Dimondale, Mich. — It’s not often one gets a second chance to make a first impression.
With John Beilein out and Juwan Howard in, Michigan sophomore guard Adrien Nunez will have a shot to show what he’s capable of to a new coaching staff.
“I get to basically rewrite my whole entire story,” Nunez said Tuesday before playing in the Moneyball Pro-Am at Aim High Sports. “I don't have to deal with anything that I did last year. I basically get to prove myself again.”
Nunez was the lowest-ranked member of one Beilein’s highest-rated recruiting classes. The five-man group checked in at No. 11 in the nation — trailing only the 2012 class that ranked No. 8 nationally and featured four future NBA Draft picks (Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert).
Ignas Brazdeikis, a top-40 recruit, highlighted last year’s quintet with an impressive campaign that led to him earning Big Ten freshman of the year honors and becoming a second-round NBA Draft pick.
Big men Brandon Johns Jr. and Colin Castleton, both four-star prospects, had their highs and lows, but each showed flashes with a breakout game. Johns posted eight points and eight rebounds in 13 minutes against Indiana in January before Castleton poured in 11 points in nine minutes against Nebraska a month later.
David DeJulius, a four-star guard, saw spotty minutes at both backcourt spots primarily when foul trouble occurred or when starting guard Zavier Simpson needed a brief break to catch his breath.
Nunez, though, doesn’t have much to show for last season. A three-star recruit who was rated No. 305 in the country, he saw the least amount of playing time of the bunch at a spot where there weren’t many minutes trickling down from starter Jordan Poole. His appearances were relegated strictly to mop-up duty and he made just one shot in 13 attempts — a deep 3-pointer from the parking lot at Indiana — over 39 minutes.
“I wasn't as experienced in the basketball world, so it took time,” said Nunez, who had no desire to redshirt last season after taking a post-grad year and reclassifying to 2018.
“I feel like toward the end of the year I really — if I started the way I ended the year last year I would've had a lot more chances to play. But it's just the way it happened.”
Under Beilein’s 12-year reign, it was common for most freshmen to admit they thought they knew plenty about basketball when they first arrived in Ann Arbor — only to realize how little they actually know.
And Nunez was no different.
“It was like a new game to me,” he said. “It was like learning a new language because (Beilein) has so many terminologies and things like that, so it was definitely like a whole new world. Coming from that, I feel like I can go through anything. I can learn any system if I can learn Beilein's system.”
While it still remains to be seen what Howard’s system will look like — the team had its first on-court exposure with Howard and new assistants Phil Martelli and Howard Eisely on Wednesday — Nunez hasn’t spent his time sitting around waiting to find out.
He’s been in the weight room and practice gym all offseason working on nearly every facet of his game, from ball handling and reacting to playing calm and finding his right shots.
“I used to take a lot of bad shots in high school just from a lack of skill,” Nunez said. “I came here (to Moneyball) in the middle of my development. I don't want to just stay in the gym and only play with our guys. I want to come outside and be in front of a crowd, get used to the atmosphere. I haven't gotten that experience to really play a large amount of minutes at Michigan so I just want to get my feet wet a little bit."
Nunez added he wanted to show the spectators at Aim High Sports that he’s ready to play a role for Michigan — and provide a glimpse of what they can expect during the 2019-20 season.
Barring any additional roster moves, the Wolverines will be banking on the sophomores — Johns, Castleton, DeJulius and Nunez — to make big strides if they’re going to have any hope of sustaining the program’s recent stretch of success.
And with Poole off to the NBA as a first-round pick, there's no clear-cut successor to take his place. Junior guard Eli Brooks (6-foot-1) and DeJulius (6-foot) each spent time at both guard spots, but Nunez (6-6) has the prototypical size for the position.
"We're all going to have blow-up years,” Nunez said. “It's so important that we went through that last year. It just makes us stronger this year and it all made us work harder in the offseason. We've all been working hard in the spring. All of us stayed in the spring and we've been on campus ever since the regular school year ended."
Junior forward Isaiah Livers said all four sophomores will be “super key” — even singling out Nunez — and are going to have to show what they’ve learned to Howard and the coaching staff.
“Obviously, Juwan is going to have some hints of how some guys already play because he's been around for a minute and has probably been watching games,” Livers said. “For them, I feel like it's a fresh start because they didn't see time last year, so Juwan is going to be super interested to see what they've got."
None more so than Nunez, who has the most to show and, possibly, the most to gain with a starting role seemingly up for grabs.
"I'm ready to take that spot," he said.