Ann Arbor — When Nik Stauskas emerged from the Blavin Tunnel at Crisler Center on Tuesday night, Michigan fans gave him a rousing ovation.
But instead of going into the game, Stauskas headed to a seat in the stands to watch UM face rival Michigan State. Along with Stauskas, former Wolverines Glenn Robinson III and Jordan Morgan — also part of the 2013 team that went to the national championship game — returned to Crisler for the first time.
Stauskas was the No. 8 overall pick in the NBA draft. Robinson was a second-round selection and Morgan is playing professionally in Italy. The trio helped UM reach the Elite Eight last season, but their departures — along with Mitch McGary, another first-round pick, and Jon Horford — have helped signal the turnaround that the Wolverines (13-13) have experienced without the star players.
After winning Big Ten player of the year as a sophomore last season, Stauskas hasn't had a big impact with the Sacramento Kings, averaging 3.4 points, 1 rebound, 0.7 assists and 13.6 minutes per game. Playing behind a logjam of veteran wing players such as Rudy Gay and Ben McLemore, Stauskas has had to wait his turn.
"It's been tough. Every player has that transition when they come in the NBA as a rookie, and it's the same coming from high school into college," Stauskas said. "You have to take a step back and find your role on the team and find your strengths and weaknesses. That's what I've had to do. It's been humbling, to be honest.
"With me, it's all about getting my confidence back and getting that swagger back I used to have here at Michigan and just playing the way I know how to play."
Stauskas has played in 50 games, but with the Kings built around big man DeMarcus Cousins and sputtering with an 18-34 record — including losing 13 of their last 15 — they already have an eye toward next season.
George Karl replaced Tyrone Corbin as coach last week and Stauskas has a chance to make a new first impression with his new coach and possibly increase his role.
I'm excited for it; it's been a roller-coaster ride this year for us and this is my third coach, just about halfway through the year," he said. "It's been different for me; I'm used to being here at Michigan and, through two years, we had a lot of stability with the same coaches and the same players.
"It's a different kind of look for me but I'm excited about it. I've heard a lot of good things about George Karl and I talked to him on the phone this weekend and I'm excited to get a chance to work with him."
For Robinson, it's a similar situation with the Minnesota Timberwolves, as he's played in just 23 games with limited production: 1.2 points and 0.6 rebounds per game.
Though he was a fringe choice to leave Michigan as a sophomore and be selected in the draft, he's making the most of his chance in the NBA.
"Right now, I'm standing back and being myself and learning. No doubt in my mind, next year, these questions won't be asked," said Robinson, whose father, Glenn Jr. also played in the NBA, with the Bucks.
"I'm in the gym at 3:30 in the morning — I have that confidence and drive and that's what keeps my head up and knowing I put in the hard work and it's going to pay off."
Robinson, who plays on the same team with dunk-contest champion Zach LaVine, was known as a prolific dunker at Michigan but hasn't had much chance to show that off in the NBA. In practice, though, he helped LaVine work on the dunks that won him the title.
"People haven't seen how he can jump. He can jump out of the building. He didn't pull out some of the stuff he has in the toolbox," Robinson said. "Hopefully, next year or the year after, when I get some more playing time, I want to enter the dunk contest. That's something I've always dreamed about and I told him I'm going to give him a run for his money."
Morgan, who is averaging 8.5 points and 6.3 rebounds with Virtus Roma in Serie A of the Italian League, has a starting role and reaping the benefits after earning two engineering degrees at Michigan.
But playing overseas and adjusting to a professional life, is a change for him, too.
"Lately there was a little dip in the middle of the season where it was tough. It's a much longer season and it's a different game," Morgan said. "It's different. It was hard adjusting, but you have to refocus, and when I had a chance to do that, I started to play really well."
Ohio State at Michigan
Tipoff: 1 Sunday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: Ohio State 19-7, 8-5 Big Ten; Michigan 13-13, 6-8
Outlook: Michigan is looking to end a five-game losing streak, its longest in four years. ... The Buckeyes dominated the first meeting by 19 points and have one of the best rookies in the country in D'Angelo Russell (19.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists).