Junior DeShawn Sims is ready for a new role.
Last May, forward Ekpe Udoh transferred to Baylor after spending two seasons as a key forward, leaving Michigan with an opening down low.
While playing on the perimeter most of last season, Sims struggled finishing drives and making layups. This year, he will likely replace Udoh filling the four or five spot.
“As soon as the season ended last year, I knew I was going to have to pick my game up a level to be successful,” Sims said yesterday at Michigan Media Day.
Sims, the Wolverines’ second-leading scorer last season behind Manny Harris (12.3 points per game), led Michigan in 3-point attempts (142). But his new role will allow him to alternate between the two spots.
“I’ll keep shooting the ball at the convenience that the team needs me, or if we need a big shot,” Sims said. “If I hit 10 threes in a row, I’m not going to say I wish I had shot 10 jumpers in a row.”
Playing as an outside shooter in past seasons allowed him to develop a different skill set that typical post players don’t often learn.
“If we really wanted to play small ball, we can do that, because he can really shoot,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.
At 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, Sims’s size is a concern. He will need to improve his leverage to effectively shoot, rebound and block shots in the Big Ten.
“We’ve been working on getting into positions where he can hold up off of bigger players,” director of basketball strength and conditioning Mike Curtis said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s picked up a lot of weight, but he’s gotten stronger relative to his body weight.”
The Wolverines officially begin practice Oct. 17, a few weeks before their first exhibition game against Saginaw Valley State on Nov. 6. During those three weeks, Beilein will evaluate the play of his other big men — redshirt junior Zack Gibson, redshirt freshman Eric Puls and freshman Ben Cronin — before setting his starting five.
Find your balance: In his first season at Michigan, Curtis has implemented a strength and conditioning program that places less emphasis on weight training. Instead, his exercises target the muscles that are used in basketball’s fundamentals, like shooting, pivots and cuts.
“You want to look at a game and kind of analyze movement and break it down… that’s what I do,” Curtis said. “Then, I implement it into the training.”
Curtis spent six seasons with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies before coming to Ann Arbor in September. He tailors workouts to player’s individual needs, bases on position, strength or injury status. His program involves flexibility and concentrated motions.
“The first day he had us do some balancing exercises, and I never knew my balance was so off,” senior guard Jevohn Shepard said. “I always thought I was flexible, I could balance, but nope. Everybody was falling over, helping each other, but it was fun.”
Big man on campus: Cronin stands at 7-foot and will surely be a large presence on the floor this season, but he’ll need to get healthy first. After sustaining a hip injury in his senior year of high school, Cronin said he is nearly 100 percent. Special workouts with Curtis have allowed him to support his hip.
“Now that I’ve had some of the best trainers here to help me out, I’ve been a lot stronger,” Cronin said. “At this point, my hip has been feeling great.”
Cronin said he continued to play basketball during the injury, even while limping. In high school, the Syracuse, N.Y. native averaged 7.2 blocks per game over his three-year varsity career.
Take it back: This season, the 3-point line will move back a full foot to 20 feet, 9 inches. The Wolverines were the worst 3-point shooting team in the Big Ten last season (.312), even though Beilein’s offense emphasizes points from behind the arc.