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Ex-Wolverines show up in force for rivalry game

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — As Michigan was preparing for a big rematch with Michigan State with a depleted roster, it got a visit from some of its former players for a motivational boost.

Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Jordan Morgan — all key members of the past two squads that went to the title game in 2013 and the Elite Eight last season — made their first return to Crisler Center since their departure.

Stauskas, who was the Big Ten player of the year and the No. 8 pick in the NBA draft, left after his sophomore season, along with Robinson, who was a second-round selection. With Michigan's struggles this season because of injuries and illnesses, Stauskas felt a yearning to get back in the game and help out in any way he could.

"I want to steal Dakich's jersey — the same No. 11 that Stauskas wore — for a couple minutes and go out there," Stauskas joked during halftime. "It's good being back here and I talked to the team before the game today and it's one of those things.

"When you see Michigan State on the other side of the court, there's a part of me, that no matter what, I always want to go out there and have some kind of effect on the game. That's just what this rivalry does to you after a few years."

Stauskas gave a pregame pep talk to the Wolverines, but it didn't help, as they fell, 80-67, to their rivals. As Stauskas has been busy with his NBA career, he took time off during the All-Star break to visit Ann Arbor.

"The message was simple: just go out there and have fun," Stauskas said. "That's the main thing for me coming back here and being in this atmosphere. It brings a smile to my face and I remember how much fun I had here in enjoying the rivalry and taking pride in being a Michigan Wolverine."

For Morgan, who is playing professionally in Italy, it was a change from the norm, as his UM teams won at home in all four matchups that he played.

"When you have such a young team and you have something changing every week, it's hard to get a rhythm for guys in their first time playing college basketball," Morgan said. "I just wanted to stress to our team the importance of this Michigan State game and what you do in this game against Michigan State, to everybody around these programs … This game means everything."

Coach John Beilein thought of what could have been with this current team, if Stauskas and Robinson would have been here for what would have been their junior season, but didn't begrudge them for leaving early.

"When you look at them, I'm really happy for them and I hope they have incredible, long NBA careers," Beilein said. "It's an opportunity for some freshmen to play early. It wasn't the plan, but the plans change and we have to adjust. I'm not bitter; it is sweet for them; we just have to retool again.

"You're building this house and all of a sudden, you have to replace the I-beam or the screws are coming loose and you have to rebuild it again. It's part of what college basketball is right now."

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com/detnewsRodBeard