Moe, no more: UM’s Wagner leaving for NBA

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

For Michigan’s Moritz Wagner, it's time to move on.

Wagner announced his intentions to enter the NBA draft, hire an agent and skip his senior season Saturday in a first-person essay for The Players’ Tribune titled “Thank You, Michigan.”

Michigan's Moritz Wagner will enter the NBA Draft.

“This wasn’t an easy decision for me,” Wagner wrote. “I know people always say that, and maybe it sounds like they don’t 100% mean it. But I’m telling you guys — the idea of leaving Michigan, of leaving this community, is really tough. This place has really started to feel like home.”

Wagner, a skilled 6-foot-11, 245-pound big man, is ranked No. 48 in ESPN's top 100 NBA draft prospects and is projected to be an early-to-mid second-round pick by most analysts in June’s draft (both ESPN and NBADraft.net have him being selected at No. 44). It’s around the same area he was predicted to go last year before he removed his name at the withdrawal deadline, returned for his junior season and led Michigan to one of its most memorable campaigns in program history.

He helped the Wolverines set a program record with 33 wins and reach the national title game earlier this month by leading the team in scoring (15 points) and rebounding (7.3) in the NCAA Tournament, where he was named to the West Region and Final Four All-Tournament teams.

He also finished the season as the Michigan’s top scorer (14.6 points) despite drawing plenty of attention from opposing defenses, made significant strides as a rebounder (7.1 per game), and shot a team-best 39.4 percent from 3-point range.

“This isn’t yet the finish line for me, you guys. It’s not even close,” Wagner wrote. “I know there’s still a long way for me to go to make it to the league, and to become the player that I want to be. Just saying, ‘I declare for the draft’ — it doesn’t promise you anything. You still have to put in all the work, and you still have to prove it to the teams that you belong.

“But I’ll tell you this: I’m ready. I feel like this is the right time for me. I feel like I’m ready to move onto this new challenge in life — to give it my best, and to do whatever it takes to make it at the next level.”

Michigan's Moritz Wagner made the announcement via The Players Tribune.

Wagner, a native of Berlin who idolizes fellow German and Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, had been contemplating his future since Michigan’s postseason run ended. He said before the team’s awards banquet on Wednesday that one of the most important things he learned from the draft process last year is that “at the end of the day, you got to listen to yourself.”

He listed the fans, teammates, coach John Beilein, the city of Ann Arbor, the team’s closed-door scrimmages and “all the little things about being a student” among the things he’ll miss most.

“To me, Michigan will always be this place where, if you work hard enough, and you work together enough — you can become your best self,” Wagner wrote.

Wagner recorded eight double-doubles and scored in double figures 33 times this season. He was also selected to the All-Big Ten second team and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Big Ten tournament after leading Michigan to its second straight title.

He’ll be the seventh Wolverine to leave early for the NBA under Beilein since 2013, joining Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and D.J. Wilson.

In a story posted on the Michigan athletics website, Wagner said his decision had nothing to do with money and was simply just the "next step in life." When it comes to money, though, Damyean Dotson, a shooting guard from Houston who was selected with the No. 44 pick in last year's draft, signed a three-year, $4.1 million contract with the first two years guaranteed.

Wagner is also the third Wolverine to announce his departure from the program this week, along with walk-on forward Brent Hibbitts (grad transfer) and sophomore wing Ibi Watson (transfer). And while his exit will leave a void that'll be difficult to fill next season, his lasting imprint will be even harder to emulate.

“Coming to the United States at 18 years old and thriving the way he has is an amazing story. He truly embodies what Michigan basketball is all about,” Beilein said in a statement. “His grit, selflessness, energy and fun-loving side was contagious and a significant reason behind our success. That part of his personality will always be a part of Michigan basketball lore.

“Moe was committed to proving he could play at a high level every day. His daily desire for excellence, his skill set at that size, bodes well for him as he enters the world of professional basketball. I am confident he has a brilliant future awaiting him. We are excited to see what is in store for Moe in the months and years ahead."