ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When John Beilein first took over at Michigan, he envisioned a roster with plenty of continuity from year to year.
“We were always going to have veterans. We were going to maybe recruit under-the-radar guys who were going to stay for four years, and we’d have these great Senior Nights,” Beilein said Thursday at media day.
“It hasn’t worked that way. It’s worked well, but I don’t want to tell you that was my plan — to get top-100 guys and they’d be in the pros [after] two years, but it’s worked well for everybody.”
Now in his eighth season as Michigan’s coach, Beilein is becoming accustomed to early departures. This year, he’ll have to replace Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary, all of whom left Michigan for the NBA after their sophomore seasons. What’s left is a roster with only one senior — but plenty of potential leaders.
“I think, in men’s basketball in particular, you’ve got to talk about veteran leadership. I don’t think you can talk about senior leadership that much anymore,” Beilein said. “At least at this level, the transfer of the NBA just happens so much more readily.”
— Caris LeVert
The Wolverines might not have many seniors, but they have a core of experienced players who they’ll be able to rely on. Juniors Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht played significant roles on the team that won the Big Ten championship last season, and Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin return as sophomores. The lone senior is forward Max Bielfeldt, who may need to contribute more now that McGary’s departure has left a void inside.
LeVert made major improvements last season, averaging 12.9 points per game — up from 2.3 as a freshman. His emergence was a big reason why Michigan came within one victory of a second consecutive Final Four appearance.
Now he’s a junior, which makes him one of the team’s elder statesmen.
“I just turned 20 like a couple months ago,” said LeVert, who has recovered well from offseason surgery for a stress fracture in his foot. “Considering myself a veteran, a third-year player, is crazy.”
Michigan has had other obvious leaders — Stauskas last season, Trey Burke and Zack Novak before that. It remains to be seen how players like LeVert, Walton and Irvin perform now that more will be expected.
“We’ve had great leaders in the past. I’ve learned from great guys,” LeVert said. “I think naturally, I’m kind of wanting to lead by example more, but the coaches have been pushing me and my teammates as well, to kind of talk more and be more vocal, on the court as well as off the court.”
As far as Beilein is concerned, LeVert doesn’t need to yell and scream to set a good example.
“He’s just not going to be like Zack Novak — not going to be a guy that’s going to really jump in somebody’s face, which Zack was very happy to do several times,” Beilein said. “His attitude of being coachable, and his effort every day, speaks volumes for who he is. He’s always been that way, but now as one of the veteran players, our guys are watching him.”
That type of leadership is something any player can provide, no matter what his class year is.
“That’s where I wanted to get this program to, where it wasn’t just the coaches teaching,” Beilein said. “If we’re tough on the kids some day, I’m sure he’s got his arm around some guy on the way to the training table saying, ‘All right, so you learned this today.’ There’s many ways to lead, and Caris has a really good method of leading.”