May 5, 2016
ANN ARBOR — Michigan coach John Beilein hired two new assistant coaches on Wednesday, tabbing Billy Donlon and Saddi Washington as new aides.
Now that that’s over with, Beilein can tend to his roster.
Eleven scholarships are currently filled for 2016-17, leaving two spots open and one big question.
“The thing is, OK, do you take a guy now that would take a 2017 or ’18 scholarship (or) do you go the grad-transfer market?” Beilein said Thursday morning on “The Michigan Insider” program on WTKA (1050-AM). ” Because it’s got to be at the exact position you need.”
As of now, that help is needed on the wing.
With Kameron Chatman and Aubrey Dawkins transferring out of the program, Michigan is down to Zak Irvin, Duncan Robinson, D.J. Wilson and incoming freshman Ibi Watson.
That’s four bodies for two positions, but there’s a degree of uncertainty. Irvin and Robinson are experienced commodities, but the others, Wilson and Watson, are entirely unproven.
As a result, while Michigan continues to shop unsigned 2016 prospects, the pursuit of a graduate transfer seems to be the first priority. In the current transfer-laden climate of college basketball, there are plenty of options and adding an experienced veteran could dramatically change the makeup of the roster.
Beilein, though, said he’s still operating with his normal level of selectivity. That’s despite grad transfers essentially amounting to one-year rentals.
“We’re going to keep looking at the grad transfer market and seeing what’s out there, and if there’s anyone that can come in, but he’s got to fit,” Beilein said. “He’s got to be a good teammate. He’s got to have the right type of attitude that we look for. We’ll do everything we can to get a guy that is either going to help us immediately, whether he can be an impact as a starter or be like Aubrey was — that sixth man.”
Michigan previously pursued Columbia grad transfer Grant Mullins, but missed. He committed to California.
Whether a wing is added or not, Beilein has already circled Wilson as bringing help to the position. The 6-foot-10 redshirt sophomore has spent portions of his time at U-M at center, but always been projected as a future wing.
According to Beilein, Wilson’s time at center is now officially over.
“That’s where he’s going to be — he’s going to be on the wing,” Beilein said. “That’s the only plan. He actually can play both wings. He’s evolved in practice.”
After being limited to five games as a freshman (knee injury), Wilson averaged 2.8 points, 0.8 rebounds and 0.3 assists in 6.6 minutes per game last year. He only saw extended playing time in blowouts and didn’t play at all in 10 games, including U-M’s two NCAA Tournament matchups.
When he did play, Wilson wasn’t shy. He ranked second on the team with 14.4 field-goal attempts per 40 minutes played. He made 47.4 percent, including 8-of-24 3-pointers.
To earn playing time, Wilson will have to improve his shot selection, ball-handling and decision-making, all while becoming the rebounder that Michigan has long hoped he’d develop into. Despite a 7-foot-plus wingspan, he has grabbed just 24 rebounds in 182 career minutes played.
Beilein, though, thinks a turning point could be coming.
“He’s going to have a great summer,” Beilein said. “He’s going to work like crazy at it. Sometimes, it’s just that one game where he goes in and all the sudden has a great game and everything can change.”
While there was speculation that Wilson could be among U-M’s offseason transfers, he appears to be part of the plan for 2016-17.
As for the other transfers — Dawkins, Chatman and Ricky Doyle — Beilein said the departures were the result of a crowded 2014 recruiting class.
Two offseasons ago, following the early NBA departures of Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, Michigan brought in six scholarship players for 2014-15.
Now, only two remain on the roster.
Beilein said attrition from a class so large is “to be expected.”
“This is a tough time to keep that roster the way you always want it to be,” he said. “When we took that huge class (in 2014) this is to be expected. You don’t want it, but it’s to be expected because they’re all sort of vying for the same positions and they’re all in the same class.”
Even with all the attrition, Michigan still returns all five starters from a 23-13 team last season. Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. will serve as senior leaders, while Robinson and Abdur-Rahkman will provide a scoring punch.
“We’ve had some change there, but we’ll get through it and we’ll be fine,” Beilein said.
While recent offseasons have seen most players enroll in U-M’s two summer sessions and train with strength coach Jon Sanderson, Beilein said most players are opting to leave campus for some time this summer.
Only Walton and Andrew Dakich will attend both summer sessions. The entire roster, plus U-M’s four incoming freshmen, will return for classes and training in July and August.
Time will tell if any additional newcomers join them.
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