Michigan Wolverines: Zak Irvin

WolverineNation Mailbag 

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
3:00
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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?

WolverineNation Mailbag 

July, 30, 2013
7/30/13
10:30
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Brady HokeAP Photo/Carlos OsorioIt's difficult to project what would have happened to Michigan football if Rich Rodriguez had not been hired. Brady Hoke was at Ball State and was not a candidate back in 2007.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Football season begins this week with the opening of Michigan’s fall camp. In a month, the Wolverines will have their first game and all of the questions that have been asked over the past four months will have the beginnings of some resolution to them.

Some questions about football -- and a quick look into Michigan basketball -- populate this week’s Michigan mailbag, filled with your questions.

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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.

WolverineNation Mailbag 

June, 11, 2013
6/11/13
8:25
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- We’re less than a week away from Michigan’s high school camp, which is always a fun time. I, for one, will likely forget sunscreen and be a tomato by the end of the week. And Tom, well, he’ll bring the snacks. And Mike will make fun of us for being overly prepared for the football and underprepared for everything else. It’s always a party at WolverineNation.

But with such an exciting offseason so far, there’s so much more to talk about than snacks and sunscreen, so let’s get to it. Next week Mike will take questions, so get those to him (michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or @mikerothstein).

Jimmy, Maynard Street, Ann Arbor: Do you think Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) will play immediately and if so, will he be an impact player?


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WolverineNation Mailbag 

June, 4, 2013
6/04/13
10:30
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The summer is here, which means speculation and recruiting really starts to pick up. Michigan held its one-day elite basketball camp Saturday, and the football team has its camp later this month.

So recruiting rules this week's Mailbag, comprised of your questions. Have questions for the mailbag? Send them to @chanteljennings on Twitter or jenningsespn@gmail.com.

Now on to this week's questions:

KobeFan45 from The Den: With the basketball team reaching the national title game last season, what are the chances Michigan signs a five-star recruit?


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WolverineNation Mailbag 

April, 24, 2013
4/24/13
10:50
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan’s potentially early entrants have made their decisions -- Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. in the draft, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary out -- and now, the Wolverines roster for next season is starting to take shape.

Also, the most intriguing position battle on Michigan’s football team still has little definition entering the summer.

We address these issues in this week’s WolverineNation Mailbag. Send your questions for next week to @chanteljennings on Twitter or jenningsespn@gmail.com.

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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.
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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WolverineNation Mailbag 

April, 10, 2013
4/10/13
10:20
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Michigan FreshmanAP Photo/Carlos OsorioMichigan's basketball fortunes next season depend heavily on the offseason decisions of Mitch McGary (left) and Glenn Robinson III (middle).
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan reached its first national championship game in two decades on Monday night and while losing to Louisville, one thing became fairly clear in the first hours of the Wolverines’ postseason.

There is a chance this was not a one-off thing at all.

Depending who leaves and who returns to Michigan’s roster, it could be in a similar position next season. But that is over a summer away. There’s still a football season -- and a spring game Saturday -- to go.

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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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WolverineNation Mailbag 

January, 9, 2013
1/09/13
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Football season might have ended, but that doesn’t mean your questions have stopped.

In this week’s WolverineNation mailbag, we look back at the Michigan season that was, take a glance at the future and also discuss some basketball, where the Wolverines are the No. 2 team in the nation.

Have questions for the Mailbag? Email Chantel Jennings at jenningsespn@gmail.com or tweet at her @chanteljennings.

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Watch: Telep likes U-M class 

November, 27, 2012
11/27/12
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Roundball recruiting 

October, 18, 2012
10/18/12
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With Michigan having back-to-back home games and basketball season rapidly approaching, WolverineNation caught up with some of the basketball recruits who have been or will be visiting campus lately to gauge their thoughts on the Wolverines.

We ask that this information stays in The Den, as it is for subscribers only.

On to the update.

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Zak IrvinCourtesy of David DixonZak Irvin's outstanding play on the summer circuit vaulted him 39 spots in the latest rankings.
Zak Irvin said before the July recruiting period began that he wanted to become more than a shooter, to work on his ability to get to the basket. He wanted to round out as much of his game as possible before his senior season, including working with trainer Shon Bolden and some NBA players to pick up pointers.

That work paid off for the Fishers, Ind.. native during July and now in August as well. Irvin became one of the biggest risers in the new 2013 ESPN 100 rankings, leaping from No. 60 in June all the way up to No. 21 in August.

Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr. (Harper Woods, Mich./Chandler Park Academy), Mark Donnal (Whitehouse, Ohio/Anthony Wayne) and Austin Hatch (Fort Wayne, Ind./Canterbury) comprise the No. 2 class in the country in ESPN.com’s newest team rankings for the Class of 2013, trailing only Florida.

Irvin’s big individual move coincided with a summer where he impressed at every tournament he played in throughout July, vaulting him into being the No. 5 small forward in his class entering his senior season at Hamilton Southeastern.

If Irvin’s new ranking holds, he would be Michigan’s second highest-rated commit since ESPN.com first started doing player rankings in 2007. Last season, Glenn Robinson III finished his ascent as the No. 18 player in the country. At his peak last season, forward Mitch McGary was the No. 2 player in the country, but he was No. 27 in the final rankings.

Irvin wasn’t the only Michigan commit to make a move.

Point guard Derrick Walton (Harper Woods, Mich./Chandler Park Academy) also made a jump from No. 40 in the May rankings up to No. 32. He pushed his way up the point guard rankings as well, moving from No. 9 point to No. 5.

Donnal, the third commit in the Wolverines’ 2013 class in the ESPN 100, dropped from No. 64 to No. 97, but he still gives Michigan three players in the ESPN 100. He is rated the No. 24 power forward in the country.

While Michigan has no 2014 commits, three of the players it has offered are in the ESPN Super 60, led by shooting guard Devin Booker (Moss Point, Miss./Moss Point), who checks in at No. 21, moving up slightly from his No. 23 ranking in May. Forward Keita Bates-Diop (Bloomington, Ill./University) moved up from No. 43 to No. 30 and swingman Trevon Bluiett (Indianapolis/Park Tudor) entered the rankings at No. 50.

More impressively, Booker is considered the No. 2 shooting guard in his class, behind only Rashad Vaughn. Bates-Diop is ranked as the No. 5 power forward and Bluiett as the No. 17 small forward.

Zak Irvin makes splash in July 

August, 3, 2012
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After going to more than 24 basketball tournaments and showcases in July, ESPN.com's Paul Biancardi named 2013 Michigan shooting guard commit Zak Irvin as the best player he saw in this week's recruiting roundtable.

"He has a combination of athletic ability, skill and feel for the game that helped him dominate the action," Biancardi wrote. "But he utilizes his different skill sets to operate within the flow of the game."

Irvin is ranked No. 60 in the ESPN100. The 6-foot-6 Irvin is known for his deadly shooting stroke from the wing and backs that up with his athleticism.

With Irvin and fellow commits Derrick Walton, Mark Donnal and Austin Hatch, the Wolverines' recruiting class currently sits at No. 3 in the 2013 rankings, behind only Florida and North Carolina.

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