Michigan assistant coaches Bacari Alexander, center, and Jeff Meyer, right, pictured with head coach John Beilein, talked about the transitions facing the Wolverines roster in a radio appearance Tuesday. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)
After a long summer and offseason, Michigan is getting ready to head back to the court with another top-10 ranking, and a new look.
Men’s basketball assistant coaches Bacari Alexander, Jeff Meyer and LaVall Jordan joined Sam Webb on Tuesday morning on the “Michigan Insider Show” on WTKA (AM 1050) to talk about some of the new faces and changes for the Wolverines, coming off their trip to the Final Four last season.
With freshmen Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and Mark Donnal now in the fold, U-M will have to get used to a transition from the familiar faces and contributions of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., who both moved on to the NBA.
Sophomore Mitch McGary, a preseason All-America selection, still is nursing a bad back and isn’t at full strength to practice, but he’s steadily improving.
“He’s already back to stationary shooting in practice and running in the underwater treadmill,” Alexander said.
But even in his limited play, McGary has taken a leadership role and contributed in other ways, including taking some of the leadership mantle from Burke and Hardaway.
“With Mitch, he’s always going to bring energy. With him not on the court right now, he’s still brings that in practice,” Jordan said. “He’s going to have his voice and have some enthusiasm about him — that’s just who he is.”
When he has played, McGary has shown significant skill development, as the 6-foot-10 big man moves from center to power forward.
“In the summer, Mitch did a tremendous job with increasing the consistency in his shooting range. We were excited to see Mitch because in addition to his motor, he was able to add the ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays for others in a controlled situation,” Alexander said. “He did a really nice job of knocking down perimeter jumpers from (3-point range) as he was working on his migration plan to the (power forward) position. There were days he was really dominant, and that excited all of us. We suspect he’ll get back to form fairly quickly.”
In addition to McGary’s improvement, Alexander said veteran big men Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford both are back and healthy and are leaders as well.
In the backcourt, sophomores Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert (both 6-6) could be significant contributors in making a transition to playing the backcourt. Both have added weight from participating in spring and summer sessions, with LeVert up about 25 pounds to 190 and Stauskas up to about 208.
Stauskas also increased his vertical jump about 6 inches from last year.
“Nik is moving much better laterally, in terms of being a better defender,” Jordan said. “He knew that was something we challenged him on.”
With more depth in the frontcourt and wing positions, both can move to play in the backcourt, providing a size advantage the Wolverines haven’t had in a long time.
“Nik moving to play in the backcourt — similar to what (Hardaway) did — being more of a ballhandler and a decision-maker,” Jordan said. “He can really pass the basketball — he’s 6-6; with Caris and Nik in the backcourt, it gives a little bit of the Darius Morris feel where size at the position as a passer, some passes that Trey and Derrick Walton now can’t deliver just due to size.”
Jordan didn’t rule out the possibility of Stauskas and LeVert playing at the same time in the backcourt.
Michigan’s freshmen look to make an immediate contribution as well, with Walton picking up some of the offensive and defensive principles and looking good at point guard.
“Derrick is a competitor, so it’s been good to watch in practice. The battles have been intense and I think he is a really gifted passer, where he can make it easy for guys to just be able to catch and finish,” Jordan said. “Whether you’re a shooter spotting up on the perimeter or a big cutting and rolling or posting near the basket, Derrick Walton can find you. That’s just his gift and something he can do well.”
The Wolverines open the exhibition season on Oct. 29 against Concordia at Crisler Center.