'Time to say goodbye': Michigan's Franz Wagner declares for NBA Draft

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
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Franz Wagner followed his brother Moritz’s footsteps to Michigan. And just like his older sibling, he’s leaving Ann Arbor early for the NBA.

Wagner announced Tuesday in a penned letter on The Players’ Tribune he’s forgoing his remaining eligibility and entering the draft.

“I’m definitely feeling a lot of emotions about it,” Wagner wrote. “I’m hopeful, more than anything — as playing in the NBA has been a big dream of mine. It’s something I’ve been working extremely hard for. And after talking with my coaches and my family, I know it’s something I’m ready for. From a basketball perspective, this is the move for me to make right now. (Plus, if Moe can play in the league, obviously they’ll take anyone.)”

Franz Wagner

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound wing from Germany started all 28 games this past season, averaging 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, three assists, 1.3 steals and one block as a sophomore. Offensively, he was efficient from the field (47.7% shooting), upped his numbers from beyond the arc (34.3%) and improved as a ball-handler. Defensively, his length and instincts made him arguably the best defender on one of the best defensive teams in the nation.

In his two seasons with the Wolverines, Wagner started 55 consecutive games and averaged 12 points, 6.1 rebounds and two assists. He was a second-team All-Big Ten selection last year and was named to the conference’s All-Freshman team in 2019-20.

“On a personal level, I’m really proud of how much I’ve grown over these last two years,” Wagner wrote. “Off the court, I feel like I’ve become an adult — I’ve learned to take care of myself. And on the court, I think I’m just a more well-rounded player than I was when I first got to Michigan. I know the current NBA is all about versatility, guys who can show guard-like skills while having forward-like size. And I definitely think I’m developing that type of game.

“At the same time, though, I’ll always be my own worst critic. I know I’ve got lots of things I have to work on and improve if I’m going to achieve my goals. I know I have to keep pushing myself to my limits. But those types of challenges, I live for them. I never want to feel satisfied with where I’m at.”

Wagner, who will turn 20 in late August, is projected to be a top-15 pick in numerous NBA mock drafts. ESPN and Sports Illustrated both have him being selected with the No. 9 overall pick. Bleacher Report has him pegged at No. 11. CBS Sports has him slotted at No. 15.

“An extremely forgettable close to the season against UCLA didn’t do Wagner any favors, but he fits a range of key criteria for an eventual starting-caliber NBA wing and still has a good chance of landing in the lottery,” SI’s Jeremy Woo writes.

Franz Wagner (21) led Michigan with 35 steals and ranked second on the team with 29 blocked shots last season.

“It’s clear at this point that he’s naturally more of a connector who fills in lineups than an offensive focal point, and he’ll need to become a more consistent 3-point shooter and spot-up threat to enhance his value. He’s a competent, smart team defender who plays both ends. But Wagner’s size, basketball IQ and all-around contributions coupled with the fact he’s the same age as a lot of freshmen bodes well for his future.”

Longtime NBA Draft analyst Chad Ford has Wagner ranked seventh on his big board, with a projected draft between Nos. 6-14. According to Ford, versatile, two-way wings like Wagner “don’t come along every day.”

“Wagner continues to be a bit of a polarizing prospect among front offices. His size, mobility, ability to defend three positions, excellent feel for the game and off-the-dribble game are all very intriguing,” Ford writes.

“So is one of the best statistical profiles in the draft. His penchant for disappearing for long stretches on the offensive end, combined with a horrid final game against UCLA...will be cited by his detractors who question whether Wagner does anything well enough to justify this position on the board. However, compared to the competition, Wagner is more advanced offensively and defensively.”

If those projections hold, Wagner would be Michigan’s highest draft selection since Nik Stauskas was taken with the No. 8 overall pick in 2014 and the program’s first first-rounder since Jordan Poole (No. 28 pick in 2019). He’d also be the second member of his family to be selected in the first round. Moritz was drafted No. 25 overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018.

Seeing Wagner go high in the draft, though, wouldn’t be a surprise to any of his Michigan teammates.

"When I first came in (to Ann Arbor in the summer), I was like, that's a lottery pick right there for sure,” freshman Hunter Dickinson said of Wagner during the season. “He's a 6-10 two guard who can play one through five if we need him to. He's so skilled, so versatile. As a defender, when I'm guarding him in practice, I don't know what to do.”

Wagner’s departure frees up a scholarship for next season. As it stands, the Wolverines have all 13 roster spots filled with Coastal Carolina transfer guard DeVante’ Jones, seniors-to-be Brandon Johns Jr. and Adrien Nunez, sophomores Jace Howard, Zeb Jackson, Terrance Williams II and Dickinson, and the incoming six-man freshman class.

In his letter, Wagner said he took a “leap of faith” to play college hoops in Ann Arbor over pro ball back home with Alba Berlin and called it the best decision he ever made. He closed the penned piece by thanking coach Juwan Howard, his teammates, the basketball program, and the entire Michigan family “for the time of my life.”

“Sadly, now it’s that time. It’s time for me to say goodbye to Ann Arbor, and to take on this whole new challenge in the NBA,” Wagner wrote. “I don’t know what the future will hold for me there, but I’m excited to find out.”

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins

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