Michigan coach John Beilein receives plenty of praise as one of the top talent developers in college basketball.
But Beilein is the first to admit he doesn’t deserve all the credit for the six first-round NBA draft picks the Wolverines have produced since 2013.
During a radio interview Tuesday on “The Drive with Jack Ebling” on 92.1 FM in Lansing, Beilein pointed to the crucial behind-the-scenes role strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson plays during the offseason.
“Coaches get way too much credit for any success we’ve had. Jon Sanderson is a huge part of this,” Beilein said. “And all these NBA draft choices we’ve had, Jon Sanderson is a huge part of that as well.
“So these guys in the summer, he’s our most important coach because the strength coach can be with them roughly six hours a week when we can only be with them two hours a week. So over 16 weeks with some guys that’s a big difference.”
Sanderson’s impact is already starting to show with this year’s team. Earlier this month, Sanderson tweeted out a photo of sophomore wing Ibi Watson setting a program record with a 44.5-inch vertical jump and a video of senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman running a three-quarter court sprint in three seconds, the fastest during Beilein’s tenure, according to Sanderson.
And eight of the 10 Wolverines from last year’s team have put on some muscle, according to this season’s roster. Guards Charles Matthews and Fred Wright-Jones, forward Brent Hibbitts, center Jon Teske and Watson all packed on 10 pounds apiece, while guard Xavier Simpson and centers Moritz Wagner and Austin Davis have each added five pounds.
Beilein also lauded the job assistant coach Saddi Washington has done working with the post players, particularly in D.J. Wilson’s transformation from a backup big man to the No. 17 overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in June.
“We threw the ball out of the post much more than we have in a long time (last season) and it was because he (Washington) had really developed our post players more than we ever thought,” Beilein said. “Nobody ever thought we’d throw the ball in the block to Moe Wagner, and this year I think you’ll see it more with Austin Davis and Jon Teske. You’ll watch them grow as they go along because remember Moe averaged three points as a freshman and Saddi walks in that picture and what a great job he’s done.
“He also had a large part in the development of D.J. Wilson as well. When D.J. Wilson realized he wasn’t going to be successful unless he got more physical, his game took off.”
Wilson flourished last season as a full-time starter and became what Beilein calls Michigan’s latest “pro at the college prom” to head to the NBA, joining Caris LeVert (2016), Nik Stauskas (2014), Mitch McGary (2014), Trey Burke (2013) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (2013) as first-round selections.
And that recent string of success has become a useful sales pitch for Beilein in landing 2018 commitments from East Lansing forward Brandon Johns, Clarkston forward Taylor Currie and Detroit East English Village guard David DeJulius, who are ranked the state’s Nos. 1, 6 and 8 prospects, respectively, in the 247Sports Composite ratings. Michigan still has one open scholarship for 2018.
“(Six) is a pretty high number. You take all 350 schools, it might be in the top five of how many first-rounders. You have to sell that,” Beilein said. “At the same time, D.J. averaged two or three points a game the year before. It’s tough to think about your roster one or two years from now when that’s how we were recruiting. We really weren’t recruiting that position because we’re going to have Moe and D.J. both back and sort of a 4-5 type of guy but it also allowed us in ’18 to be able to sell that with some young men that it either has or will work out.
“We’ve been able to win, we’ve been able to graduate and we’ve also been able to develop pros. We want them to want it all though — put their academics first, the team second and then their pro (prospects) third, and that’s a tough balance for some kids.”
With Wilson going pro, fifth-year senior Duncan Robinson is likely to move back into the starting lineup at the four to start this upcoming season.
Robinson started the first two games last season before Beilein replaced him with Wilson and used him as the sixth man off the bench, where he averaged 7.7 points and 1.7 rebounds in 20.1 minutes.
Beilein noted last year he and the staff thought Robinson put on too much weight, which contributed to his slow start and role swap with Wilson. As a result, Beilein said the focus this offseason has been trying to find a balance of improving Robinson’s strength and physicality without putting on more pounds.
“He’s been there the whole summer working out like crazy, but he does more than just go out and make a couple hundred 3s every day,” Beilein said. “He’s doing defensive slides, he’s working on his agility, he’s running the court harder. He’s doing a lot of things because as you can see he can’t get open. You can’t get open if you’re just relying on help defense.
“They don’t leave him, so we got to get him open and he’s going to get himself open. That’s what he’s been working on — his quickness, his versatility as both an offensive and defensive player.”