'We'll just continue to win': UM confident in future, even with early departures
Ann Arbor — Charles Matthews is gone and there’s a possibility Ignas Brazdeikis and Jordan Poole could follow suit.
But no matter what Michigan’s roster looks like when everything is settled, don’t expect the returning Wolverines to lower their expectations for next season.
“Whether J.P. or Iggy leave (for the NBA) or come back, it doesn't matter,” junior center Jon Teske said Wednesday. “We have a young core group of guys that are hungry to play, ready to play. And I feel like as leaders — me, X (Zavier Simpson), Austin (Davis) — we'll lead them by example and they'll follow in our footsteps.”
Poole and Brazdeikis said they’re not committed to staying in the NBA draft and will take their time weighing their options ahead of the May 29 deadline. But according to Teske, the program “is going to be solid” regardless of the duo’s final decisions.
“The foundation since my freshman year that the older guys on that team built to last year with Ham (Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman) and Duncan (Robinson) and this year with Charles and next year with me and X, we’ll continue to build this foundation,” Teske said. “Three straight Sweet 16 appearances and Coach B (John Beilein) said we’ve won almost 90 games my three seasons here. We’ll just continue to win at a high level and have fun doing it.”
Barring any transfers, the Wolverines will return at least nine players from this past season’s 30-win team and will bring in two freshmen — Jalen Wilson and Cole Bajema — who Beilein lauded as “two great shooters.”
Still, Beilein said he has been “recruiting like crazy” and is “planning for everything” in the event Poole and Brazdeikis both leave, which would open up two scholarships, by scouring the market for grad transfers and freshmen who are as ready as can be (Michigan is scheduled to host official visits for a coveted grad transfer target — William & Mary forward Justin Pierce — this weekend and 2019 four-star guard Lester Quinones in two weeks).
While Beilein would like to have as much experience coming back as possible, he believes he’ll have enough pieces to plug in to overcome the loss of multiple starters once again.
“Zavier and Jon, if they're the only ones that are back from the starting group, that's two pretty good (pieces) and it's better than not having them,” Beilein said. “They're all about winning. They’ve won a lot of games now in three years. They know what it takes. Everybody is going to develop, everybody is getting better, so I know we'll have enough people.”
More importantly, the team will have something next year that it didn’t have this past season: two four-year players in Teske and Simpson, who was named the team’s MVP at Wednesday’s awards banquet.
“I’m extremely confident (we can win). I’m going to be on the team next year,” Simpson said. “I’m a team player and can get guys going. That’s one thing I do well. I can win. My resume shows a lot.”
And it's a resume Simpson and the Wolverines are already looking forward to adding to in 2019-20.
“With our core group of guys coming back, we'll be just fine,” Teske said. “I'm excited for next year."
With the annual coaching carousel underway, Beilein said he wouldn’t be surprised if any of his assistants — Saddi Washington, Luke Yaklich and DeAndre Haynes — received head coaching offers.
“That could happen, and I think there's been some opportunities for them so far,” Beilein said. “It hasn't worked yet, but I'm all for that. They're ready, all three of them.”
Washington joined Beilein’s staff in 2016-17 and has served as the top assistant the last two seasons. Yaklich, the de facto defensive coordinator, and Haynes, who primarily works with the guards, have been with the Wolverines for two years.
… After holding individual meetings with every player on the roster, Beilein said he doesn’t anticipate any roster attrition outside of Matthews’ departure and Brazdeikis’ and Poole’s NBA decisions.
“I don't, but I've been surprised by that later on,” Beilein said. “And we were very frank with people in that one. We don't anticipate any other losses.”
… Teske said he thought about declaring for the NBA draft, but he wanted to get his degree and try to get back to the national championship game again before he leaves.
“I know I’ve still got a little more work to do,” he said, “and I'll look forward to that (draft) next year at this time.”
… Beilein said last season’s experience with point guard Jaaron Simmons won’t affect how he views grad transfers. Simmons, who many expected to play a big role, never started and averaged 1.5 points in eight minutes per game.
“I think Jaaron was a great addition here,” Beilein said. “It was a good experience for both of us. I don't think he regrets what he did, and we certainly didn't regret taking him. We're willing to do that again if it's the right fit.”