Too much talent
by Craig Ross
U-M basketball coach John Beilein has an unusual problem this year: too much talent.
Beilein has four proven players returning, and two of these, point guard Trey Burke and swing player Tim Hardaway Jr., have NBA potential. Senior Matt Vogrich (swing) and center Jordan Morgan (a redshirt junior) are also back. Add talented center Jon Horford, out last year with an injury, redshirt power forward Max Bielfeldt, and senior center Blake McLimans, and Michigan looks like a reasonably veteran team.
But the big news is Beilein's recruiting class. For most of the coach's career he has found players under rocks, building winning teams around players like Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, and Jordan Morgan that no one else wanted. This year, Michigan has, many experts believe, one of the strongest two or three incoming classes in the country. The Wolverines' combination of youth and experience earned them their highest preseason ranking in decades--top fifteen in the country in all polls, and top five in some.
Mitch McGary, a bruising six-foot-ten center, may be the headliner. McGary is from Chesterton, Indiana, Zack Novak's hometown. He plays with Novak's intensity and passion--but, unlike Novak, everyone wanted McGary. Michigan beat Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky for a player rated as high as number two in the country by recruiting services. Beilein also brings in Nik Stauskas, a six-foot-six Canadian with an excellent shooting stroke, a nice crossover move, and the ability to dish it in traffic. And then there's McGary's former AAU teammate, Glenn Robinson III. Robinson, son of former Purdue and NBA great Glenn (Big Dog) Robinson, is a six-foot-six forward with incredible athletic and jumping ability and a rounded game. Robinson, who finished his senior season as the number-eleven player in the country according to one rating service, will be a primary element in this year's team.
In the spring it looked like Burke, after his surprising and excellent freshman year, would jump to the NBA. That would have left Michigan without
a point guard--at a time when all the obvious candidates had signed letters of intent with other schools. At this juncture Glenn III, McGary, and their crusty AAU coach, Wayne Brumm, recommended Spike Albrecht, a diminutive point guard who had played with McGary and Robinson on Brumm's team. Albrecht had no other offers, but in his first game this fall, an exhibition against Northern Michigan--with Burke sidelined for an unspecified disciplinary violation--he put up sixteen points and handed out six assists with only two turnovers.
The final addition to Beilein's freshman class came in May, when he signed Caris LeVert, a six-foot-five shooting guard from Pickerington, Ohio. This was an out-of-the-blue event even for those closely following the program. LeVert was a very late bloomer but by the end of his senior year was generally considered the best player in Ohio. Still, a redshirt is predicted.
That would still leave Beilein with plenty to puzzle over. At center (and power forward) he has to find minutes for Morgan, McGary, and Horford. Add in Bielfeldt and McLimans and the puzzle becomes more complex, particularly when exhibition games showed that Glenn III needed to be on the court, in either the small or big forward spot. Point guard poses little complication--Burke plays, Albrecht gives him a blow--but the two guard and small forward positions pose the same issues as do the bigs. Hardaway is the returning star and a key to the coming season, but Stauskas, Glenn III, and senior Vogrich will compete for playing time.
The players seem to have a positive attitude about this. Their message, in the words of walk-on Josh Bartelstein, is "Yeah, we all compete on the court, but off the court, we support each other. There aren't any jealousies here." Stauskus reinforced this, telling the Free Press that there is "no ego, no drama" on the team.
One would think that the playing time dilemma, coupled with this year's high expectations, might make the coach nervous. But there was no sign of it at the team's media day in October: while reporters clustered around Hardaway, Burke, and their teammates, Beilein wandered the expansive floor of the new Player Development Center--tracking the St. Louis Cardinals playoff game on his cell phone.
[Originally published in December, 2012.]