ROSEMONT, Ill. — Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert stood in front of the private jet, grins spreading across their faces.
The Michigan men’s basketball players were about to join the women’s basketball players, traveling in style to Chicago for the Big Ten preseason basketball media day.
— Michigan Basketball (@umichwbball) October 15, 2014
In just 2 1/2 years LeVert and Albrecht went from minor scholarship offers to the representatives of Michigan’s program.
Whereas LeVert’s spot makes sense as an All-Big Ten player, Albrecht is still the backup point guard, known mostly for his One Shining Moment in the 2013 national title game.
So his attention surprises him.
“It’s definitely a lot different,” he said at Thursday’s media day. “I’ve always been a guy flying under the radar. I didn’t expect to be coming to this, that’s for sure. A private jet, hotel room. We had (Brazilian steakhouse) Fogo de Chao last night. Living the life of a king.”
That king has quietly emerged as Michigan’s vocal leader this summer, assuming the role as older players moved on.
Michigan has six freshmen and only one senior on one of the nation’s youngest rosters, so Albrecht is one of the veteran voices even as a junior. It’s certainly not his plan but a role he is accepting.
“It’s amazing the confidence that he has shown since the day he walked in the door,” coach John Beilein said. “Even when he came for his visit where he was what some people thought was an unlikely recruit, he was laughing about how unlikely people thought this was. And then every time he walks on the floor, he just — he’s got incredible confidence that ‘I can play at this level,’ and he’s shown that so well. A pleasure to coach. He’s become a really excellent team leader now. Really leaning on him to be the pulse of the team.”
In two years, Albrecht has averaged eight minutes as a freshman and nearly 15 as a sophomore, neither season above 3.3 points per game.
But every time Michigan has needed him, he has been there.
Two years ago in the national title game with Trey Burke in foul trouble, Albrecht calmly made everyone forget the national player of the year with 17 first-half points.
Last year when Derrick Walton Jr. was sick against Iowa, Albrecht stepped in with seven points, seven assists and no turnovers. In another crucial spot, the middle of U-M’s three-game sweep of top-10 teams, Michigan didn’t miss a beat.
He’s not perfect — just this week he committed a turnover in practice and Beilein made him run the Crisler Center stairs. But with a 4.7 assist-to-turnover ratio, which would have been second nationally if he averaged enough assists, he’s pretty close.
“When you turn the ball over, it’s like the world ends, because he’s not used to it,” Albrecht said.
The best part of Albrecht is he knows his role and embraces it.
That’s why he never considered transferring after the national title game, knowing Michigan gave him a chance and was still giving him an education.
And why he was glad to relieve Burke and now support Walton, even as they may play more together this year, as Beilein indicated this week.
“Four years ago, I didn’t even know if I was going to play college basketball,” said Albrecht, who was at Northfield Mount Hermon (Mass.) School and still months away from his only real pre-Michigan offer of Appalachian State. “Now, I’m sitting here, having won a Big Ten championship and went to a final.
“Things like that, it’s almost surreal.”
— Michigan on BTN (@BTN_Michigan) October 16, 2014