Michigan Wolverines: John Beilein

WolverineNation Mailbag 

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Football season, you are so close. Teams are in pads. Scrimmages are happening. Kickoff of the first week of the season is less than three weeks away.

This means more questions about actual football in this week’s mailbag. If you have questions next week, send them to Chantel at @chanteljennings on Twitter or jenningsespn@gmail.com through the electronic mail.

Now on to your questions this week.

@saltybarb22 from The Den asksL Who is being developed for the tackle spots behind Taylor (Lewan) and (Michael) Schofield?

Can Walton be U-M's next great PG? 

July, 2, 2013
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In case you haven’t noticed, the Michigan Wolverines are getting pretty good at replacing their starting point guards under John Beilein.

When Darius Morris arrived in Ann Arbor, expectations were tempered and reasonable. As the No. 100 recruit in the 2009 ESPN 100, Morris outkicked his coverage and bolted early for the NBA draft after two seasons at Michigan.

Enter Trey Burke. It’s easy to believe now that he’s a National Player of the Year winner and NBA lottery pick, but the truth is that Burke came to the Wolverines with muted fanfare and zero illusions of grandeur. He was the No. 84 recruit in the 2011 ESPN 100. If he was a potential lottery pick pre-Michigan, then someone should have told the rest of the Big Ten and everyone else who watched him in high school.

Heck, even when Michigan has had to play its backup point guard, good things have happened. If you recall the first half of the NCAA championship when Burke picked up a pair of early fouls, Spike Albrecht briefly became the shooting star of the title game. Keep in mind, Albrecht was a Division II recruit as a high school senior.

In 2013-14, the quasi-revolving door at the point for Michigan is likely to be manned by incoming freshman Derrick Walton. The question everyone wants to know, given the pressure of replacing a Wooden Award winner on a team with repeat Final Four aspirations, is whether Walton is ready to come in and immediately be Michigan’s next great starting point guard.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Every Thursday our writers sit down to discuss a few topics in and around Michigan sports. With Tom on vacation this week, WolverineNation editor Bob McClellan joins the conversation to look at The Opening, freshmen and other varsity sports.

1. Of the 2015 offers, which prospect do you think should be No. 1 overall in Michigan's war room?


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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Michigan assistant coaches heard the questions in the beginning. They understood. In some ways, they wondered themselves.

John Beilein revamped his coaching staff in 2010, hiring two new assistants and promoting a third. As he did this, Michigan’s head basketball coach explained his processes. Beilein has adapted throughout his career but has a plan for everything in his basketball life. This includes recruiting, where his strategy is different than most.

In the hare-paced world of college basketball recruiting, Beilein moved at a relative tortoise’s pace. This took some adjusting from then-newly hired Bacari Alexander and LaVall Jordan and promoted administrative staffer Jeff Meyer.

Beilein adhered to the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ recommendation of not offering a prospect until June 15 following the player’s sophomore season. Beilein also won’t offer a prospect until he’s seen him play in person and until the player has visited Michigan’s campus.

Initially, this meant his new assistants needed to do some explaining as they recruited.

“I wouldn’t say resistance,” Alexander said of the reaction on the recruiting trail. “But I would say a curiosity to why haven’t you offered my son yet or why haven’t you guys offered my player yet.”

“Especially when they have a list of [offers],” Jordan said. “That curiosity, when they have lists.”

Eventually, questioning turned to understanding as Beilein and his philosophy, which he adopted before he came to Michigan, became educational. Michigan’s assistants, who sat down as a group last week with ESPN.com to explain how their recruiting strategy works, now use it as another selling point.

As they evaluate a prospect, they explain what needs to happen. It doesn’t mean they won’t recruit a player earlier -- they were the among the first schools to recruit 2014 ESPN 100 guard Devin Booker (Moss Point, Miss./Moss Point) and 2015 ESPN 60 guard Luke Kennard (Franklin, Ohio/Franklin) -- but they won’t offer a scholarship until at least all the previously mentioned criteria have been met.

“That didn’t surprise [us],” said Mark Kennard, Luke’s father. “It wasn’t a surprise or disappointment or anything. We just appreciated that they were kind of the first team to really talk to Luke and recruit him. We were like, ‘Coach, that’s awesome.’ That didn’t bother us at all.

“I want schools to be honest with us.”

Honesty is part of the process. As Michigan has resisted the changes in college basketball recruiting, it has also thrived for the same reasons.

“I’ll throw this at people,” Jordan said. “‘What’s your mom’s name?’ Because there’s a curiosity of why haven’t you offered. ‘How many brothers? How many sisters? What’s your family like? Have you considered the fact that we don’t really know each other, but there is a desire for a scholarship offer?’

“So now it’s like, ‘OK.’ It’s the education.”

[+] EnlargeJohn Beilein
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsJohn Beilein's unique recruiting process paid off with a trip to the Final Four this past season.
How Michigan recruits

Michigan finds prospects like every other program: through a series of recommendations, research and just being in the gym.

Where its strategy differs is in its evaluation style. Unlike at a lot of schools, Michigan’s staff does not work territories or positions. They favor a groupthink where all four coaches -- the three assistants and Beilein -- watch a player at different tournaments to determine a fit for what Michigan wants in skill, attitude and academics.

After watching a prospect, each assistant rates him using an internal numbers system they refuse to disclose. Those evaluations are given to Beilein, who averages out the results to aid his decisions.

“A lot of staffs get attached to a young man because of a relationship because it is your guy and you may be the point man in his recruitment,” Jordan said. “Here, we just don’t get involved in that. It’s what’s best for Michigan.”

The reason for the “cross evals” is the search for the right fit. Alexander describes the Michigan coaches as “throwbacks” because they use scouting systems and rankings only to cross-check their own numbers and evaluations.

What happens when their internal rankings don’t match with external opinion?

“That’s when we really get excited,” Alexander said.

Among the underrated-when-they-committed finds by this staff: Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Spike Albrecht.

“A lot of times it swings on the critical side,” Meyer said. “We are looking for kids that play the right way, body language, all the things that we expect out of our kids when they play. When you look at it through a lens, it’s almost a critical lens of, does he fit? Will he play the Michigan way, the right way?”

The evaluation goes beyond the prospect. Alexander made this clear through Twitter while sitting in the stands watching players during an evaluation period last July. He tweeted: “Parents need to be mindful that they’re evaluated in the stands ALSO!! #uconscious.”

Why? Part of this goes to program fit and understanding the dynamics of a prospect’s off-court life and situation. The rest, well, Alexander explains.

“Think about how that has changed,” Alexander said. “Why is that relevant? Well, now you have the Big Ten’s ‘Journey’ and have CBS Sports, ESPN, all these all-access deals in print or on television. Now what does that tell us?

“Parents have become ambassadors for your institution and they are not even aware of it.”

Part of the genesis of Beilein’s approach is rooted in academics. He wants to see a prospect’s freshman and sophomore transcripts to make sure he is trending correctly educationally. This, Meyer said, is “non-negotiable.”

The unofficial visit piece allows for everyone to become acquainted. For Michigan, there is interaction, observation and more informed opinion from non-recruiters like graduate assistants, trainers and strength coaches. For the families, it allows an opportunity to ask any questions they want without the pressure of a commitment.

“How are you going to come here, how are you going to choose Michigan, if you’ve never been to Michigan,” Jordan said. “You’ve got to know the people.”

[+] EnlargeMitch McGary
Courtesy of Brewster Academy When Michigan recruited Mitch McGary, they looked at more than just his play on the court.
More than on-court skill

When Alexander visits a player’s school, he searches for “indicators” about a player. To do so, he seeks out three people: the academic advisor, who can often give a broader-based picture of a player’s academics and family situation; the cafeteria worker; and the custodial staff.

More than any other people in the school, the latter two often silently observe prospects among their peers. They see a player interact when no one is watching. Alexander’s best example: Mitch McGary at Brewster Academy (N.H.).

Alexander spoke to Brewster’s groundskeeper and was told a story about a freshman bawling when his parents dropped him off the first day of school. McGary spotted the kid from a distance, stopped his conversation and ran to him, consoled him and brought him into school with his group of friends.

“Now if that is not a testament to a young man’s character,” Alexander said. “Where he’s the life of the gathering and is unselfish enough to notice somebody is in need of comfort. To do that was very telling to the groundskeeper.

“As a result, it was very telling to us.”

With McGary, who was one of the top prospects in the country at Brewster, it was another sign he would mesh with Beilein’s philosophy and locker room, which centers around the tenets of integrity, unity, passion, diligence and appreciation.

The way Michigan recruits forces prospects to display almost all those traits before committing.

When did it click?

While the recruiting strategy is nice, is it practical? Michigan received its answer while recruiting highly rated 2013 prospect Zak Irvin. The Wolverines recruited Irvin out of Indianapolis, with Indiana and Purdue, among many others, offering.

Irvin had teammates who committed early to other schools. Michigan stuck to its deadline.

[+] EnlargeZak Irvin
Kelly KlineMichigan followed its recruiting blueprint to perfection to land top-25 prospect Zak Irvin.
“The first challenge for us, because it was a little bit of a point of being anxious, was Zak Irvin,” Meyer said. “We’re thinking if we do not go out of character with our formula, we may be left at the station with a player that [Jordan] had already done a great job with the family and building relationships.

“Coach Beilein stayed the course, went four semesters of academic work, had been to campus several times.”

Irvin said Michigan’s staff explained things up front. Not enamored by offers, he didn’t mind. If anything, the process strengthened Irvin’s opinion of Michigan. The Wolverines recruited him for a year before offering. Some programs offered him after viewing him once.

Irvin eventually received his Michigan offer. He committed six weeks later.

“It turned the whole thing from my perspective,” Meyer said. “I think from all of our perspectives. If we’re doing our due diligence through the recruiting process, a young man speaks very, very loudly through his actions if he’s willing to wait. And they kind of look forward to that date.”

There’s another, almost unintentional, byproduct. By having prospects wait for an offer and go through myriad steps, Michigan has created more perceived value around an offer from the school. Instead of just another scholarship offer on a list, it is one the player had to work for.

“To see that they still wanted to offer me, it meant a lot after recruiting me for a year and seeing how well I developed and saw how much potential I had,” Irvin said. “That was really special to me.”

The extra time taken has an added effect when prospects hit campus as well. It is something, however, the current Michigan assistants couldn’t see until those recruits they got to know started to hit campus last year.

“It meant a lot to them to get the offer and going through things to make that decision,” Jordan said. “So when they get here, getting them to play hard isn’t part of the deal. It’s about fundamentally getting them to play better and more skilled. Developing and growing them as young men.

“But it isn’t going to be a deal of getting them to play hard because that was part of it.”

The other secret

Michigan’s staff won’t divulge everything. Specifics of the internal grading system is one thing. The value of a prospect’s birth date is another. The latter is a topic Beilein often brings up in discussing his young players. Asked about it, the three assistants all laughed.

“No comment,” Alexander said. “That, we can’t tell you.”

Michigan’s assistants said Beilein brought birth dates into the evaluation process, but that’s all they’ll say. Consider this: In past interviews, Beilein has mentioned the late birthdays or relatively young starting ages of 2013 commit Mark Donnal and current players Max Bielfeldt, Caris LeVert and Jordan Morgan. (Beilein, who is preparing for his first stint as an assistant coach with USA Basketball, was unavailable to comment for the story.)

It isn’t a determining factor, but it is yet another piece that makes Michigan unique.

“He’s way ahead of the curve on this stuff,” Meyer said.

In some ways, yes. But in others, Michigan’s somewhat unique recruiting process has elements of a different, older time. And suddenly, what used to be standard is innovative again.
Momentum is a powerful thing in the world of college basketball recruiting. While it tends to be a constant for a select few national powerhouses like Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas, virtually all other programs in the country are constantly competing for any edge that can push them to that next level.

In the wake of our initial 2014 ESPN 100 player rankings release last week and as we start a team-by-team breakdown of 2014 recruiting targets by conference over the next two weeks, here’s a look at five college hoops programs that are heading into the 2014 recruiting class with some very positive momentum.

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WolverineNation roundtable 

April, 25, 2013
4/25/13
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Every Thursday, our writers sit down and take a look at three topics in Michigan athletics from the week. Today they consider breakout football players, basketball’s prospects next season and the ESPN 150.

1. Which Michigan football player do you think could have a breakout in 2013?


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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan started the week with the expected defections of its starting backcourt to the NBA. It’ll end it by likely remaining in the preseason top 10 for 2013-14 anyway.

More than Trey Burke or Tim Hardaway Jr., the returns of Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III were the pieces Michigan needed to come back to avoid a potential major slide next season. And now, they have them.

The return of the two close friends from Indiana gives Michigan depth and top-end talent at every position next season, as they will likely join freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr., sophomore guard Nik Stauskas and either freshman winger Zak Irvin or sophomore wing Caris LeVert in the starting lineup.

[+] EnlargeMitch McGary
AP Photo/Morry GashMitch McGary now needs to prove he can post numbers for a whole season.
Those five -- seven, really, if you include the loser of the Irvin/LeVert battle and the return of three-year starter Jordan Morgan -- could end up as the most talented top seven in the country, non-Kentucky division.

Both guys coming back also signifies a piece of what Michigan coach John Beilein has often preached -- sometimes oddly: that he wants the Ann Arbor school to be a place guys want to stay instead of being a quick stop to the NBA. In reality, college -- and big-time programs -- will always be more of a pit stop than a destination to elite talent, but for McGary and Robinson to turn down being potential lottery selections for one more year at Michigan is significant for Beilein and his program.

It shows those two believe in the development prowess of big man coach Bacari Alexander and wing coach Jeff Meyer to turn them into stronger players. It also reinforces a template Burke set last season of returning and seeing your projected stock improve.

Robinson and McGary have areas in which they need to get better. Robinson needs to add muscle, a reliable outside shot and better defense. McGary still can get in better shape and show he can do what he did during the NCAA tournament for an entire season.

“They are smart kids, have grown a lot this year,” said Wayne Brumm, their former AAU coach with SYF Players. “I think they are really scratching the surface in terms of their game. I think they think that. I think the coaches here know that.

“It’s a real delicate balance between providing for your family and providing for yourself and being a teammate at the University of Michigan.”

The balance has been decided. Robinson and McGary are returning to Michigan. The Wolverines should be a top team again, and with the two of them, they will have a chance at another Final Four run.

Much like Burke a season ago, Thursday likely starts a clock where the decisions for these two players will be different a year from now.

WolverineNation Mailbag 

April, 17, 2013
4/17/13
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Malik McDowellTom Hauck for ESPN.comESPN Watch List defensive end Malik McDowell doesn't exactly have to worry about losing a potential spot in Michigan's 2014 class.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The weather is warming up in Michigan, which means a few things: basketball is over, spring football is most definitely over, and camps and combines are right around the corner. So, since recruiting is going to dominate the airwaves for the next few months as Brady Hoke puts this next class together, I decided to dedicate most of today’s mailbag to questions about the 2014 class.

Next week Mike is taking care of this, so get your questions to him (michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or @MikeRothstein). Now, on to this week’s questions...

1) Micah Nuechterlein via Twitter: If Lawrence Marshall (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) were to commit, would they still take Malik McDowell (Detroit/Loyola) and Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) in this class? A: I really don’t see that happening. But, if it did (and crazier things have happened), then yes, I do think that they would take all three. Because you just don't pass on a Da'Shawn Hand or Malik McDowell. They are all different players along the line, so as long as the numbers work the coaches wouldn't pass on any of them. That might not matter, though, because they all seem to have different timelines to make their decision. The coaches are aware of where they stand with each guy and how many spots they have left, so I wouldn't worry too much about this scenario.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- In some ways, Michigan knew this was coming for a year -- from the day Trey Burke said he would return for his sophomore season with the Wolverines.

[+] EnlargeTrey Burke
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesSophomore point guard Trey Burke took Michigan to the Final Four and brought home a Wooden Award.
But much like Darius Morris before him, Trey Burke leaves this Michigan basketball program in much better position than when he entered. When Morris arrived, Michigan had just qualified for its first NCAA tournament berth in a decade. When he left, it had made two NCAA tournaments in three seasons and had recruited a point guard out of Columbus, Ohio with a lot of talent.

When Burke came in, he heard questions about how he could replace Morris, now in his second season with the Los Angeles Lakers. Now as he leaves two seasons later, giving Michigan its first-ever Wooden Award winner, its first Final Four in two decades and a program now looking to recruit top-50 players every season, the same question will remain.

What’s next? Can Michigan maintain its consistency and upward ascent even without its 6-foot leader in Ann Arbor. And much like two seasons ago, that answer will be yes.


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MichiganAP Photo/David J. PhillipMichigan's road trip to the Peach State had some highlights but ended up in the pits.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- While several Michigan fans made the 700-mile journey to Atlanta for Monday’s NCAA championship game, there were others who stayed behind. And with Ann Arbor bars and restaurants packed, some as early as 3 p.m., more than 11,000 fans found themselves sitting in Crisler Center to watch their team one last time this season from a familiar spot.

In some senses, it was almost like a normal game. Members of the Michigan pep band played from the north end of the arena. Fans did the wave as rounds of “Go Blue!” chants sailed through each section. They stood for each Michigan free throw, arms raised, fingers wiggling. They booed when Rick Pitino’s face first showed on the Jumbotron.

But as the clock ticked down in Atlanta, with Louisville gaining momentum, the mood in the arena changed. In a normal game, with a loss looming, fans can choose which aspect of the game to watch. But Monday night they were at the mercy of CBS, and CBS kept panning over to the Cardinals cheerleaders and mascot, its bench and its fans.

Not much there for the Michigan faithful.

Tom Idzkowski, a sophomore, sat and watched as Michigan lost and Crisler emptied. He sat alone in an entire section, below the lone national championship banner in Crisler.

“It’s just frustrating,” he said. “I’m not very articulate right now. … We were so close. It was the 20-year anniversary with the Fab Five, they were back together and the sanctions are being lifted, I thought this was the year. If we were going to have any year, this was going to be the year.”

Ryan Stark sat across the floor from him in section 130. Yes, his favorite team had made it to the title game. But a loss is a loss, and to him it hurts all the same.

“This was the best season I’ve ever seen,” he said. “But I guess it wasn’t good enough, again.”

He had bought in to this team and its flashy play. He had bought in to the upside of youth and the value of alley-oops. He had bought in, quite literally, to the basketball hype on campus -- in the form of a maize Michigan basketball shirt.

The influx of those wanting basketball gear had risen to such a point over the last week that M-Den, Michigan’s retail supplier, was sending out daily orders. Leading up to the Final Four, it had already accounted for five times more revenue than it did all of last season.

Front case window displays had changed to reflect Nos. 3 and 10 jerseys, not football No. 16s. Children like Robert Davis Jr., 8, wanted a Trey Burke uniform, not a Denard Robinson one.

Davis had spent the timeouts at center court, dancing for the crowd. This, for him, had been a big party. The loss was important, but there would be other championship games for him to get excited about, right?

“It was good but then they played poor defense,” he said in his best analyst voice. “This was a great season. They made it to the Final Four. That’s good.”

His father -- a 2002 graduate of Michigan-Dearborn -- handed him his coat.

“This is all he knows of Michigan basketball,” he said. “He doesn’t even remember the dark days.”

The 8-year-old remembers the Michigan of John Beilein and that’s about it. He remembers NCAA tournament appearances and Big Ten Championships with Zack Novak and Stu Douglass. He doesn’t know the rarity of a title game or the unique combination of talent and fate that it takes to get there.

“They’ll be back,” he said.

WolverineNation basketball roundtable 

April, 4, 2013
4/04/13
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Michigan Wolverines Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsWith Michigan making the Final Four for the first time in 20 years, it only seems appropriate to dedicate the whole Roundtable this week to Trey Burke and company.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Every Thursday our writers sit down to chat about Michigan sports, but with Michigan in the Final Four for the first time in two decades, they thought it appropriate to devote this entire roundtable to basketball.

1) What is the key for the Wolverines against Syracuse?


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WN Mailbag: Final Four edition 

April, 3, 2013
4/03/13
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Wolverines have reached the Final Four for the first time since 1993. That means the last time Michigan stepped on a Final Four floor, not only had America just sworn in its first female attorney general, but Tag Team and Boy George were both dominating American air waves.

We’ll call it a draw for humanity.

So in the spirit of the basketball frenzy that has taken over, I’ll answer your roundball questions this week as the Wolverine fans prepare for what is an historic day. Mike will take care of the mailbag next week, so send your questions on to him at @MikeRothstein or michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com. Now, let’s talk some basketball ...

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Zak IrvinKelly KlineZak Irvin says he and fellow commit Derrick Walton have been texting like crazy during U-M's run.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin will be teammates next season. This past weekend, that bond grew a little more.

As their future school, Michigan, upset Kansas in the Sweet 16, decimated Florida in the Elite Eight and made its first Final Four since before the recruits were born, they texted each other all weekend.

“We were really excited,” Irvin said. “Especially with Kansas, down with a minute to go, we were going crazy.”

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Michigan advances to Final Four 

March, 31, 2013
3/31/13
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan is in its first Sweet 16 since 1994. Football spring practice is nearing its halfway point and that means a ton of questions in this week’s WolverineNation mailbag.

Have questions for next week? Send them to Chantel at @chanteljennings or jenningsespn@gmail.com. Now, on to this week’s questions.

SEnferadi37 from The Den asks: I will preface this comment with the fact that I know very little about college basketball and Kansas in particular. What I do know, from reading this forum and ESPN articles, is that Michigan struggles with big teams. Outside of Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey, what does Michigan need to plan for in order to beat Kansas? I know they took the two-point-guard approach against VCU. Is that something they would try again, or does that not work well against KU? Also, is that performance (or something similar) out of Mitch McGary something we can expect regularly?


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