John Beilein on Nik Stauskas: 'He has an ability that is very rare to get his own shot, to get to the rim, to make foul shots, to draw fouls.' (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)
Ann Arbor — Nik Stauskas rarely lacks for confidence.
As a precocious freshman last season, his swagger oozed on almost every 3-pointer he took.
This year, that swagger has extended to his drives, when he finishes with a dunk or passes to a teammate for an easy basket.
It’s the metamorphosis Stauskas has made from being a volume shooter for Michigan to becoming an all-around player.
“I’ve watched him two years in practice,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “I watch him every day, and he has an ability that is very rare to get his own shot, to get to the rim, to make foul shots, to draw fouls. I don’t know if I’m ever surprised, but I love his growth.”
Saturday, when No. 21 Michigan travels to No. 3 Michigan State, Stauskas’ growth will be front and center.
Stauskas, a 6-foot-6 wing, played a secondary role as a freshman last season behind Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., who left for the NBA early. Stauskas averaged 11 points and set a school freshman record with 80 3-pointers, but was strictly an outside threat.
But with Burke gone, the Wolverines needed a go-to scorer and ballhandler while freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. learned the ropes. Stauskas fit the bill, and has delivered. Consider some of his numbers:
■He hit a clutch shot in the final seconds against Florida State before Michigan won in overtime.
■He scored 26 in a loss to Charlotte.
■And despite suffering an ankle sprain and scoring a season-low four in a loss to Duke, he’s averaged 18.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the 10 games since. Michigan is 9-1 in those games.
“My confidence has been on another level since the beginning of the season,” said Stauskas, who tied a career-high with 26 points in the victory over Iowa on Wednesday. “With the games I’ve been playing and success we’ve been having, that confidence has been growing and growing.”
With the increase in production came a jump in confidence — and showmanship.
After made 3-pointers, Stauskas holds up three fingers and makes a circle with his thumb and index finger — what he calls “3 Goggles” — to show his excitement.
It’s a swagger and flair that the usually conservative Beilein has had to embrace, along with the flashy plays.
“He enjoys that and the team feeds off it,” Beilein said. “The team has evolved and I’ve evolved.
“(But) he’s going to keep that in line — we don’t want technical fouls or to show anybody up.”
Better jump, agility
Stauskas’ improvement wasn’t just a result of on-the-court training. He embarked on a rigorous offseason training program last summer with Jon Sanderson, Michigan’s strength and conditioning coach.
The program, dubbed “Camp Sanderson,” includes weightlifting and all-around mobility and plyometric training to improve agility and strength.
“What we noticed from the beginning was his physicality didn’t have much of a presence,” Sanderson recalled. “He didn’t have a lot of weight room background and training background. It’s a process and these kids don’t develop overnight; it takes time.”
The result was an extra 16 pounds for Stauskas, putting him at about 206.
“For Nik, his whole body needed to get stronger,” Sanderson said. “I tell our guys it’s all about your lower body — that’s what makes and breaks you as an athlete. No one is improving their vertical jump by having a big bench press.”
Sanderson estimates that Stauskas added about six inches to his vertical jump and his agility on the court, working off the dribble on the pick-and-roll and finishing at the rim. And that has led to more free throw attempts (88 in 18 games) than he attempted all of last season (87).
That aggressiveness and added strength has paid dividends, with Stauskas looking more explosive.
“They find out they’ve probably never lifted weights consistently,” Beilein said. “(Stauskas) has worked really hard at his strength and looking at the game from a different perspective.”