Washington, Donlon bring special skills to UM basketball

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Saddi Washington works with Oakland players in 2013.

Saddi Washington interviewed for a Michigan assistant coach job six years ago.

That job went to Bacari Alexander.

John Beilein wanted Washington to have more experience working with big men.

"He took it as a challenge," Beilein, the Michigan head coach, said Thursday on WTKA 1050-AM in Ann Arbor.

"He asked Greg (Kampe, Oakland head coach) if he could work with the big men.

"He went and worked at it. It's pretty cool, how it all developed."

Washington, who spent 10 years on staff at Oakland, and Billy Donlon, who was recently fired after six years as head coach at Wright State, were announced Wednesday as the newest additions to Beilein's staff. Alexander and LaVall Jordan took head coaching jobs, Alexander at Detroit and Jordan at Milwaukee.

Beilein, during the interview on WTKA, shed some light on the hires, and the responsibilities Washington and Donlon would be charged with. The new staff was set to meet Thursday afternoon.

Beilein said when he went looking for two new assistant coaches, he wanted coaches familiar with recruiting in Big Ten country.

"The lifeblood is gonna be the Caris LeVerts, the Glenn Robinsons, the Mitch McGarys, the Spike Albrechts, the guys like that, that are in the footprint of the Big Ten," Beilein said.

"We wanted to get regional guys who could really teach ... and can bring me some new ideas.

"These two guys are gonna be fabulous. At the same time, this is a chance for us to grow."

Donlon, 39, had four winning seasons at Wright State, located in Dayton, Ohio, including three of 20 wins or more.

His specialty has been defense, from his days playing point guard at UNC-Wilmington all the way to Wright State. In the Horizon League tournament this season, Wright State stunningly held Oakland, with one of the elite offenses in the country, to 25 first-half points and 55 points in all in advancing to the tournament title game for the third consecutive year.

Billy Donlon, then with Wright State, coaches against Oakland in March.

Defense has been an issue for Michigan.

"I would think about it 52 weeks a year: How are we gonna score on them (UNC-Wilmington)?" said Beilein, who as Richmond’s coach, faced Donlon as a player. "That was my heartburn for years.

"I would never play Wright State right now because I know it's tough to score on them."

Washington, 40, besides working with the big men like Mark Donnal, Moritz Wagner and incoming freshmen Austin Davis and Jon Teske, also is considered a skilled recruiter.

For instance, he was instrumental in getting Kay Felder, who recently left early for the NBA, to play at Oakland.

Beilein and Washington have talked a lot over the years.

"We'd just talk basketball, talk recruiting. I would say, 'OK, what's going on with this kid,' and he would give me a chapter," Beilein said on WTKA. "He has his ear to the ground on everything. That's information, sometimes that's most important.

"I thought it was important to get an in-state guy again."

Grad transfer at UM?

Michigan has lost four players to transfer this offseason -- Albrecht, who will play his final season at Purdue; Aubrey Dawkins, who will play for his father, Johnny, the new head coach at Central Florida; Ricky Doyle; and Kameron Chatman.

Beilein continues to look for potential roster options for this coming season, including the grad-transfer route.

The Wolverines have two scholarships available.

"The good news is we've got five starters back," Beilein said. "The bad news is those guys behind them that transferred, they're looking at it, 'I really want to play, I'm gonna be a junior.

"It's to be expected because they're all sort of vying for the same positions.

"Grad transfer, we'll see what's out there. He's gotta fit now, he's gotta be a good teammate, the right attitude we look for."

Beilein said Michigan will "do everything we can" to get a player, whether it's a possible starter, or a possible sixth man, replacing the role Dawkins embraced this past season.

Beilein on Wilson

Beilein said on WTKA, talking to host Sam Webb, that D.J. Wilson, who will be a junior, will be on the wing next season, after seeing limited minutes in the frontcourt this past season.

"He can actually play both wings," Beilein said. "He's gonna have a great summer. He's gonna work at it like crazy.

"There wasn't really a lot of opportunities for us to experiment in games (last season). There were some days in practice where he was excellent."

Wilson averaged 6.1 minutes over 26 games (no starts), and made 27-of-57 shots (47.4 percent), including 8-of-24 3-pointers (33.3).

Back home again

While most Michigan players opted to stay on campus last summer, most have opted to work out at home on their own this summer, Beilein said. Derrick Walton Jr. and Andrew Dakich are on campus, but most others are home, including Wagner back in Germany.

"I'm good with either one," Beilein said on WTKA. "The other guys have programs to work at home. They know Jon's (Sanderson, strength and conditioning coach) program.

"This is a good time to get volume shooting ... so when they come back, they're ready to roll in July."