Wolverines offseason basketball shuffle has bright side

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

No, the sky isn’t falling on Michigan basketball.

In fact, things are looking up.

The program has had a strange offseason, with a lot of turnover — on the coaching staff, but especially the roster.

Four players transferred — Spike Albrecht, a graduate transfer going to Purdue; Aubrey Dawkins, who will play for his father at Central Florida; Kameron Chatman; and Ricky Doyle.

And that has led to a lot of questions, mostly from fans.

What’s going on in Ann Arbor?

The plain truth: Nothing bad at all.

What fans are seeing are the aftershocks of a wild 2014 offseason, when Michigan lost three players early to the NBA — Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson. And that didn’t even include the early loss of Trey Burke after the 2013 championship game run.

But since then, coach John Beilein has been playing catchup.

And while he has filled several holes, it also has led to a number of players uncomfortable with playing time.

“When we took that huge class, really a huge class, this is to be expected,” Beilein said last week on WTKA. “You don’t want it, but it’s to be expected.”

Room for improvement

Michigan returns all five starters from last season, which ended in the NCAA Tournament despite much of the season being played without guard Caris LeVert (leg injury), who is headed to the NBA.

The starters at the end were Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson and Mark Donnal.

Walton and Irvin will be seniors. Donnal, who had a breakout season, also is a senior but could be classified as a junior. Abdur-Rahkman, who might be Michigan’s best point guard, and Robinson, a 3-point machine, will be juniors.

So, you can see where the pickings would be slim for Albrecht — Walton probably starts at point, with incoming freshman Xavier Simpson and Abdur-Rahkman as options — as well as sixth man Dawkins, as well as Chatman and Doyle.

Consider this: Between LeVert, Albrecht, Dawkins, Chatman and Doyle, Michigan is losing 549 of 3,600 Big Ten minutes from 2015-16. That’s 15.25 percent of its conference playing time.

Fans can see the departures don’t mean Michigan basketball is in big trouble.

But that’s not to say things are perfect for Beilein, who is entering his 10th season.

Defense remains an issue, and was a big reason why he hired former Wright State coach Billy Donlon, a defensive specialist. Donlon also gives Michigan a third guy with head coaching experience, along with Jeff Meyer.

And Michigan could use some big-man play, even with Donnal making progress.

Experience gained

That’s where Beilein’s other new assistant, Saddi Washington, comes in to play. He was passed over for an assistant’s job at Michigan six years ago, told he needed more big-man coaching experience. He went to his boss, Oakland’s Greg Kampe, and requested the assignment, got it and excelled.

Donlon and Washington replace Bacari Alexander, who became coach at Detroit, and LaVall Jordan, who became coach at Milwaukee.

The incoming freshmen, while maybe not heralded by all the national experts, will give Washington more to work with, including big men Austin Davis and Jon Teske.

They are joined by Simpson, Mr. Basketball in Ohio, and another Ohio guard, Ibi Watson.

“The young men we got coming into our program, I think they’re gonna be a big surprise,” Washington recently said on WMGC.

And Beilein also has two open scholarships, should he choose to fill them this offseason. He’s looking at his options, including graduate transfers.

This team lost some talent, but it’s kept more of it — and is bringing in more.

Mass departures can have a bad look and lead to some questions.

But it’s just a matter of circumstance, not concern.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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