Wagner stays at Michigan; Wilson heads to NBA

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

The waiting game is finally over.

And for Michigan, it’s a mix of good and bad news.

After declaring for the NBA draft without an agent more than six weeks ago, big men Moritz Wagner and D.J. Wilson took their decisions to the final day before Michigan announced Wagner will return for his junior season, while Wilson will forgo his final two years of eligibility and stay in the draft.

Forward D.J. Wilson (5) will enter the NBA draft, while Michigan teammate Moritz Wagner (13) announced Wednesday he will return for his junior season.

The frontcourt duo appeared to be on the fence regarding their future heading into Wednesday’s NCAA deadline, which marked the last day for underclassmen to withdraw their name from draft consideration and maintain their amateur eligibility.

“I gained a great deal of confidence from this process and I have a clearer picture of what I need to do in order to fulfill my dreams of playing professionally in the NBA,” Wagner said in a statement. “Michigan is where I need to be right now and I am really excited about coming back. I learned a lot about myself and my game at the combine. I feel like I still have a lot to prove on this level and cannot wait to compete with my brothers for another ring.”

According to a story posted on the university's athletics website, Wagner said he made up his mind to come back over the weekend.

“The draft is very deep and the top 20 picks are almost set. You could only play yourself up to a certain stock,” Wagner said. “I could've gone early second round or I could've gone between 20 and 30 (overall). But I wasn't in the top 20 for sure. So, it was very, very risky.”

Wagner, who was projected as a late first-round pick at best, added he didn’t want to take the gamble of falling into the second round because there are no guarantees.

“I would’ve hated myself if I'd found myself in the D-League next year,” he said. “I would rather play in college.”

Wilson, who is listed as the No. 29 draft prospect by ESPN’s Chad Ford and DraftExpress.com and projected to be picked primarily in the No. 25-30 range, said he mulled over his decision to pursue the NBA over the past few months.

“After many prayers and discussions with my mom, Coach (John) Beilein and the staff, it is the right time for me to pursue my dream of playing in the NBA,” Wilson said in a statement. “I am confident I have the drive, work ethic and maturity for this next step.

“It's never going to be easy, but if I have learned anything at Michigan, perseverance pays off. It has truly been a blessing to have had the opportunity to attend Michigan, and I will forever be grateful to Coach Beilein and his staff for taking the chance on me.”

Last season, Wilson and Wagner each took a major step in their first year as full-time starters at Michigan, helping the Wolverines win the Big Ten tournament title and reach the Sweet 16.

Wagner started all 38 games and averaged 12.1 points on 56 percent shooting, 4.2 rebounds and one steal in 23.9 minutes per game, while Wilson made 36 starts and averaged 11 points on 53.8 percent shooting, 5.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 30.4 minutes.

Both Wilson and Wagner were invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago earlier this month. Wilson didn’t participate in the agility drills and 5-on-5 scrimmages at the combine due to a quad injury, but remained an intriguing prospect because of his length, athleticism, ability to stretch the floor and potential. Wagner's showing was a mixed bag as he flashed his versatility but struggled with his 3-point shot (1-for-8) in the scrimmages.

“Moe had an extraordinary experience with this process, one that opened his eyes to what he needs to do next for his development,” Beilein said in a statement.

With Wilson’s early exit, it gives the Wolverines another hole to fill in the starting lineup along with the ones left behind by Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin, who both graduated. Wilson, Walton and Irvin were three of Michigan’s top four scorers last year and averaged a combined 39.5 points per game — or 52.7 percent of the team’s scoring.

Michigan added graduate transfer Jaaron Simmons, a 6-1 point guard from Ohio University who averaged 15.9 points and 6.5 assists last season, to join sophomore Xavier Simpson and incoming freshman Eli Brooks to fill Walton’s role.

Charles Matthews, a 6-6 wing who sat out last season after transferring from Kentucky, will slide into Irvin’s starting spot and senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman will return in the backcourt, with Ibi Watson and Jordan Poole providing depth.

In the frontcourt, Wagner will start at the five and be backed by big men Austin Davis and Jon Teske, and forwards Duncan Robinson and Isaiah Livers likely will fill Wilson’s spot in the lineup, barring a change.

Wilson’s departure also opens up a scholarship for Beilein, who can look to add another graduate transfer or a 2017 recruit, but his impact on both ends of the floor will be difficult to replace.

If Wilson and Wagner both returned, the Wolverines could’ve been a top 15 team in the nation and among the favorites to win the Big Ten. But with just Wagner coming back, Michigan is still a team capable of making noise in the conference — and country — with the energetic center as a focal point of the offense.

“Moe loves Michigan and he is excited about becoming a leader on next year's team," Beilein said. "His incredible personality and enthusiastic demeanor is a great plus for this team and his brilliant future. We are so pleased to be part of that and his journey moving forward.”