Niyo: Beilein adjusts to UM being pipeline for NBA

John Niyo
The Detroit News
John Beilein has managed to churn out NBA-caliber players since he arrived at Michigan.

Ann Arbor — Even after a decade of this, John Beilein says he still plays the what-if game. In fact, Michigan’s head coach finds himself playing it almost annually, which has forced him, among other things, to alter his old-school bookkeeping.

There’s plenty of new-age technology involved with the Wolverines’ basketball program, from wearables that monitor players’ practice workloads to shooting machines that measure the arc of their jump shots. But Beilein, relaxed and smiling as he held a season-ending media session Friday at Crisler Center, noted he still uses the cardboard backing of a yellow legal pad to keep track of his projected future rosters, for 2018, ’19, ’20 and so on.

“But I just keep crossing people out,” he said.

“And the depth chart, it just keeps changing.”

So Beilein, 64, who just completed his 10th season at Michigan — and his 39th as a college coach — figures he has no choice but to roll with it.

What if some of his talented underclassmen hadn’t opted to leave early for the NBA?

“We’ve been wondering that for a long time,” Beilein laughed, a few days after finishing this latest game of NBA roulette.

On Wednesday, D.J. Wilson announced he’d decided to keep his name in the draft, while teammate Moritz Wagner opted to take the other route and return for his junior season with the Wolverines.

“We’re not depending all our success on one-and-dones,” said Beilein, fresh off a 26-12 season that finished on a surprising upswing with a Big Ten tournament title and an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance. “Our success is depending on, ‘Can we get good players that will develop?’ But given that, our numbers are extraordinary. Wisconsin’s had one guy go early since I’ve been here. Michigan State’s had two.”

That’d be Sam Dekker for the Badgers and Gary Harris and Deyonta Davis for the Spartans. And for the Wolverines?

“I’ve lost count,” Beilein said.

Trying to adapt

It’s now eight, officially, since 2010, with Wilson joining a list that began for Beilein with Manny Harris and includes a handful of first-round NBA draft picks. Beilein said he hopes Wilson, a 6-foot-10 forward who averaged 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in his first full season as a starter, joins that latter group next month. He’s projected as a late first-round or early second-round prospect.

But then again, who isn’t these days?

“That’s the general consensus of most of these GMs and scouting directors, that all these kids should stay longer,” Beilein said. “But the fact is they’re not, so they adapt.”

D.J. Wilson

The system does, too, eventually. Last year’s NCAA rule changes allowing players to extend their stay-or-go draft decisions until late May — meaning they can participate the league’s scouting combine as well as team workouts — has taken some of the guesswork out for NBA suitors.

But at the same time, it has turned this into a different kind of guessing game for college coaches as they become de facto agents, in some cases, serving as point men for their draft prospects’ futures — a record 137 players tested the waters this spring — while also trying to protect their own.

“We’re used to, ‘All right, they’re either in or out’ and then you go on and recruit your own team,” Beilein said. “But this is a different deal.”

Beilein said he remained in contact with Wilson throughout the last month, and he and assistant coach Saddi Washington both made a quick trip to California on Monday to have a final face-to-face meeting with Wilson and his mother. The same was true for Wagner, who went home to Germany earlier this month, then returned for the combine and NBA workouts. He, too, was viewed as a possible late first-round pick.

But by the time he sat down with Beilein to go over everything last weekend — Beilein said he and Washington had talked with all 30 NBA teams the last six weeks — he didn’t need any sales pitch. Wagner said he didn’t even need to hear the list of reasons to stay that Beilein had prepared for him.

"I said, ‘Coach Beilein, I already made up my mind. You don't have to tell me why I should stay here. I'm staying here.'" Wagner told the school’s website.

Asked about that meeting Friday, Beilein offered only one correction.

“It was not a list of reasons to stay,” he said, adding he’d done the same with Wilson. “It was the information that we had gathered, the probabilities, the feedback. And we gave that to him. Moe probably interpreted that as a list of reasons to stay. And D.J. saw that differently.”

Changing landscape

Wilson was probably right to go, given his injury history and his age — at 21, he’s practically a senior citizen this draft class— and presuming there really is a guarantee from the Utah Jazz assuring him he won’t slide past the 30th overall pick.

But that only accentuates the uncertainty major Division I coaches must deal with now. The one-and-done reality might be a given at Kentucky or Duke or Kansas or North Carolina. But how bewildering is this? Wagner averaged 2.7 points a game as a freshman, while Wilson had scored 72 points total in 31 games before his redshirt sophomore season.

Knowing that, Beilein says, “I’m not thinking one year. I’m thinking D.J.’s a five-year player and Moe’s definitely here for four.”

And yet, he adds, “There was a real possibility we could’ve lost both of them here. So I don’t expect anything to be for sure. You just keep going.”

For Beilein and his staff, that means considering their options now with one available scholarship for next season. Perhaps they’ll add another graduate transfer or sign a late recruit, ideally to fill some of Wilson’s minutes at the four.

“Anything could happen, couldn’t it?” Beilein said.

If something doesn’t, it’ll be up to sharpshooter Duncan Robinson to do more as a rising senior, along with highly-touted freshman Isaiah Livers, a player Beilein compares favorably to Wilson.

Michigan’s biggest offseason move was landing grad transfer Jaaron Simmons from Ohio to help fill the void at point guard with Derrick Walton Jr. graduating. (“I have a sense he’s gonna be a really special addition to this team,” Beilein said.) But the Wolverines also are counting on a major contribution from 6-6 forward Charles Matthews, who sat out last season after transferring from Kentucky.

And if either Jon Teske or Austin Davis takes a big step on the interior, maybe Wagner spends more time as a stretch four than at center.

Whatever the case, for now all Beilein can do is shrug and get back to work. The more things change, the more they stay the same, he figures.

“So I just coach the same way,” he said. “Fretful that things could happen, but confident that it always works out.”

Moving on

If D.J. Wilson gets drafted, he will be the seventh player from Michigan since 2011 picked after leaving college early (*LeVert was a senior):

Darius Morris, 2011 (2nd round, 41 overall)

Trey Burke, 2013 (1st, 9)

Tim Hardaway Jr., 2013 (1st, 24)

Mitch McGary, 2014 (1st, 21)

Glenn Robinson III, 2014 (2nd, 40)

Nik Stauskas, 2014 (1st, 8)

*Caris LeVert, 2016 (1st, 20)

D.J. Wilson, 2017