Ann Arbor — Before Michigan kicked off its 2014-15 season with a 92-68 victory over Hillsdale College on Saturday at the Crisler Center, it took a moment to reflect on last year's accomplishments.
The team held a banner-raising ceremony to celebrate its 2013-14 regular-season Big Ten championship — its 14th overall and first outright title in 28 years — complete with a video montage of highlights before coach John Beilein handed out the championship rings in front of a crowd of 12,707.
"I talked a little bit to the freshmen but the ones we gave the rings out to who are currently on the team, I said, 'Let's do this again,'" Beilein said. "It's so important that we have this vision that we're going to compete for championships.
"At the same time I said to the other guys, 'Sit back and look at what just happened and know that that's what we're trying to do every day at the University of Michigan.' I counted 18 banners and there are guys on that group right there that have a place in three of them. It's really important that we understand that what we do will work as long as you stay together."
Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan and Nik Stauskas' parents were all on hand to accept the rings on their behalf.
After a pair of Maize Rage students unveiled the banner, players from last year's team took photos with it before it was raised to the rafters as a lasting reminder all while the incoming freshmen looked on.
"I feel it was moreso inspiration for the young guys to buy into the team," sophomore guard Derrick Walton Jr. said of the ceremony. "I think the young guys watching it were inspired and played well for us (today)."
Said sophomore Zak Irvin: "It was great. It was nice to see the hard work we put in last year and to see that banner being raised, but that was last year's team. We have a whole new team this year and have to be able to work harder and get better each day."
The Michigan team captains never were named prior to the season opener, but that mystery was solved during the pregame ceremony when Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht were announced as captains before the duo presented Beilein with his championship ring.
"We make a big deal of it in our locker room but we don't make a big deal of it outside it," Beilein said. "They will be captains all year long. We had a team vote that was unanimous and the coaching staff was unanimous, too. We're really excited about those two guys leading us into the future."
While LeVert and Albrecht may not be the most outspoken players, Beilein says there is no denying their leadership qualities.
"Neither one are holler guys and that's something we're teaching them," he said. "We really pride ourselves in teaching that chararectistic and it's not as natural to some. They're loyal and in it for all the right reasons. I have no doubt they're going to make the right decisions, they just have to make more of them."
One of the question marks heading into the season was how well the frontcourt of true freshmen Mark Donnal and Kameron Chatman will be able to replace Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan.
In their first career starts, Donnal finished with nine points and four rebounds in 26 minutes and Chatman finished with four points, four rebounds and four steals in 30 minutes.
Fellow freshman Ricky Doyle was effective in limited action, scoring seven in just nine minutes of play, and D.J. Wilson added two points and four rebounds in nine minutes.
"Kam is learning more and more what he has to do to help us more," Beilein said. "D.J., Ricky and Mark are right in that category. There's no concern there but the expectation is not everybody is going to come in here and play like a junior or a sophomore."
Beilein added it will be a challenge as he continues to try and develop the new guys alongside experienced players like LeVert, Walton, Irvin and Albrecht.
"Trying to work with (the freshmen) individually, that's the puzzle," he said. "You don't want to lose sight of the really good players while you develop the young kids. You have to continue to feed Caris, Zak, Spike and Derrick so much reinforcement and individual development all while you're trying to get the other guys to land on two feet sometimes. That's a balance that's difficult for us."
James Hawkins is a freelance writer.