Ann Arbor -- With about six minutes left as Michigan led Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament, Fred Wright-Jones celebrated during a timeout with his arms by his sides as he spun around and around, his feet moving in small stutter steps like they would during a basketball drill.
As teammate Zak Irvin was about to slam a dunk against Illinois earlier in the Big Ten tournament, Wright-Jones was at the end of the Michigan bench mimicking the jump up and the slam.
There are countless other examples of the Wolverines’ high-energy player who has been able to share his enthusiasm from the bench during this postseason by showing off some unique sideline moves. Wright-Jones and the Wolverines are headed to Kansas City for a Sweet 16 game against Oregon on Thursday.
“We love it,” Irvin said Tuesday of Wright-Jones’ unique celebratory moves. “Coach B (John Beilein) will pause (the game film) and he’ll show the bench reactions. To see Fred enjoying it like that is awesome.”
Wright-Jones, who attended East English Village Prep, is a 5-foot-11-inch, 170-pound sophomore elevated from team manager a year ago to a roster spot. His moment of glory this season was a 3-pointer on Dec. 17 against Maryland Eastern Shore. This time, the bench erupted for him.
“That was unreal, honestly,” he said. “When I went in the game they told me I’d better take a shot at least. When I shot it, the reaction from the bench was awesome.”
Wright-Jones is among those on the Michigan team counted on to give the starters a strong scout-team look at the upcoming opponent.
“Last year I was a manager, so this year basically my first year on the team,” Wright-Jones said. “I have a big role on the scout team helping prepare our guys for upcoming opponents. This entire year has been fun honestly. It’s still crazy this is all happening to me after being a manager. I’m grateful for the opportunity coach Beilein presented. I hope this run doesn’t end.”
Fans of Wright-Jones’ sideline moves also hope this run doesn’t end anytime soon.
“A lot of people keep asking me where I get my moves,” Wright-Jones said Tuesday. “Are they spur of-the-moment moves? It’s been interesting. It’s more of a feeling at the moment. I don’t plan them out. But every time they see them, everybody reacts differently.”
He took it up a notch once the team arrived in Washington D.C. for the Big Ten tournament, a day after the team’s charter plane aborted its takeoff and skidded on the runway through a fence.
“I just feel like maybe the Big Ten tournament started something new in me” Wright-Jones said. “It was my first Big Ten tournament. Maybe I took it up another notch that I didn’t know I had. I feel like it brings energy to the players on the court and on the bench.”
He doesn’t have a favorite move, or a signature move, but he had to admit there was one that even made him laugh.
“The funniest one was when I was spinning around in circles,” said Wright-Jones, who is majoring in movement science and ultimately wants to become a doctor. “I don’t know why I did that.”
As the Wolverines prepare for their next step in pursuit of a national championship, Wright-Jones said the players are not paying attention to the outside “noise” and will continue to play for each other as they did earlier in the season when the wins weren’t coming regularly.
He’s got some time, of course, before his next sideline antics on Thursday.
“I might think of a few moves,” he said.