Ann Arbor — For the majority of freshmen, adapting to the speed and defensive demands at the college level are often the most challenging adjustments.
For Michigan guard David DeJulius, though, the toughest part has been developing the mental side of his game.
Then again, going up against junior guard Zavier Simpson for two hours every practice can do that to an individual.
“I think prior to coming here I kind of just let my talent get me through high school, but I had to come here and I had to think through the game,” DeJulius said during the team’s media day last week. “It's for sure tough because it got to the point where you were thinking too much, and I just wasn't playing my game and I was just thinking the whole time.
“That really was the major part when I first arrived here, but I'm starting to play at my own pace now and it's starting to get a lot easier.”
Simpson, of course, is one of the nation’s elite on-ball defenders. A disruptive and tenacious force, he has a lengthy list of victims he has terrorized and shut down, particularly during Michigan’s run in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments last season.
But for DeJulius to constantly be pitted against Simpson, it provides the ultimate test and only helps expedite the process of him elevating his game to new heights.
“I tell him every day you're playing against one of the best point guards in the country,” assistant coach DeAndre Haynes said. “X doesn’t take time off. Dave sees that in X and he says, 'You know what, I gotta step my game up.' Like in Spain, we'd have a little off time and you'd look outside and Dave was running up the hills. He's just a different type of freshman that he really wants to be great every day.”
Still, DeJulius has his work cut out to crack the rotation as he enters the point guard fray behind sophomore Eli Brooks, who has some starting experience under his belt, and Simpson, who seemingly has a stranglehold on the No. 1 role.
Michigan coach John Beilein said like every freshman, DeJulius is learning something new every day — “There’s a new way people play us, there’s a new way we have to guard” — and is learning what winning basketball looks like at this level.
But his offensive skill set is tantalizing. He was a Michigan Mr. Basketball finalist after averaging 26.3 points, 8.1 assist and 7.7 rebounds per game as a senior at Detroit East English Village and is a potent shooter who can score at all three levels.
"David is a bowling ball, David can get into the lane,” Beilein said. “He wards off people with his body and is doing a great job finishing and he really can shoot the ball.”
Haynes, who starred at Detroit Southwestern High, said while he was probably a better defender than DeJulius at his age, there’s no question DeJulius has him beat on the offensive end.
And with the belief DeJulius has in his craft and the fearlessness he has shown against Simpson, Haynes said that confidence will only help Michigan whenever he steps onto the floor.
"Man, I tell everybody he's just a natural-born scorer,” Haynes said. “He's built like a little pit bull. He actually challenges X every day, which is great for us.
“I think once he continues to pick up on the offense and things like that he's going to be a hell of a point guard for us. I'm looking forward to some big things from him this year."