Michigan coach talks about what his team has focused on in practice and looks ahead to Saturday's game against Air Force. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — David DeJulius knew his freshman season at Michigan was going to be a trying process.
That’s why during his senior year at Detroit East English Village, coach Juan Rickman was hard on him every single day to prepare him for what was to come.
“At the time I might not have understood,” DeJulius, a former Michigan Mr. Basketball finalist, said Thursday. “But now I do.”
It’s a harsh reality that greets most freshmen on John Beilein’s teams, especially at the point guard position where the indoctrination phase can take time and the learning curve can be steep.
When DeJulius first arrived, he noted it was a “major struggle” getting acclimated and used to how everything is done. The days of him simply relying on his talent were over. All the isolation plays and high ball screens he ran as the star player at East English were replaced with offensive sets that require multiple reads, precision and constant movement.
Thoughts of plentiful minutes were also dashed due to the difficulty that comes with preparing for different opponents and playing styles in a short amount of time, as well as the fact Michigan can rely on junior guard Zavier Simpson and sophomore guards Eli Brooks and Jordan Poole for backcourt production.
As a result, DeJulius has appeared in seven games and averaged 3.6 minutes in those contests, with most of his playing time coming when the outcome has been decided. He has also received a DNP (Did Not Play) the last three games against Northwestern, South Carolina and Western Michigan.
For DeJulius, it’s something he’s never had to go through — unless you go all the way back to when he first started playing as a kid — and a drastic change from feasting on minutes at East English to starving for a minute or two off the bench at Michigan.
“I want to play, for sure,” DeJulius said. “That would be the main objective, but I'm just going to keep my faith, keep my head down and keep working for the team.
“I know there's going to be a time my number is called and I’ve got to make use of it. I'm just staying ready so when my number is called I don't have to get ready."
Simpson endured a similar experience and averaged 8.7 minutes per game as a freshman. He reminds DeJulius of that and lets him know to “stay level-headed, stay positive.”
Yet, 11 games and 55 practices into the season, DeJulius is still trying to gain Beilein's trust and work his way into the rotation.
DeJulius admitted he still has "a long way to go" and is striving for everything he's supposed to do to become second nature. But he has also made strides and spends about half of any given practice subbing for Simpson and running with the starters.
And according to his teammates, DeJulius, who averaged 26 points per game at East English, has shown an impressive ability to score out on the perimeter and run the offense.
“He’s a lethal shooter and he's good seeing the floor,” sophomore forward Isaiah Livers said. “Our other guards are really good at shooting and seeing the floor, but Dave is just phenomenal off the dribble. When teams go under a ball screen, he can just shoot it in. He's such a great shooter and we've seen it all summer.”
When opponents and fans get to see it, though, remains to be seen.
With two nonconference games against Air Force and Binghamton left before Big Ten play picks back up after the New Year, DeJulius is hoping he’ll get an opportunity to receive some extended run.
But if not, DeJulius said he’ll just keep doing what he’s been doing: maintaining a positive mindset, telling teammates things he sees that can help them on the floor, and taking mental reps about what offensive reads are open and what defensive coverages the team uses based on what the opponent is doing.
“I feel like I'm ready. Now it's just about the boss man (Beilein) feeling I'm ready,” DeJulius said. “I'm just going to go in day in and day out and prove that I am ready to him."
Air Force at Michigan
Tip-off: 4 p.m. Saturday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: No. 4 Michigan 11-0, 2-0 Big Ten; Air Force 4-6
Outlook: Air Force is coming off a lengthy layoff and is playing its first game since a 66-61 loss to Army on Dec. 8…This is the second of three games during a three-week stretch for the Wolverines…Michigan won the first and only meeting between the teams, 83-74, on Dec. 29, 1965.