The Michigan men’s basketball team’s leadership duties for the 2014-15 season will fall to a pair with a reputation for being soft-spoken: junior guards Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert.
Albrecht, LeVert and senior forward Max Bielfeldt are the only upperclassmen among the 15 players the Wolverines list on their roster. And it seems that from the get-go, beginning with Michigan’s summer trip to Italy, the duo of juniors has been taking its role-model responsibility seriously.
“It could be something as simple as making sure you’re showing up to practice 10 or 15 minutes early and not in there looking sleepy-eyed,” Albrecht said. “That type of stuff will drive the coaches nuts.”
Albrecht admitted that neither he nor LeVert is outspoken in the first place, making their emergence as leaders more of an intentional transition than an organic one.
“It’s interesting, because both Caris and myself are a little bit more mellow, kind of shy,” Albrecht said. “But when we talk, people listen. Like I said earlier, we’ve kind of earned our stripes here. We’re juniors now. We have respect among some of the other guys in the locker room.”
The team’s early cohesion has impressed Michigan coach John Beilein, who said this squad has gelled in the early going as well as any other in his eight years at the helm.
The Wolverines had the advantage of spending 10 days in Italy over the summer, playing four games against competition that generally wasn’t ready for them. And with six incoming freshmen, Michigan was happy to take advantage of a ready-made opportunity for bonding and growth while overseas.
“This group right now is very connected for this age,” Beilein said. “That has a lot to do with the personality of Spike and Caris and (sophomore forward Zak Irvin and sophomore guard Derek Walton), who are extremely outgoing.”
It’s clear that Albrecht and LeVert will lead more by example than anything else.
“I’m not some crazy rah-rah guy,” Albrecht said, indicating that he, Bielfeldt and LeVert are happy to lead more through example. “Caris is just a really good kid. He’s always helping out the younger guys, the freshmen. So that type of stuff goes a long way.”
Beilein’s personality classifications didn’t quite match up with the reputation LeVert, especially, has held in prior seasons. LeVert developed a reputation in his first two years with the program as a shy, soft-spoken player content to remain out of the spotlight, leaving the more ostentatious aspects of leadership and gameplay to teammates like Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary.
“We definitely have to make sure we’re looking out for the younger guys,” LeVert said. “We have a growing team right now.”
LeVert was also quick to acknowledge that simple circumstance played the biggest part in changing his role from team member to team leader.
“It has to be different,” LeVert said. “We’re the oldest guys on the team. … We’ve been there before, we’ve had so much playing time in the past, on and off the court we know what goes on around here.”
With several freshmen expected to contribute right off the bat, the upperclassmen’s collective ability to hold down the fort will be critical.
Talent stopping briefly in Ann Arbor before making its way to the NBA is a good problem to have, and Michigan’s upperclassmen have gone out of their way to avoid a potential issue that cycle carries with it: continued loss of leadership and consistency.
Beilein seems confident that Albrecht and LeVert are key components, along with Bielfeldt, of the leadership his remarkably young team needs. Rather than shirking its massive responsibility, the duo seems to have welcomed it with open arms.