Mitch McGary: 'It's difficult just watching but I get a different perspective of the game just by watching and telling them little things here and there.' (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)
East Lansing — Much of the talk in Saturday’s showdown between No. 21 Michigan and No. 3 Michigan State was about who wasn’t playing.
MSU was without Branden Dawson (broken hand) and Adreian Payne (plantar fasciitis) but Michigan didn’t have preseason All-America big man Mitch McGary, who had back surgery on Jan. 7.
The Wolverines (15-4, 7-0 Big Ten) have adjusted to playing without McGary in the middle, with nine straight wins, including the 80-75 victory over MSU.
But McGary made the trip to East Lansing, donning a suit on the bench and helping out wherever he could, providing his support and pepping up Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford.
“I guess you can say I’m ‘Coach Mitch,’” McGary said. “It’s difficult just watching but I get a different perspective of the game just by watching and telling them little things here and there.”
McGary averaged 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds in eight games this season but hasn’t played since Dec. 14 in the Wolverines’ last loss, at home against No. 1 Arizona.
Coach John Beilein has said he didn’t expect McGary to make many road trips because McGary needs to rest his back and Beilein didn’t want him to potentially aggravate the injury by getting excited on the bench during games.
“He doesn’t want me to come to road games; I made sure I’d be at this one,” McGary said. “Earlier this week, I said I was making sure I was coming to State. He said that’s fine, but I probably won’t be at any other road games.”
McGary provided some comic relief late in the close game by holding up a somewhat motivational sign that read, “Win the Game,” during one of the timeouts.
Since the surgery, McGary has been resting and said he doesn’t have a timetable of when he might begin rehabilitation. Though the assumption is that McGary won’t return this season, he left open the possibility.
“I really don’t know right now; it’s too early to tell. It’s possible — I’d love to, but I don’t want to rush back into anything,” he said. “It went very well; I felt immediate relief right after surgery and right now I’m just resting and trying to get back and encourage the guys to stay on this streak.”
McGary said he has a follow-up appointment with his doctor and will begin rehab when he gets the green light. In the meantime, he just has to try to stay in good spirits and eat healthy. It’s a reminder of his foot injury last season and the subsequent return, as he had to get back into playing shape and lose some of the weight he gained.
“It goes back to last year when they started doing stories about me eating candy and 7-Up,” he joked. “I’m probably going to have to do it again.”