Dakich wakes up, rediscovers confidence for Wolverines

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Despite not scoring, Andrew Dakich helped turn a Michigan deficit into an advantage against Penn State.

Ann Arbor — Between wrapping up a shooting session at Crisler Center and a scheduled chat with a reporter recently, Andrew Dakich had to grab his coffee.

Yes, his coffee.

“I’m getting old,” said Dakich, 21, laughing. “I don’t know why. I just started this year. I live by a Starbucks. I go every other day.

“It’s really sweet. It’s probably not even real coffee.”

The newfound obsession caught his father by surprise, too.

During a trip to campus earlier this season, Andrew asked Dan Dakich if he wanted to make a pit stop at that Starbucks.

“Yeah, sure, but what are you getting? Hot chocolate?” Dan Dakich, confused, shot back. “Are you kidding me? Where the hell did that come from?

“I guess that’s what you’re supposed to do. If you’re a Michigan man, you drink coffee.”

Andrew Dakich isn’t a kid anymore. In so many ways, off and on the court, he’s growing up right before the eyes of dear old dad, and Michigan coach John Beilein, who last month asked Dakich to give up his redshirt to take the roster spot of the injured Spike Albrecht.

Dakich sacrificed his redshirt last season, too, amid a flurry of Michigan injuries, and it didn’t go well. At all.

A kid with so much swagger, the gift of gab and premier one-liner and smack-talk skills, for some reason didn’t take that same confidence to the court. He was always looking over his shoulder, afraid to make a mistake, and it was rough.

The returns this season, though, have been much improved, most recently with his extended cameo in a dominating victory over Penn State earlier this month, made possible with starting guard Caris LeVert out with a left leg injury.

And with LeVert possibly set to miss another game or two, Dakich likely will be called upon for some more minutes Tuesday against mighty Maryland — after seeing the court a good chunk of the first half Thursday against Purdue, which just happens to be the same campus where Dakich first met the Michigan coaching staff, when Trey Burke was a sophomore at Michigan and Dakich was a senior at Zionsville Community High School in Indiana.

In front of family and friends at Mackey Arena, Dakich played eight minutes and held his own as Michigan hung tough early with Purdue and its giants, even dishing out a nifty assist to Mark Donnal, who drained a 3-pointer to put Michigan up, 15-11, in a game it eventually lost, 87-70.

“I think it was just kind of a dream kind of hitting me in the face. ‘Am I really out here right now?’ ” Dakich said of last year’s struggles.

“It’s the best thing that’s kind of ever happened to me. It made me want to attack this dream even more.”

Talker turns skittish

Dakich has one of the best personalities on the Michigan team. Admittedly, he talks too much, in the huddle, from the bench, at practice, anywhere. Dad knows this, better than anyone.

Dan Dakich, who played at Indiana, is most famous for holding North Carolina’s Michael Jordan to 13 points in the Hoosiers’ upset in the 1984 NCAA Tournament.

“Michael Jordan,” said Andrew Dakich, “shut himself down.”

Andrew Dakich

“Yeah,” shot back Dan Dakich, “he’s full of (bleep).”

Andrew Dakich has never really lacked confidence, either.

Asked his plans after college, he mentioned broadcasting, like his dad, then said, “I don’t know if you’ve seen the show ‘Entourage.’ ” Part of him dreams of being an actor, living up life with pals in California.

So, have you taken any acting classes?

“No, none, zero,” the junior guard said, laughing. “Hopefully I can take some my senior year once I finish up my requirements for my major. That would be pretty sweet.

“I’m gonna keep that in my back pocket.”

So, here you have a kid who’ll smack-talk anyone, his dad included, and has visions of a Hollywood life, resume be damned.

Those aren’t the traits of anyone who’d be skittish about stepping on the court in a Big Ten basketball game.

But that’s exactly what happened to Dakich last season.

“I think he cared too much about what people thought,” said Dan Dakich, a commentator for ESPN and a sports-talk radio host in Indianapolis. “I think he tried too hard to please. He worries about stuff like that. I’ve gotta tell you, he’s got a sensitivity about him and a caring about him, he kind of recognized was a detriment last year.

“I think he was trying to prove to his teammates that he could play.”

When Dakich burned his redshirt before the Rutgers game a year ago (Jan. 20), Michigan was 11-7. It went 5-9 the rest of the way to miss the NCAA Tournament.

There were many reasons for the implosion, injuries being atop the list. Some stars were out for the year, other stars were playing through pain.

Dakich took the losses hard. And after the losses, he’d find himself browsing Twitter, where the comments are rarely friendly, and then took the struggles even harder.

“I think he really felt that way. It affected him in a lot of areas. It affected him academically,” Dan Dakich said. “I could always tell something was up.”

Even at Michigan State, when Dakich played well in a 76-66 overtime loss — and his dad told him as much — Andrew barked back, “Well, Dad, we lost.”

“He got off Twitter,” Dan Dakich said. “Last year, he was a high-school kid; this year, he’s become an adult. ... I could see this summer, his brain had changed, he was back to being the kid who’s confident, he’s talking, he’s funny, he’s much freer.”

His grades even bounced back, up to a 3.6 last semester.

“He grew up big-time, and he should,” Dan Dakich said. “That’s what the hell you’re supposed to do.”

After the loss to SMU on Dec. 8, when Albrecht told coaches he couldn’t play in the second half, it was clear Michigan had to make a decision on Albrecht — who made it easier for them when he announced he was shutting down for the season.

That same week, Beilein went up to Dakich and said, “Let’s go.”

Michigan guard Andrew Dakich

And Dakich, who was hesitant so often on the court last year, didn’t hesitate this time. He wanted to play, and he’s played well.

His first game against Delaware State last month, he got a nice ovation when he entered the game, and took no time making his first basket, passing up an open 3-pointer and driving the basket for two. The four points he scored in that game are his only points of the season, but he said he’s not looking to score. Michigan has more than enough weapons on that front.

Yet, Dakich still makes an impact. He’s played five games since, none more impressive than his effort against Penn State. With no LeVert, and with Derrick Walton Jr. struggling mightily early in the game, Dakich substituted and when he was on the floor, UM turned a 7-0 deficit into a laugher in no time, even though he didn’t score.

“Every day in practice, he plays against our first team. And every day, he has tremendous days in practice,” Beilein said. “So you’ve just gotta convince him, ‘Hey, you’re doing it against Derrick Walton Jr. every day, Caris LeVert every day, those are as good as guards as there are in the Big Ten.’ ”

Taking the lead

Dakich has some Spike Albrecht attributes, including leadership, hustle and energy.

He won’t be expected, however, to be Albrecht, who’s the better shooter. Albrecht has been a legend at Michigan, from that national championship game four years ago, when he scored 17 points, including four 3-pointers in the first half. Dakich won’t get nearly as many minutes, especially when LeVert returns.

But when he does get the minutes, as he did against Penn State and, to a lesser extent, Purdue, he vows to make the most of them. Something he didn’t do last season.

“There’s only one Spike and he had obviously a great, great four years here,” Dakich said. “It made me believe I could play here.”

Albrecht has long been impressed with his replacement.

“He just completely changed the game,” Albrecht said of Dakich’s sub in to the Penn State game, a 79-56 Michigan victory. “He calmed everyone down. I’ve seen him day in and day out. I wasn’t surprised by that.

“You can just tell he’s a lot more comfortable. Last year, he felt like he was just being thrown out there to come in for a minute here or there and not mess up. I don’t know if he was confident in his abilities. This year, he comes in not only to be out there filling minutes, but making plays.

“He is a really confident kid. He shows that in practice every day.”

Said Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman: “He’s one of our leaders on the team. It definitely helps when you have another leader out there. He has great vision. He sees a lot of things developing before they happen.”

Last season, all Dakich, 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, saw were his own flaws. He couldn’t let it go. He obsessed over mistakes, what others thought of him and his game.

But Dakich has grown up. Buh-bye, Twitter and its trolls. Hello, coffee.

“Last year, I kind of had this anxiety or fear or failure mentality,” said Dakich, who chose to walk on at Michigan over walk-on opportunities closer to home (Butler, Purdue) or more playing time at smaller schools (Gardner Webb, High Point). “This year, I have nothing to lose.

“I’m 100 times more confident.”

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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No. 3 Maryland at Michigan

Tip-off: 9 p.m. Tuesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: ESPN/WWJ

Records: Maryland 15-1 (4-0 Big Ten), Michigan 12-4 (2-1)

Outlook: This is the second of a brutal three-game stretch for Michigan, which lost at No. 24 Purdue on Thursday and visits No. 16 Iowa on Sunday. ... Maryland’s only loss this season was to now-No. 5 North Carolina. ... Five Terrapins average in double figures, led by Melo Trimble (14.8 ppg, 5.7 apg) and Diamond Stone (13.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg).