ANN ARBOR—Looking to follow-up on a 2012-13 season that landed Michigan in the national championship game in April, John Beilein and ‘team 98’ are now back to work inside the William Davidson Player Development Center.
Unfortunately, the Wolverines are currently a man down in practice.
Beilein announced Friday that returning sophomore center Mitch McGary has been limited in practice time due to a “lower back condition” this fall.
“The U-M athletic medicine staff has been monitoring his progress and he is working diligently through this process,” Beilein said in a statement. “At this point, his full participation is day to day, with an expected return to be determined.”
Beilein added, “He’s working like crazy to get back, but he’s not going to be out there today.”
McGary was an integral part of the Wolverines NCAA tournament success after being inserted into the starting lineup on his way to recording three double-doubles including a 25-point, 14-rebound performance in Michigan’s sweet sixteen win over Kansas.
With McGary off the practice floor, veteran big men Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford have stepped up.
“There’s been a lot of bright spots (with them) this fall,” Beilein said. “And we’re only talking eight hours but I love what I see from those two.
“They’re talking, they’re showing leadership, they know our culture better than anybody and I’m really impressed with both of their work habits and the energy they’re giving the team.”
Finding a replacement for now Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke will be vital to the Wolverines success in 2013-14.
Knowing he can’t expect to see the same statistical impact Burke had in his two seasons in Ann Arbor, Beilein believes the combo of sophomore Spike Albrecht and freshman Derrick Walton can form a formidable balance to his offensive attack, unsure of how the rotation will shake out.
“I think right now, as far as what we’ve heard from open gyms or when we’ve seen them is, people like playing with both of them,” Beilein said. “So it’s not as much them going against each other as people embracing (playing with them) because they both really want to set tremendous -- they have great goals in the amount of assists they can have.”
Walton’s growth will be as much mental as it is physical, according to Beilein, learning on the fly.
“I expect him to have some moments in practice where I say what are you thinking?” Beilein said. “But at the same time I’ll say now you’re getting it. So, this young man, everything I’ve seen so far, has the ability to pick up things quickly.”
Walton’s backcourt mate in the Wolverines freshmen class is 6-foot-6, 200-pound wing Zak Irvin.
Irvin, the 2013 Mr. Basketball from the state of Indiana, brings a scorer’s mentality to Michigan’s plethora of weapons, something Beilein can see already.
“We’ve always liked some guys out there that can shoot,” he said. “But he’s a hunter as well and I like that. That he is really, he’s more aggressive offensively than some of the other freshmen that have come in here.”
A lengthy frame and long arms, Irvin can also help on the defensive end. Known for his exploits in the scoring column of the stat sheet, Irvin adds above average on the ball defense and instincts off the ball that are acquitting him well in the early going.
“Defense is a norm for him,” Beilein said. “And what we’ve seen so far, he likes to play defense. To be honest with you, there’s not a lot of people that look at that end of the floor and say ‘I get to play defense.’
“He’s given no indication he doesn’t love that end of the floor and that’s always good. That’s not normally, the scorer, the shooter that he’s been in high school, and then the defender at the same time -- he relishes both those roles.”
‘Team 98’ now
Branded as ‘team 96’ last season, Beilein and the Wolverines will skip ahead a year based on new information brought to the program this off-season.
“We discovered there was actually a year in 1909 that we did have a team,” Beilein said. “So this is officially now team 98 and we’re going to be talking about that, how we put our stamp on that and how team 97 and 96 -- I guess there never was a team 97.
“But this is a new year with a very challenging league and a challenging schedule as well.
Without putting too much thought or emphasis on figuring out a rotation before practice officially gets underway, Beilein likes the make-up of his squad with plenty of options and plans to let positions and roles play themselves out in camp.
“It’s not as defined as maybe it would be in football or baseball or something like that because we recruit so many versatile young men,” Beilein said. “I was watching the South Dakota State game the other day trying to pick-up some video and (Tim Hardaway Jr.) was over playing where Glenn (Robinson) plays.
“We’re really flexible so it’s not like ok who are we going to play where, yet. We spent a lot of time at looking at what our strengths are and trying to develop this team to those.”
Michigan opens up the regular season on Nov. 8 hosting UMass-Lowell at 7 p.m.