Michigan Basketball Season Preview

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- John Beilein has been all over the college basketball map.
But he hasn't been at a place like Michigan, where prized recruits have been calling him at home.
The Wolverines, however, don't have the program they used to.
They haven't made it to the NCAA tournament since 1998 and have gone more than two decades without a Big Ten title.
That's why Beilein is in and Tommy Amaker is out.
Beilein, entering his 30th season as a coach, has been successful at every stop.
He is the only active coach to win at least 20 games at Division I, II, NAIA and junior college programs.
Since being hired in April to replace Amaker, though, Beilein has learned that coaching at Michigan is not like being at West Virginia or the five smaller schools he has led.
"I've been sitting at home and have had some of the best juniors in the country call me," Beilein said earlier this week in his office. "We haven't had too many of those situations in the past."
Michigan's past as a basketball power has become a distant memory, leading to the decision to let Amaker go and bring in Beilein at a cost of $1.3 million a season plus bonuses over six years.
Beilein doesn't seem to expect the Wolverines to end their NCAA tournament or Big Ten drought in his first season.
In fact, he said the young team reminds him of the ones he inherited at West Virginia and Canisius that resulted in losing debut seasons at both schools.
"Without a doubt, it's a rebuilding year when you lose four starters" Beilein said. "Inch by inch, we need to build a foundation and culture here. That's not going to happen in three weeks of practice, and it might take at least a year for the whole team to understand what we're trying to do."
Michigan is without its top four players from last season: Dion Harris, Courtney Sims, Lester Abram and Brent Petway.
Returning are Ron Coleman, Jerret Smith and Ekpe Udoh, who played 20-plus minutes a game last year, but they averaged fewer than six points a game. They will need to produce more right away as will DeShawn Sims, Jevohn Shepherd and freshman Manny Harris.
"My biggest goal is winning," said Harris, who won the Mr. Basketball award last year while starring at Detroit Redford. "Individually, I want to start as a freshman and play a lot of minutes. But my main goal is to win."
Beilein said Harris has picked up the offense as well as the veterans have and plays defense better than most newcomers do out of high school.
"You don't like to just throw freshmen in there and say, `Go get 'em,' but Manny is going to be forced into action early," Beilein said.
Beilein has radically changed what the Wolverines do at both ends of the court, and he compares it to learning a new language.
In Beilein's free-flowing offense, players are encouraged to value possessions and find open spots to launch 3-pointers. They also are told to react to defenses instead of running a set play and scrambling if it doesn't work out as planned.
"All players want to play offense and have fun doing what they do, and this system brings that spark back into us individually and as a team," Coleman said. "Of course, you have to make shots."
West Virginia shot about 500 more 3-pointers than Michigan did last season.
Defensively, Beilein said it's a misconception that his teams use 1-3-1 zone exclusively.
"Over the course of the season, we probably play zone 25 percent of the time," he insisted.
Beilein also doesn't want the public to think he is satisfied with Michigan's basketball facilities, which lag behind other Big Ten schools.
New lights have been installed at Crisler Arena and some tattered seats near the tunnel have been replaced.
"That was refreshing, but I do not think the Michigan plan is to continue to patch the tire," Beilein said. "I think we'll see a complete overall in the future."
Beilein hopes the new-look facilities include a place to practice when Crisler is occupied, giving him an asset that rival Michigan State has in East Lansing. When Beilein was hired and the topic was broached, he was quick to say he didn't have a practice facility at West Virginia, Richmond, Canisius, LeMoyne, Nazareth or Erie Community College.
"It's not that we can't win now without one, but in the future we have to have something like that and we have to upgrade Crisler," he said. "That's in the plans. Behind the scenes, we're working on that and we're excited about it."
After hearing so much about Michigan State's basketball practice facility, Beilein called Spartans coach Tom Izzo and was invited to visit.
"Michigan State is a model of what you want your basketball program to be," Beilein said. "It's like when you have a beautiful home, but your neighbor is always painting and replacing windows. You can't just let your home sit there, so I think it's great to have that kind of competition so close."
Perhaps taking a cue from Izzo, Beilein has been seen and heard more in the public than Amaker was in six seasons.
"I've got to be careful, though, that I'm not too much Barnum and Bailey and not enough of a basketball coach," he said. "But I still have a lot of anonymity on campus and around the state, but if we do things right that will not last long. I just want to win people over one fan at a time to get people jumping on the bandwagon."


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