April 4, 2013 at 4:54 pm

John Niyo

Michigan's Spike Albrecht making the most of opportunity

Ann Arbor -- It was late last Sunday night, and John Beilein, Michigan's basketball coach, was speaking into a megaphone, which, by itself, is kind of a funny scene.

But there was Beilein and his bullhorn, surrounded by his players and hundreds of students gathered outside Crisler Center. The Wolverines had just arrived home from Dallas, where they'd clinched the school's first Final Four berth in two decades, and Beilein wanted to thank the fans for their support, for waiting in the cold, for acknowledging again that Michigan wasn't just a football school.

He also wanted to acknowledge the team, though, rattling off the players' names, class by class. And when he got to his fabulous freshmen, he started with the one name he knew would get the biggest cheer.

"How about this?" Beilein yelled, as his face broke into a big grin. "The most eligible bachelor on campus right now: Spike Albrecht!"

And with that, the crowd erupted, as did Albrecht's teammates, hoisting him up on their shoulders as if he was Ollie from the movie "Hoosiers," which is sort of how he has been viewed by most folks, until recently.

Heady stuff for a 5-foot-11, 170-pound point guard from Crown Point, Ind., who barely a year ago had one scholarship offer — from Appalachian State — before Michigan came calling at his Northfield Mount Hermon (Mass.) prep school, and only then because it appeared Trey Burke might be heading to the NBA.

Now, suddenly, he's Big Man On Campus, at least according to his roommate, freshman guard Nik Stauskas, one of the Wolverines starters. And Albrecht even has a straight-laced 60-year-old acting as his wing man.

"Yeah, kind of," Stauskas laughed. "Coach B was helpin' him out."

'Living the dream'

So how did this happen?

"It all happened really fast," Albrecht said Tuesday after practice, rewinding his story to the day everything changed. "My prep school coach (John Carroll) came and got me and said, 'Hey, I got an interesting phone call today. Michigan called about you.'"

Albrecht's reaction was as you'd expect: "No way!" he replied. "Are you serious?!?!"

He'd gotten recruiting calls, but only from small Division I schools and a few mid-majors, "and those weren't even offers. I was just getting calls."

Albrecht helped lead his team to a New England prep school title last March, beating future classmate Mitch McGary's team in the process. Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer, who has been a huge part of Beilein's recruiting success in Indiana, was there to watch. Soon, Beilein visited, too.

After that, the phone finally started ringing with more schools calling, Albrecht said, "But by that time I was like, 'Nope, Michigan already called. I don't want to start hearing from all you guys now.'"

A week later, Albrecht was on campus in Ann Arbor for an official visit, where he committed "right on the spot."

"I was like, 'Hey, Coach, I don't want to be super eager here, but this is where I want to go, no doubt,'" Albrecht said.

Zack Novak, the team captain at the time and a player Albrecht had grown to admire, gave him a hug and said, "Congrats, buddy. You're living the dream."

"That kind of hit home a little bit, right there," said Albrecht, 20, whose given name is Michael but who earned his nickname as a child when he insisted on wearing his baseball spikes everywhere. "I was like, 'Wow, this is gonna be special.' But I had no idea. Now here we are, the first year, and I'm in the Final Four as a freshman."

And contributing, too. Albrecht, a steady, pass-first point guard, averaged 7.3 minutes during the regular season, mostly giving Burke a chance to catch his breath on the bench. But he's averaged twice that much playing time the last three games in the NCAA Tournament, and he's making the most of his opportunity.

Albrecht has hit all three of his 3-point attempts — one in each game — while also providing some highlight-reel moments. Among them: A ridiculous, left-handed 30-foot bounce pass to Glenn Robinson for a fast break against Virginia Commonwealth in the third round, and a steal and a double-clutch layup off an inbounds pass against Florida that surprised everyone in the Midwest Regional final.

Going bonkers

Albrecht shrugged off that steal — one of three he had in the game — saying, "You just play with your instincts."

But ask his teammates, and they'll tell you he's quietly reveling in his role — overlooked and underappreciated.

"I mean, he's a really good player," junior Jordan Morgan said. "But he's had to deal with that perception all his life."

Which is perfect, Stauskas says, "because when he goes out there, I think teams kind of look at him as the weak link and they try to attack him. And it never really works. He uses it to his advantage."

Now then, will he use it to his advantage off the court? At that, Albrecht just laughs.

"I would say the Michigan basketball buzz is at an all-time high," Albrecht deadpanned. "But for me, personally, I can walk around and no one knows who I am. I look like the average Joe."

When pressed, though, he admits that's starting to change "a little bit." Albrecht's phone blew up with about 60 text messages after the Florida game, and says his family — they'll all be in Atlanta, including his two older brothers — is going bonkers.

Still, he insists, "mostly I hear it through other friends. Every time we talk they're like, 'Man, I would kill to be in your position.' ... I'm just so thankful to Coach Beilein for giving me this opportunity. I owe him a lot."

He lets him know it, too.

"I tell him all the time," Albrecht laughed.

Beilein's response usually is to remind him what he jokingly tells others about recruiting the little guard nobody but Appalachian State wanted: "You're either gonna make me look like a genius, or get me fired."

"And I'm like, 'Well, I don't want to get you fired, Coach,'" Albrecht says. "'So I'll work my tail off.'"

So far, so good.

"I mean, we're in the Final Four, right?" Albrecht said.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/JohnNiyo

By the numbers

Season ... G/GS ... Min. ... FG ... 3FG ... FT ... Reb. ... Ast. ... TO ... Stls. ... Avg.
2012-13 ... 37/0 ... 7.7 ... 41.7 ... 46.2 ... 100.0 ... 0.8 ... 0.8 ... 0.3 ... 0.3 ... 1.6

Michigan freshman Spike Albrecht was barely recruited out of high school. / John T. Greilick / Detroit News