The anticipation surrounding the Michigan basketball team’s 2018-19 season has steadily been building.
That’s because back in November, Michigan coach John Beilein secured one of his most prized and deepest recruiting classes yet, highlighted by four-star forwards and top-100 recruits Ignas Brazdeikis (Ontario’s Orangeville Prep) and Brandon Johns (East Lansing).
The five-member group also includes four-star guard David DeJulius (Detroit East English Village) and four-star center Colin Castleton (Florida’s Father Lopez Catholic), who are both rated in the top 20 nationally at their respective positions by 247Sports, and three-star guard Adrien Nunez (Connecticut’s St. Thomas More).
“The first thing that stands out to me is the amount of size and skill that they've got coming with the class,” said Eric Bossi, a national basketball analyst for Rivals. “I think that while Brazdeikis is in theory a wing player, he's big enough that he can play as a mismatch four. Brandon Johns can play as a skilled five man or a four and then Colin Castleton is a big scoring big man, so anytime you get that kind of size in class and guys that can be used interchangeably it's a good thing.
“Then you supplement that with a scorer like David DeJulius … and when you've got those guys, you can roll the dice on a long-term guy to develop into an outside shooter in Nunez.”
Michigan’s 2018 class is one of Beilein’s highest-rated of his tenure, checking in at No. 14 in the nation according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, which combines the rankings from top recruiting sites. Rivals has it rated No. 10 and ESPN has it at No. 16.
It trails only Michigan’s 2012 class, which ranked No. 8 in the nation and consisted of four future NBA draft picks in Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. The foursome helped the Wolverines reach the national title game and the Elite Eight in their first two seasons.
While those may seem like far-fetched footsteps to follow, the incoming class has generated its fair share of buzz and appears capable of shouldering lofty expectations.
“It's a really good class. These guys can all really score,” said Brian Snow, a basketball recruiting analyst for 247Sports. “There’s just a lot to like with it. You got talented kids from all over — local kids, Canadian kids. Just a lot of talent and a lot of positional versatility, which I know Beilein likes.”
Here’s a recap of how each signee finished his final high school season and where they might fit in next season at Michigan:
Brazdeikis considered reclassifying to 2017 before he opted to play a rigorous prep school schedule at Orangeville Prep in Mono, Ontario, where he was named the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association’s MVP for the second straight season after averaging 32.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists in league play.
A top-40 recruit, he’s a lefty who can get his own shot at all three levels and thrives with the ball in his hands. Brazdeikis has a college-ready body to endure the rigors of Big Ten play, and he has the potential to be a double-digit scorer who could see at least 20 minutes a game right away — even if Charles Matthews returns.
Bossi’s take: “I think it's one thing to be skilled, tough and very aggressive on the offense, but if you're not heading to a school where the style of play suits your strengths it can cause some problems. But I think the way that Michigan plays and the way that they plan to use from what (Brazdeikis) has said in terms of why he picked them seems to be a really good marriage for skill and style of play. I think that will really work into his favor for being able to be the kind of contributor that people are expecting him to be as a freshman. I don't think there's going to be any coming in and trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.”
Snow’s take: “What (Brazdeikis) does is he just scores the ball. He's more of a mid-range shooter right now, which I don't love because it's the most inefficient shot in basketball, but he does it at a high level. He just really scores. He shoots it a lot and he scores it a lot. That's just kind of what he does. He plays hard and he's a tough kid.”
Johns, a combo forward, was a Michigan Mr. Basketball finalist after shooting 61 percent from the field and averaging 26 points and 10.1 rebounds to power East Lansing to the Class A state quarterfinals. He’s a two-way player and has an inside-out game as an effective post-up player who can also score out on the perimeter.
Like Brazdeikis, Johns should make an instant impact and be an immediate contributor from Day 1. His interchangeability is a plus and he has the ability to space the floor just like sophomore-to-be Isaiah Livers, who he could push for the starting four spot.
Bossi’s take: “It depends a lot if they want to go small or if they want to try and play big in how they use (Johns). I think he plays the four and the five. He'll probably be a backup to begin with, but I think he should play healthy minutes and is a top six or seven guy in the rotation.”
Snow’s take: “I think (Johns) is going to be asked to make 3s when he's open and also contribute on the glass and be a versatile defender. Brandon has got a world of potential. It's all a matter of it coming together for him, and it started to do that over the last 12 months. I think his best basketball is definitely ahead of him.”
Another Michigan Mr. Basketball finalist, DeJulius is a complete point guard. He’s a hard-nosed defender and a pure scorer with deep 3-point range. He averaged 26 points, eight assists and seven rebounds to lead East English and elevated his game against top competition — scoring 49 against defending Illinois state champion Chicago Orr and 42 against two-time Class A state champion Clarkston.
DeJulius will join the point guard fray along with Zavier Simpson and Eli Brooks, who both have starting experience in Beilein’s intricate system. DeJulius likely possesses the most intriguing offensive skill set of the three, and could be used in two-guard lineups either as the one or off the ball at the two.
Bossi’s take: “I would say (DeJulius) has improved as a playmaker for others. He's always been able to go and get his own bucket. He's not a crazy athletic guy, but he's very crafty in the way he finishes around the basket. He uses angles. He's really good adjusting off the glass, he's got runner and floaters and he can get hot from deep to put people on their heels a little bit. In terms of looking for teammates and making them better, he’s improved. I think also improving his lateral quickness and his defensive sensibilities a little bit has been a big improvement for him.”
Snow’s take: “(DeJulius) is another kid who really scores it. His first instinct is to score. His second instinct is to score. He can get buckets at a high level in short order. He put up monster numbers and really has been one of the more productive players from the Midwest in his class. He's a little bit on the shorter side, so defensively that could be an issue. He's a decent passer, not a great one, but he can handle the ball well and can push the pace. But what he's going to do best is score.”
Castleton was a Florida Mr. Basketball finalist and 7A player of the year after averaging 24.5 points, 11.7 rebounds and 5.6 blocks, according to The Orlando Sentinel. At 220 pounds, he will have to add to his frame in the weight room but he’ll be the most athletic big man on the roster.
With junior-to-be Jon Teske likely to man the middle, Castleton will battle for backup minutes with Austin Davis, who is entering his third year in the program. How much playing time Castleton sees could also depend on how many big men Beilein wants to use and how well he’s able to adjust to defending bigger bodies in the post.
Bossi’s take: “Castleton is a guy that we gave a pretty big bump to after his senior year because he has always been able to move really well for a kid his size … but what really stood out to me is how quickly his skills emerged. He's become reliable as a 10- to 12-foot jump shooter. He's got a little jump hook, and the production on offense that wasn't really there last spring and summer has started to come on during the high school year. I think he's got confidence now.”
Snow’s take: “Colin is a kid who can really run the court, has good hands and good shooting touch. He's physically not strong yet but he does compete. I think he has a chance to really improve as the years go along. He's going to have to get stronger and spend a lot of time in the weight room, but he's a good athlete, he can block shots, he can score inside, from the mid-range and even step out to 3. He might not be ready for big minutes right away, but I think this is a kid who down the line has a chance to be a special player.”
Nunez, a sharp outside shooter, opted to reclassify to 2018 and take a post-grad year at St. Thomas More Prep in Connecticut, and the move seemingly paid off. He earned First Team All-New England Preparatory School Athletic Council honors a year after averaging just 4.8 points in a limited role as a senior at Bishop Loughlin High in New York.
Nunez could be one of the next under-the-radar guys who develops under Beilein and he’ll have a chance to carve out a complementary role as a spot-up shooter on the wing with Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (graduation) and Ibi Watson (transfer) both gone. Of the five signees, though, Nunez is the most likely to redshirt his freshman year.
Bossi’s take: “(Nunez) is a prep school kid who came onto the scene late. I think he's a guy that people kind of caught by accident in late July going to watch other people. He was on a team that seemed to keep ending up playing in the game ahead of them and people were like, 'Wait, this guy can shoot.' … Even in prep school he didn't get as much (attention) because he wasn't quite as prominent or at a big-name prep school but he has size, he can shoot and as he adds the rest of his game, there's a lot of upside there.”
Snow’s take: “(Nunez) kind of came out of nowhere in July of last year. He proved that he can make shots, and there's always a premium on being able to make shots and Adrien did that. Is he going to be ready right away? That's a good question. He's a little bit older so he should be more mature physically, but we'll see if he's ready to compete at the Big Ten level.”