Freshman Franz Wagner critical of his Michigan debut

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Freshman wing Franz Wagner had to wait over three weeks to make his much-anticipated Michigan debut.

The wait to crack the starting lineup didn’t last nearly as long.

Wagner, who missed the first four games with a wrist fracture, started in Wednesday’s Battle 4 Atlantis win over Iowa State alongside Zavier Simpson, Eli Brooks, Isaiah Livers and Jon Teske.

Freshman Franz Wagner (21) made his Michigan debut on Wednesday.

According to coach Juwan Howard, the move to start Wagner, who was a game-time decision, over sophomore wing Adrien Nunez rather than have Wagner come off the bench was based on the opponent.

“Looking at their length as well as their experience, they have guys who are juniors or seniors and they have redshirt juniors, too,” Howard said. “So, I wanted to have some length there for their shooting, as well as another guy who I felt I could trust because he's battle-tested.

“He played at a high level in Europe. Yeah, this is his first time playing NCAA basketball, but he belongs. He has that confidence. He has that edginess that I love.”

Michigan’s coaches and teammates raved about Wagner’s offensive skill set heading into the season. It didn’t take long for him provide a glimpse as he knocked down a pair of 3-pointers, including his first shot attempt of the game from the wing.

Wagner’s defense and basketball IQ also received high marks during the preseason and he showed why. He had active hands in the passing lanes and caused numerous deflections that led to Iowa State having to take shots deeper in the shot clock. He also contested a fast-break layup attempt and forced a miss without fouling.

Wagner, the younger brother of former Michigan standout Moritz Wagner, didn’t appear to have any restrictions and played with his right wrist taped up. He finished with six points on 2-for-5 shooting, three rebounds and an assist in 23 minutes before he fouled out with 1:30 to play.

"Too many fouls,” Wagner said of his debut. “I think I came in with a lot of energy. I think I can play better defense, but offensively I just try to do my job and play within the game, within the pace of the game. I think we played good offensively as a team, but defensively I think I can do a better job."

While Wagner wasn’t high on his performance, Howard said he did “great” considering he only had a “practice and a half” under his belt.

“I really applaud our medical staff for getting Franz ready, keeping his conditioning up,” Howard said. “I applaud Franz for staying professional as well as being responsible for managing himself on keeping himself ready.

“For a guy to come in and play 22 minutes and play with that level where he hasn't missed a beat, he looked like was very comfortable. He belonged out there. Granted he's going to be fatigued because it's his first game…I didn't expect for him to have a stellar game by the numbers, but overall he played great for us.”

Cleaning act

With roughly 11 minutes remaining in the second half, the game was stopped to wipe up some wet spots after several players slipped and fell on the court.

Howard aided in the cleanup effort by walking over to the basket, grabbing a towel and getting on his hands and knees to dry up an area near the baseline.

“No offense to the people that are sweeping the floor," Howard said, "but I just wanted to make sure we got that wet spot clean and our players — both teams — can go out there and compete without getting hurt.

“As you can tell, I don’t mind getting my knees dirty.”

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins