May 7, 2016
ANN ARBOR — John Beilein held an introductory meeting for the first time in six years on Thursday afternoon. Having been surrounded by the same ol’ faces since 2010, the Michigan coach gathered longtime assistant Jeff Meyer and newly hired assistants Billy Donlon and Saddi Washington.
Fittingly, the two newcomers, who are actually old acquaintances, filled the familiar seats of Bacari Alexander and LaVall Jordan.
In officially hiring Donlon and Washington this week, Beilein opted for choices that are new, but known, and fresh, but familiar. He’s known both for years and coached against each during their college playing days — Donlon at UNC Wilmington (vs. Beilein’s team at Richmond) and Washington at Western Michigan (vs. Beilein’s team at Canisius).
Beilein’s biggest priority in making the hires: “We wanted regional guys who also can really teach. That was the big thing,” he said on “The Michigan Insider” program on WTKA (1050-AM). “Teach and bring me new ideas.”
The hope at Michigan is that, while five starters from last year’s NCAA Tournament team return, turnover on the staff can mark a positive shakeup.
“Bring me new ideas, guys, and let’s implement them,” Beilein said of his message to Donlon and Washington. “We’re a different team than we were six or seven years ago, but the game continues to evolve. Let’s get new ideas. New ideas on offense and defense and in recruiting.”
In Washington, a former 10-year assistant coach under Oakland head coach Greg Kampe, Beilein wanted to fill the role of “an in-state guy.”
Washington is from Lansing and was an All-MAC performer at Western Michigan. He recruited throughout Michigan while at Oakland and has sustained ties in both the high schools and the AAU scene.
While neither new assistant nor Beilein was made available to reporters this week, Washington said during a Friday interview on the “The Drive with Jack” on 92.1-FM Lansing: “There are obviously some kids of high interest (in Michigan). One of the things I told coach Beilein is that I’m a big relationship guy. … I feel confident in my ability to recruit the state.”
Washington added that by going from Oakland to U-M, the role of in-state recruiter changes dramatically.
“The difference now is that the seat that I’m sitting in, I’m standing behind a powerful brand at the University of Michigan,” he said. “Where as it might have been a little bit more challenging to get a conversation (at Oakland), now I get to sit down at the big table, from the front end. I’m really excited about that point.”
Beilein is putting Washington in such a position because of a decade of casual conversations. Beilein would see Washington on the recruiting trail over the years and pick his brain. He was always impressed with the results.
“I would say, ‘OK, what’s going on with this kid?’ and he would give me a chapter,” Beilein said. “He had his ear to the ground on everything.”
Six years ago, Washington interviewed for the coaching position ultimately filled by Alexander. At the time, Beilein told Washington that Alexander could coach post players, which gave him an edge.
Washington, who had primarily worked with guards, tucked that information away. When an opportunity arose at Oakland for him to switch from coaching the perimeter to the interior, he jumped at the chance to broaden his résumé.
According to Beilein, it’s still undecided how the coaching staff will divvy up position assignments. All indications, however, point to Washington handling U-M big men Mark Donnal, Moritz Wagner, and incoming freshman Austin Davis and Jon Teske.
Beilein said that, while Donlon can coach the interior or perimeter, Washington “may take permanent responsibility” of the post.
Donlon, meanwhile, regardless of positional duties, will be handed the keys to the Michigan defense. The former Wright State head coach has the reputation of instilling toughness and defensive-focus in teams. Both are ideals the Wolverines have desperately needed at times.
According to Beilein, Donlon schemes his ball-screen defense differently and coaches gap defenses with different angles and terminology
“I would never play Wright State because I knew it was tough to score on them,” Beilein said.
In six years leading the Raiders, Donlon posted a 109-94 record and won 20 or more games in three of the last four seasons.
This past season, the Raiders finished 22-13 and 13-5 in the Horizon League. They beat Valparaiso — the 16-2 league champion — twice and reached the conference championship game for the third time in four years. Donlon was named Horizon League coach of the year in 2013.
Nonetheless, Donlon, who was hired at age 33 as one of the youngest head coaches in NCAA Division I basketball, never reached the NCAA Tournament and was fired in March.
Beilein said he’s known Donlon for 20 years. He jumped at the chance to add him to the staff.
“I wanted a personality to relate with the kids and a guy who on the offensive end can teach individual development,” Beilein said. “We hit the bull’s eye on all those areas with Bill.”
The new energy is already being felt. According to Washington, Donlon is ready to go.
“Spending some time with him, he’ll be walking down the hall and then just break down into a stance and take a charge,” Washington told 105.1-FM in Detroit on Friday. “I’m like, ‘Billy, whare are you doing? We haven’t even got on the court yet.'”
While Beilein spoke with other candidates, including former Iowa State assistant Cornell Mann and current Michigan director of player personnel Chris Hunter, he ultimately went back to basics when filling out his staff this time around.
“What I did was I went back through the nine years,” Beilein said, “and (look at) what has made us the most successful here and what has allowed us to have the success we’ve had.”
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