Michigan's Youth Revolution
Neal Rothschild I1Daily Sports Editor
For a man with more talent than he's
ever had in 35 years of coaching, John
Beilein doesn't feel spoiled.
The sixth-year Michigan coach constructed
and perfected an offense with the purpose of
doing more with less, but today Beilein doesn't
have less. He has more than opposing coaches
feel comfortable with.
He has the top-flight talent he could once
see only by scheduling a marquee opponent
when he was laboringthrough the lower rungs
of college basketball.
Tim Hardaway Jr. Trey Burke. Mitch
McGary. Glenn Robinson IIt. The future is
in place too: heralded recruits Derrick Wal-
ton and Zak Irvin both signed their letters of
intent for the 2013 recruiting class this week.
At the center is Burke. Without the sopho-
more from Columbus, the bridge from Darius
Morris to the future of Michigan basketball
may not have been built.
Burke is the quarterback of Beilein's pres-
ent-day offense, the 2012 iteration of the floor
general that Beilein's always had, but never
4C Tipoff - November 15, 2012
like this - a lightning-quick, no-look passing,
jump-shooting, off-balance-finishing dynamo.
Beilein's rosters used to be inundated with
blue-collar talent. Now, you'll have a tough
time finding a team of his devoid of NBA tal-
ent. Very quickly, Beilein's teams went from
the pursuers to the pursued.
And in the process, the face of Beilein's
teams has transformed. Where there once was
the savvy, but limited senior leader, now is the
stud underclassman with the talent to make it
to the next level.
But through this transformation, Beilein
hasn't changed his attitude. He doesn't feel
spoiled because nothing he touches is differ-
ent. The expectations are the same, the atti-
tude is the same, and the respect he commands
is the same.
Therein lies the paradox of Beilein: noth-
ing has changed about how he approaches his
teams - but the constant is that he won't stop
Before he won a Big Ten championship,
reached the Elite Eight at West Virginia or
groomed NBA-level talent, John Beilein had
Scott Hicks in 1987.
The guard for Le Moyne College in upstate
New York had the height Beilein liked, but
lacked quickness to keep up with opposing
So Beilein tinkered. He plugged the under-
sized Hicks in as a stretch forward, and Le
Moyne won 16 out of 17 games that season, fin-
If that sounds familiar, it should. History
repeated itself 23 years and four coaching
stops later when Beilein used an athletically
limited, 6-foot-4 scrapper as the undersized
forward. Zack Novak flourished in the role and
captained Michigan for three years, leading
the Wolverines to consecutive NCAA Tourna-
ments for the first time since the Steve Fisher
But to conclude that the undersized power
forward is a Beilein trademark would be to look
liiiitedly at the players he's had. West Virgin-
ia's six-foot-11 Kevin Pittsnogle took the nation
by storm during March Madness in 2005. The
tattooed 3-point sharpshooter played the same
position as Novak, just as the versatile 6-foot-8
DeShawn Sims did at Michigan.
"We have to adapt to our players," says
Beilein. "Because Jordan Morgan, for exam-
. ple, is not a 3-point shooter. You tailor the
game to him. That's the beauty of our staff and
our experience level. We're going to tailor our
plan to what our talent level is."
Novak's departure, though, may have sig-
naled a farewell to the legacy of the Beilein
Overachiever. He was Burke's first running
mate and came at the intersection of John
Beilein old and new. He represented the
Beilein of the past, who found himself on a
team rapidly becoming the Beilein team of the
Novak may be the last of a dying breed. As
Beilein's status continues to climb in college
basketball, he won't need to rely on the self-
made, "small-town boy makes good" mold.
Why try to catch lightning in a bottle when you
can create it yourself? Beilein, able to get his
pick of the litter of high school talent, will be
able to customize his teams based on current
and future personnel.
Where the Novak archetype may be falling
out of favor, the other pieces still need to be
there to surround Burke. The stretch swing-
man - a versatile, inside-outside threat with
the ability to rebound and guard opposing
power forwards - is filled by the 6-foot-6 Rob-
inson. That spot-up shooter who can bury the
big 3-pointer from the corner? Freshman Nik
Stauskas. Hardaway is the athletic wing player.
Morgan, and eventually McGary, plays the role
of the steady big man to clean up around the
It's as though, after 35 years of coaching,
Beilein finally has his fantasy lineup.
That offense Beilein developed at Le Moyne
became a trademark. He'd overcome bigger
and more athletic teams with ball movement,
screening and backdoor cuts. The offense was
made to find the open man, not the five-star
recruit - mainly because he didn't have one.
It was an underdog system through and
through. But before he developed it in the late
'80s, he led unheralded programs at Erie Com-
munity College and Nazareth to dominant sea-
sons. Once he broke into the Division-I ranks,
he led Canisius College to its best record in the
last 55 years. He coached Richmond to five-
straight winning seasons and he took West
Virginia to the Elite Eight, a height the Moun-
taineers hadn't reached since 1959.
At West Virginia, Beilein turned the pro-
gram around, but not because of the freakish
talent. His first top-100 recruit was Da'Sean
Butler who signed in Beilein's last year in Mor-
gantown. It was a school that had been to the
NCAA Tournament just twice since 1989, but
has missed the tournament just twice since
Beilein arrived in 2004.
Then, as he brought Michigan back from the
brink of NCAA basketball irrelevance, a funny
Suddenly, the Wolverines started to enjoy
the size and athleticism that they'd been
designed to take down. The alley-oops, spin
moves and tip-slams started to infiltrate
Crisler Center. Now, they're pulling in the top-
Manny Harris was inherited by Beilein
from former coach Tommy Amaker and was
developed into an NBA talent. In the 2010-11
season, Morris went from a standard Big Ten
point guard to a Los Angeles Laker. The fol-
lowing year, Burke went from alightly recruit-
ed three-star from Columbus to a probable
second-rounder in the NBA Draft.
This begs the question whether Beilein
has attracted a much better crop of players,
or whether the players reached NBA caliber
because of their time under Beilein.
According to Beilein, the NBA wasn't on
Burke nor Morris's radar early in their break-
"There is no way that ir January, or even
February of Trey's freshman year and Dari-
us's sophomore year they were even thinking
of going to the NBA," Beilein said. "If you're
thinking aboutgoing to the NBA in December,
you probably won't be going to the NBA."
Michigan had one of its youngest rosters
in 2010-11, Morris's sophomore season. There
were no seniors and there was a serious void
This was the pre-windfall Beilein team. The
last glimpse of the not-quite-there era. Burke
was in his senior season at Northland High
School, and Morris had the reins to the offense.
Morgan was the lone reliable post pres-
ence in his redshirt freshman season, and the
Wolverines lived and died by Morris and the
In a particularly embarrassing loss to Min-
nesota, Michigan totaled 11 rebounds and the
high on the team belonged to Hardaway and
Novak, who each pulled down three. The Wol-
verine frontcourt amassed a single board.
That season, the 6-foot-4 Novak led the
squad in rebounding.
Size was clearly an issue, so Beilein did what
he had to do. He stationed Morris - his strong,
physical 6-foot-4 point guard - in the post
where Michigan could take advantage of the
traditionally smaller opposing pointguards.
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