Michigan Basketball: Wolverines Becoming a New Destination for Top High School Talent

By Quinne Lowe
Thomas J. Russo
Thomas J. Russo – USA Today Sports

In the world of college basketball recruiting there are certain programs that are usually at the top of every recruits’ list: Kentucky, Duke, Arizona, Florida. But with some recent on-court success, you can add one more school to that list, Michigan — yes the Wolverines. In his eight seasons in Ann Arbor, not only has head coach John Beilein revived a program that was an afterthought for many recruits within the state of Michigan; he has turned the Crisler Center into a desired college destination for top players throughout the nation.

The foundation was laid with the 2011 recruiting class that included NBA All-Rookie first team selection Tim Hardaway Jr. While the rest of the class, which included Jon Horford, ended up moving on to other programs, it was during this season that many began to believe that Ccach Beilein had the ability to get it done on the court as well as the recruiting trail. Since they were a program that had not had much success in previous seasons, Beilein had to focus more on finding hidden gems who fit his system compared to the high school All-Americans who may have still doubted the legitimacy of the program. While Hardaway Jr. was the son of a NBA great, not many schools recruited the 6-foot-5 athletic guard out of Miami. But Beilein saw potential in him and offered him his lone scholarship. That season the team was led by sophomore Darius Morris and Hardaway Jr. and finished the year 21-14. They won opening round game in the NCAA Tournament and in that moment people started to believe.

But in the offseason the team was dealt a blow that would interestingly enough become a trend for the program when Morris declared for the NBA Draft. While many outsiders worried how the team would react, Beilein knew they had an ace in the hole in incoming freshman Trey Burke. Before catching the eye of U-M late in recruiting, the Ohio native was a Penn State commit and ultimately the switch proved to be destiny altering for both the program and the player. While Burke played well his freshman year, averaging 14.6 PPG and 4.6 APG, it was in his sophomore year with the help of Beilein’s finest recruiting class that included Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and a last minute throw-in recruit named Spike Albrecht that the nation saw him work his magic. With one of the youngest teams in the nation with five contributing freshmen, a sophomore and a junior, Beilein was one half away from leading Michigan to its first NCAA National Championship since 1989. And while he fell short, the success of the program opened the eyes of more talented high school recruits who were looking for an opportunity to play early and have the freedom to shoot.

In 2013 two more players left, Burke and Hardaway Jr., but two entered in Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. Despite losing two players to the NBA, the returning players stepped up and the freshmen were able to find their role in the rotation. This was attributed to Beilein and his great coaching staff that consists of assistants LaVall Jordan, Bacari Alexander and Jeff Myer. The growth and development of Michigan players was evident as Levert improved his scoring from 2.3 to 12.9 PPG  and Stauskus won the second straight Big Ten Player of the Year award for the program.

The 2014 program is faced with more transition as Stauskas, Robinson III and McGary all declared for the NBA Draft, but unlike previous years where fans wondered if Michigan would bounce back, the only concern is figuring out which player will make the next big leap. Will it be someone currently on the roster like Irvin or will incoming freshmen Kameron Chatman of Oregon and  DJ Wilson of California be the next surprise stars for the Wolverines?

And while the 2014 season hasn’t tipped off and they have yet to receive a commitment from a 2015 recruit, 2016 has the making of becoming a great recruiting year as the staff has already caught the attention of five-star recruits forward Tyus Battle and point guard Derryck Thornton. Both were on campus recently and left with great impressions of the school. If Beilein is able to land one, or even both, it is safe to say that the basketball program has gotten back to the levels it once was during the days of the Fab Five — only without the scandal.

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