Trio of youngsters aim to become Michigan’s next Mitch McGary


If John Beilein had an Achilles’ Heel, it would be recruiting dominating big men.

Despite earning a berth in the NCAA basketball tournament five of his first seven years at Michigan, only one of his bigs is playing in the National Basketball Association.

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Of course, we’re speaking of freshman Mitch McGary, the 6-10, 255-lb crowd pleaser who led Michigan to the 2012-13 NCAA title game by averaging 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds on the big stage.

McGary was also off to a good start as a sophomore, before a back injury sidelined him for the rest of the season after just eight contests.

Tested positive

The problem for Beilein and Michigan was that pro scouts projected McGary as a first-round NBA draft choice. Very few members of the Michigan family expected him to return, and the NCAA made the decision an easy one, suspending McGary for one year after he tested positive for marijuana during the NCAA tournament. What surprised everyone was that McGary was tested, even though he wasn’t going to play.

McGary was drafted 21st overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder and played very well in the NBA summer league (14.8 ppg, 5.8) before suffering a fractured foot in Oklahoma City’s preseason opener. Before the injury, he scored 14 points and was very impressive. “McGary flashed a keen offensive ability, syncing up with center Steven Adams on a number of possessions,” reported ESPN’s Royce Young.

Nov 15, 2014; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Hillsdale Chargers guard Darius Ware (5) moves the ball defended by Michigan Wolverines forward D.J. Wilson (5) in the second half at Crisler Center. Michigan won 92-68. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Other than McGary, Beilein has recruited only ten players taller than 6-7 in his seven seasons, and three arrived this summer.

The list includes: Ben Cronin (Class of 2008), Blake McLimans (2009), Jordan Morgan (2009), Jon Horford (2010), Evan Smotrycz (2010) Mark Donnal (2013), D.J. Wilson (2014),  Ricky Doyle (2015) and Duncan Robinson (2015).

Jon Teske, a 7-0, 220 lb shot blocker, is the first commit to the 2015-16 class.

Depth down low

This season, Beilein finally has the depth to create some competition down low.

Donnal, a 6-9 redshirt freshman, opened the regular season as the starting center in Michigan’s 92-68 win over Div. II Hillsdale College Saturday (Nov. 15). Doyle and Wilson, both 6-9, spelled Donnal. While Michigan’s veteran perimeter stars provided most of the three-point artistry, the trio of big men combined for 17 points and nine rebounds, certainly providing their share of the effort.

In two years, Beilein has a legitimate 7-0 shot-blocker joining the mix. Teske, a 4-star commit from Medina (Ohio) HS , averaged 12 points, nine rebounds and five blocks as a sophomore.

So why the upsurge in bigger (well, taller) big men?

For starters, Beilein didn’t exactly get the pick of the litter when he came to Michigan from West Virginia. The Wolverine program had been down for years, and while he had the reputation as a sound coach, the nation’s best big men ventured to Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina, Michigan State and even Ohio State.

 Two-guard offense

Beilein has always built his teams around what some called the “Princeton Offense” a two-guard motion attack which thrives on shooting threes and hopes to hold its own on the glass. Whether you were 6-2 or 6-7, you’d get playing time if you were willing to learn.

It works well unless you are going against a team resembling Tom Izzo’s Spartans, who control the boards and play suffocating defense.

Bruisers like MSU’s Adreian Payne (graduated), Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross all gave Michigan fits in recent years.

Beilein’s reputation as a solid coach also helped him land players whose fathers played in the NBA. Tim Hardaway, Glenn Robinson, Jordan Dumars Jon Horford and current Wolverine swingman Aubrey Dawkins all had familiar names when they enrolled at Michigan.

Big Ten champs

In Beilein’s second season at Michigan (2008-09), he finished 9-9 in the physical Big Ten but won his first NCAA tournament game.  Two years later, he again finished 9-9 in the league but won two tournament games.

Last season, Michigan won the regular season Big Ten title outright for the first time since 1986. Of course Michigan lost the NCAA title game two seasons ago, and got as far as the elite eight last season.

Big Ten dominance, long runs in the NCAA and the respect of coach Beilein have brought Michigan back to the edge of elite status.

The nucleus of Derrick Walton Jr., Caris LeVert, Spike Albrecht, and Zak Irvin will get the lion’s share of headlines, but keep your eye on the baby bigs ,because there might be another McGary almost ready to step up.

Bolded names are linked to sports-reference, an enhanced statistics website.

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