June 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm


Michigan coach John Beilein turns focus to freshmen-heavy class

Junior guard Caris LeVert will be one of Michigan basketball's few upperclassmen in the regular rotation. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)

As four of Michigan’s players from last season prepare for Thursday night’s NBA draft, coach John Beilein is getting ready to turn the page and start looking ahead to next year’s team.

Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III all are projected as potential first-round picks and Jordan Morgan has a shot to be drafted in the second round.

Junior guard Caris LeVert, who had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot, has been recovering and should be ready for summer workouts soon.

“We’ve turned this into a positive with Caris; he’s such a gym rat,” Beilein said Wednesday morning on WTKA’s “Michigan Insider” radio show. “He’s been off his feet now for two almost months. That’s really good from a standpoint he will shoot all day long.

“Given the foot injury, it’s good to get some time for his feet to just recover from a long season. We expect him to be back in a couple more weeks and be ready to go.”

LeVert will be surrounded by a young supporting cast, including a freshman class of six. Juniors Max Bielfeldt (hip injury) and Spike Albrecht and sophomores Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin are the only returning players in the regular rotation.

The freshman arrived on campus last weekend and are set to begin classes Thursday, so Beilein can focus on getting the Wolverines ready for their European exhibition tour in August. With Kam Chatman, D.J. Wilson, Ricky Doyle, Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rakhman, Austin Hatch and Aubrey Dawkins, U-M will use the 10-day trip to Italy as additional training time before the fall semester begins.

On the tour, Mark Donnal, who redshirted last season, will get his first taste of game action and will join Doyle in rebuilding the frontcourt left barren by the departures of Morgan, Jon Horford and McGary.

We’re looking forward to having him and Mark; he worked a year to get to this point,” Beilein said. “They’re very similar in their style, so that will allow us to do some things that are different sometimes.”

During the summer, the players have eight hours a week to work out, spending two with the coaches on skill development and six with strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson. In August, the Wolverines will have 10 extra days of practice to prepare for the Italy trip.

“It’s going to be a tremendous experience for our guys,” Beilein said Wednesday morning on WDFN’s “Shep in the Morning” show with host Matt Shepard. “If the freshmen couldn’t go, we wouldn’t be going, because we’d only have five people.

“It’s really good for the program to do this; we’ll make this a learning experience and a cultural experience for them.”

Strength gains

Walton, who continued to develop during his freshman season in the starting lineup, is looking to make bigger strides as a sophomore. He’s worked during the summer to improve his strength and to tinker with facets of his game, including extending the range on his jump shot.

Part of that has involved Walton working with Sanderson to strengthen his lower body, much like Trey Burke did two years ago, which made him better able to absorb contact and shoot better from the perimeter. For Walton, it means releasing the ball on his jump shot on the way up, instead of at the peak of his jump.

“Coming in, (Walton) was a very good shooter but he’d step on the (3-point) line continually and he’d jump forward a great deal,” Beilein said. “Since he’s been here, we’ve slowly been trying to get him to use his legs more, and you use your legs more if you shoot it on the way up.

“What has been really impressive is his ability in limited workouts we’ve done (during four hours this summer), his range has really increased and that’s huge. That’s a big difference-maker to have range beyond the NBA line.”