Ex-UM walk-on Dakich blossoms in Ohio State swan song
There was a brief two-day period this past summer when Andrew Dakich was contemplating entering the working world.
The former walk-on guard had graduated Michigan in the spring and was looking to play elsewhere — anywhere — for his fifth and final season. He and two Michigan managers put together a highlight tape that consisted mainly of practice clips to go along with a lengthy text message begging coaches for an opportunity.
Then-Butler coach Chris Holtmann came calling but left him crushed when the Bulldogs got a commitment from a freshman guard and had no more room left. It led to Dakich committing to Quinnipiac as a grad transfer in May, only to receive a rejection letter between summer sessions from the school’s broadcast journalism graduate program in late June.
He endured 48 hours of uncertainty before Holtmann, who ended up leaving Butler to take over at Ohio State, reached out again — this time with a scholarship offer — in a phone call that would end up altering Dakich’s future and the Buckeyes’ season.
“A thousand things had to happen for me to end up at Ohio State, which is kind of crazy now thinking back at it. It just fell into place,” Dakich told The Detroit News in a phone interview Friday. “We play this game to have these kinds of opportunities and it just so happened to be at the archrival school.
“I didn't believe when all this stuff transpired the way it did. I was in complete shock.”
While Dakich never expected to end up in the Big Ten again, Ohio State ended up being a perfect situation. It was two hours from home in Indiana and the Buckeyes were in desperate need of point guard depth.
Heading into Sunday’s 1 p.m. rematch against No. 22 Michigan at Crisler Center, No. 8 Ohio State has been one of the surprise teams in the nation partly because of Dakich, whose experience, leadership, basketball IQ and feel for the game has been a boon for the Buckeyes.
“It’s tremendous,” Michigan coach John Beilein said of Dakich’s impact. “He's had several shots with us as well, especially when we had injuries, and he performed admirably during those times. I’m just thrilled that he's had this opportunity. When he’s on the scout team for us, they would beat us traditionally. He would go down the lane and he would make great plays.
“I think that’s all he needed was to be in this year right now and have that latitude that I can make mistakes and stay in there because there’s not some guard that I'm taking his place right now. There's nobody there. So, he really has done well, especially under these situations.”
For Dakich, it has essentially been a season five years in the making. He played sparingly off the bench during his time at Michigan, providing two-minute breathers for starters like Derrick Walton Jr. and Spike Albrecht.
He appeared in 12 games as a freshman, 13 as a sophomore and 24 as a junior before redshirting last season to preserve his eligibility for a fifth year. Over his three-year playing career with the Wolverines, he recorded 22 points, 24 rebounds, 21 assists and seven steals in 203 minutes.
Dakich, who values getting everyone in the right spots and getting scorers the ball over being a “stat-sheet stuffer,” has at least doubled that production through 28 games this season with Ohio State, averaging 3.2 points, 2.2 assists and 1.8 rebounds in 18.1 minutes.
While the numbers on the surface are far from impressive, Michigan fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson said Dakich’s presence — particularly behind the scenes — is immeasurable.
“It’s hard to put into words for guys that don't get to see it every day, whether it be in practice, pushing guys, motivating guys or in games encouraging or saying something to Coach B,” Robinson said. “By the time he was a senior, it really felt like we had a fourth assistant and the ultimate assistant because he had our ears for sure since he was one of us but he also had the coach’s ear. I think it takes a special type of person to be able to navigate that and he did.”
And as Dakich readies to return to the place he called home for four years, there will be swirling feelings of anxiousness, excitement and nervousness.
More importantly, it’ll be another opportunity to play in a meaningful match in late February — a shot at one point eight months ago he never thought he’d get again.
“I don't even know what to make of it; if the Big Ten did it on purpose because Michigan played Purdue last year on their ‘Senior Night’ and Spike was there and now it's the same thing this year. It’s pretty funny,” said Dakich, who expects to be showered with a “full force” of boos. “I think there will be a lot of emotions.
“It's going to be two hungry teams going at it in a marquee game and we're both looking forward to it.”
Ohio State at Michigan
Tip-off: 1 p.m. Sunday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
TV/radio: CBS/950 A.M.
Records: No. 8 Ohio State 22-6, 13-2 Big Ten; No. 22 Michigan 21-7, 10-5
Outlook: Michigan’s home finale with be a “Maize Out” and will honor its four seniors prior to the game … It’s the first meeting in the series both teams have been ranked since March 15, 2014 … Ohio State has won four of the past five meetings, including the last three.