Ann Arbor – Ibi Watson took no time to look back and reminisce after Michigan’s season ended last year.
Instead, he immediately turned the page and started getting to work for next season.
In fact, one night after the Wolverines suffered a heartbreaking one-point loss to Oregon in the Sweet 16, Watson was back in the team’s practice gym running drills by himself.
“I learned a lot from the guys last year and one thing I saw was Derrick Walton, when he upped his work ethic it really showed in the games, and he was a good role model for me,” Watson said last week at Michigan’s media day.
“When I saw that I tried to add that to my game, too, and make sure that any time I had an opportunity to get better, I took advantage of it. It didn't matter if we got off the plane or we just got back from a loss. I didn't want to take any time off. I just wanted to improve for the next year.”
Watson, a sophomore wing, played sparingly off the bench as a freshman for coach John Beilein. He appeared in 19 games and totaled 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 83 minutes. He shot 34.5 percent from the field, including an impressive 81.8 percent (9-for-11) from inside the arc and a woeful 5.6 percent (1-for-18) from 3-point range.
Yet, it wasn’t his offense – coupled with the fact there weren’t many minutes to go around at his position – that was holding him back from playing time. At several points last season, Beilein said Watson was bouncing between the scout and practice teams because of his inconsistent defense.
“That (defense) was definitely a setback for me last year,” Watson said. “I feel like over the offseason and this year I've really been able to improve that a lot just from watching a lot of film with the coaches and just overall teaching and learning, I've been able to improve that by a ton. I think hopefully that will be one of my strengths this year.”
Watson added he was “unconsciously incompetent” as a freshman and was learning about things in so many different areas of his game that he was oblivious to, like the meticulous details that go into positioning and defensive rotations.
But after going through that learning process, Watson said he’s learned to play at a high level every single day in practice and is aiming to be a guy who can come off the bench and bring energy on both ends of the floor this year.
“I've grown a lot especially in confidence and just overall feel for the game,” he said. “I just feel like when I'm out on the court it just feels like the game is much slower than it was last year and knowing the offense, you can make the reads and make the right plays a lot more often.”
The Wolverines will be counting on Watson to provide depth and valuable minutes at both the two and three spots behind probable starters Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Charles Matthews.
And when his time comes, Watson said he’ll be prepared – and borrowing a page out of Walton’s book.
“(Walton) watched a lot of film on his own and he took every game serious, like it was the Super Bowl,” Watson said. “He had that mentality like every game was extremely important. He would go prepare for the games like it was the last one. That’s what I plan on doing.”
Rotation in flux
Last year Michigan used a set rotation for much of the season, with Zak Irvin, Moritz Wagner, D.J. Wilson, Duncan Robinson, Walton and Abdur-Rahkman logging heavy minutes.
But with only three of those guys back – Wagner, Robinson and Abdur-Rahkman – and an ongoing battle at the point guard spot, there’s a chance Beilein will experiment more with different starting lineups this season.
“I think there will be throwing guys in there in the rotation,” Beilein said last week. “It depends on what's happening with film, with them watching and saying, 'OK, who is going to make that adjustment now?' You're not running the lane hard enough, you're not sprinting back on defense, some are getting back on defense.
“We're still in that area. It's going to very interesting in our exhibition game (against Grand Valley State) to see what we see.”
On Thursday, Beilein wouldn’t reveal his starters for Friday’s exhibition against Grand Valley.
Grand Valley State at Michigan
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Friday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
TV/radio: BTN Plus/WWJ 950
Outlook: This is Michigan’s lone exhibition game before the regular-season opener against North Florida on Nov. 11. ... Division II Grand Valley had a 16-13 record last season and finished fifth in the GLIAC North Division.