Michigan coach John Beilein talks about the team still playing for Big Ten regular-season title and one of four double byes for conference tournament. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Outlier.
It’s a word that gets thrown around by Michigan coach John Beilein about this time of the year as he searches for someone or something that will take his team to the next level.
Beilein ran through the “endless” possibilities, from freshmen Brandon Johns Jr. and Colin Castleton stepping up to junior guard Zavier Simpson’s 3-point shooting and sophomore guard Jordan Poole getting hot down the stretch.
But as No. 7 Michigan looks to keep its footing atop the Big Ten standings when it travels to Minnesota on Thursday, one of the first options Beilein rattled off was freshman guard David DeJulius.
“(Beilein) said that before last game (against Maryland), ‘Anyone could be the outlier. Dave, you could be the outlier,’” DeJulius said Wednesday. “I was like, 'Heck yeah, coach. I can be the outlier.' I'm just continuing to move forward and continue to give my all. I'm just here if I'm needed to be an outlier, for sure.”
DeJulius got the chance against the Terrapins last weekend when Beilein went to him as the first guard off the bench over sophomore Eli Brooks when Simpson needed a breather. It was the first time all season DeJulius was called upon first at the backup point guard spot.
Beilein said it wasn’t just a one-game deal and DeJulius could serve as the offensive option over Brooks if Simpson is in foul trouble or in need of a break moving forward.
“He's really worked at it, and it's time that we go in there and see what he can do,” Beilein said of DeJulius. “I'm excited for him. His attitude in practice through all this thing of waiting in the wings has been tremendous and I think that has a lot to do with both him and Brandon getting opportunities.
“They haven't sulked. They just keep coming back and they know where their weaknesses were, and they've been working on them. They're still not going to be mistake-free, but right now we do have to give people rest even if there's 8:50 on the clock and we have a media coming up at 8 (minute mark). If it's 50 seconds, it's 50 seconds I might not have trusted earlier in the year.”
Beilein added he’s comfortable giving DeJulius playing time now — something that hasn’t happened throughout Big Ten play — because he’s seen what he’s consistently been able to do in practice in recent weeks.
On top of that, DeJulius is asking questions and the learning curve that slows down most freshmen has started to speed up, which has built confidence from the coaching staff.
“I've seen that look in his eye,” Beilein said. “There will be times in December with many freshmen you're talking and you're explaining something and then you say, 'Go ahead and do it.' He has no idea what you're talking about it. He just drifted off. It's the 40th practice of the year and he's used to 30 practices in a whole high school season maybe.
“Now we're in a situation where we see after that Penn State game and we saw how tired some of our players were in the second half, particularly defensively. Even if it's a minute here or a minute there, it's going to be key. A combination of that and in practice these guys showing us the ball doesn't always go in, but they're in the right place and that's important.”
DeJulius will be the first to admit that the season hasn’t unfolded as he envisioned.
He expressed his frustration with his lack of playing time toward the end of non-conference play and said the biggest challenge has been continuing to maintain focus and give his all in practice knowing he hasn’t been seeing any game action.
"There were days for sure it would get to me, but at the same time I just had to trust my faith and know that if I put in the hard work then my time will come,” DeJulius said. “I'm going to treat every game like I'm going to play 40 minutes in that game. I'm going to go hard, I'm going to study film the same way I was if I knew I was playing or not.
“I look at it as it made me so much better, it made me hungrier. Starting here until the rest of my career and I'm going to use that same hunger that I used to get into this position that I am now to continue to grow and get better in all aspects of the game.”
DeJulius said he never focused on what specific role he would play in his first year. All that mattered is he was a part of the team’s success.
With only five games left in the regular season, that long-awaited opportunity could arise for DeJulius. And, more importantly, it could uncover the outlier Beilein is looking for.
"I'm grateful for the position I'm in now," DeJulius said, "and grateful from where I've started from.
"Knowing that my moment is coming, I'm going to go out and do everything I can to seize it."
Michigan at Minnesota
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Thursday, Williams Arena, Minneapolis
Records: No. 7 Michigan 23-3, 12-3 Big Ten; Minnesota 17-9, 7-8
Outlook: Amir Coffey (15.3 points) and Jordan Murphy (15 points, 11.9 rebounds) lead four double-digit scorers for Minnesota. … The Gophers rank 10th in the country in free-throw attempts (639) and second in the Big Ten in offensive rebounds per game (12.2) … Michigan has won 12 of the past 13 meetings and is 8-2 in its last 10 games in Minneapolis.