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This excerpt picks up early in the discussion with the panel sharing its thoughts on Michigan's road back to recruiting prominence...
Sam Webb: The positive thing there is John Beilein has managed, first through his own efforts, and then by extension the efforts of his assistanst, to make in-roads in Detroit, to make in-roads in Flint, and to make in-roads with some of the elite basketball prospects in the country. He’s picked up a couple of top hundred guys in the 2013 class, and Mark Donnal and Derrick Walton, you have a guy in Glenn Robinson III that is a top 30 player according to some services, s. He started out recruiting guys that fit a system, and then he managed to find some of the elite level guys that fit in as well.
Vince Baldwin: Yeah, let me jump in real quick to follow what Tim said. You know, funny story, the very first phone call I got from a coach that said “Vince, if you guys give him a chance, he’ll be successful”. And it was Brian Ellerbe. Brian Ellerbe called me and said “Vince, I know it doesn’t seem like the choice that everybody wanted, but I coached against this guy, I’m telling you if you guys give him a chance and support him, he’ll be tremendous”. And I just thought it was ironic, you know, a former coach of Michigan who didn’t have as much success as he probably hoped he would was Beilein’s biggest supporter, and he was the first phone call to say “Vince the guy’s phenomenal”. So you know, I took it to heart, and you know, we kind of let the door open based on the relationship that Brian and I had. I said “ok I’ll give him a chance”, and you know, to his word, has been very successful so far, and has a chance to even be better in the future. And one of the key things to remember is that he has coached at a lot of different levels, and a lot of different schools, and he’s had to change his system, and the one thing that Tommy Amaker did not do, he did not have the coaching background. He came from Mike Krzyzewski, who can’t win with Carlos Boozer and Johnny Dawkins, and the line of talent he had? So Tommy Amaker had one system that he knew how to run that was based on start level elite NBA players; so when he came to Michigan and had to try to coach Dionne Harris and some of the guys that had some flaws in their game, he wasn’t flexible enough. He’s come a long way at Harvard, but Beilein can coach and he can make adjustments and help people fit.
Sam Webb: Speaking to that adjustment, I saw them make huge adjustments offensively this season. You know Beilein is a mad magician when it comes to his intricate basketball schemes, but very basic pick-and-roll became a staple of their offensive game plan this year, and that made a guy like Jordan Morgan, for instance, more effective than I ever thought he could be.
Tim McCormick: I spoke at length with some guys that played at the beginning of the Jon Beilein era. I talked to Manny, I talked to DeShawn Sims, I talked to Laval Lucas-Perry, and they felt that at the beginning, it was very structured, and they didn’t have the freedom to create, and I saw last year there was a lot more freedom, so Beilein, he did change his system and offered the players a little bit more luxury to go and make plays.
Sam Webb: So Vince, allow us some insight into some of the guys in particular. I know you know Bacari well. Bacari and LaVall new guys on the scene this past year. Along with Jeff Meyer, one of the things that Beilein mentioned in an interview – and it was sort of in passing, it wasn’t a major focus of the interview – but he said, “you know, I feel really – and I’m paraphrasing – “really comfortable delegating to my guys”. And that’s not to say he didn’t feel comfortable delegating in the past, not that he didn’t have good assistants in the past, because I think Mike Jackson was a real good assistant, and I think John Mahoney was a really good assistant coach, but the fit, the mix, the mesh, of the guys right now seems to be at a real high. Then a guy like B.A., a guy like Vall... those guys have been instrumental, it seems, in helping Michigan, helping Beilein, helping Coach Meyer, get the program to where they want it to be.
Vince Baldwin: Very much so, I agree 100%. I think the fact that the staff that he has now is 100% bought in, to him, and they’re 100% committed to him. I think some of the other guys came from some different and kind of were a patch fit when he first put the staff together, but I think he has his guys, and there’s nothing like having your guys. And again, just the fact that somebody with the experience he has feels comfortable in delegating to Bacari or LaVall or Coach Meyer, you know, that says a lot about them. Me personally, I think that Bacari Alexander is one of the best assistant coaches in the country. I think he was one of the first to adapt to the social media aspect of it, and he reaches the kids where they’re at. You know, the days of just phone calls and seeing them once or twice while you’re scouting them, those days are gone. Bacari is probably the best at the Twitter, and you know, I personally follow him and enjoy him every day. And you know, his quotes, from Gandhi quotes to whatever, but it all stays relevant…
Sam Webb: Yeah he re-tweets Oprah, man (laughter). He loses me on some of that (laughter), but he connects with the kids. And the reason why I mention it is because Mitch McGary, who we’ll talk more in depth about here shortly, he came out in his blog yesterday, and when talking about Michigan, he talked about his relationship, his connection, with Bacari Alexander. So it definitely goes to show that you know, first of all, that the lure in is John Beilein and his system, but the hook, the thing that keeps them on the hook: relationships. And you’ve got great relationship builders on his staff, with Jeff Meyer, who has secured Glenn Robinson III, and Trey Burke was one of his guys, and you look across the board at some of the guys he’s been able to bring in, LaVall Jordan being able to bring in a guy like Zak Irvin. You’ve got great relationship builders on this staff.
Vince Baldwin: Yeah, I think that’s the key too, you know, and in the day and the age where recruiting is almost, everybody gets national exposure, it’s the relationship that’s going to get the kid, and I think they’ve done a good job with developing some personal relationships, and you know, again, the Tweets, and I’m sure the text messages that they get, they’re personalized, they’re personalized, their just like love your game, you know? I’m sure Bacari offers insight – “liked this but then liked that, saw you do this jump hook, was great”, whatever it was, it gives you a more personal connection to the kid, which develops a relationship, which makes you want to be a part of the Michigan family, or the family of the school that’s recruiting you.
Sam Webb: I have to ask you guys, when you look over the years, some of the misses that kind of stick out to you, and I know you know a lot of them, Tim, one of the misses Michigan had was a guy you coached, and Matt Costello, a near miss, Tim, and that’s been kind of the MO for Michigan over the past 13 to 14 years. A lot of guys that they maybe got close to, but just nearly missed getting.
Tim McCormick: Yeah, I think back to when, you mentioned Ricky Green earlier, Vince, I fell in love with Michigan at a Michigan football game. I was in 7th grade. It was Purdue. I remember it like it was yesterday. My dad bought me a Michigan hat that I wore for three straight years. I remember my first game – it was against Iowa, in Crisler arena. I saw Ricky green play, I saw Phil Hubbard play; I fell in love with Michigan. I basically made up my mind I wanted to go to Michigan at that age. Matt Costello and so many other kids have grown up watching Tom Izzo take his team to Final Fours. They walk into the Breslin and it’s a palace, and so this generation right now, kids, a lot of them want to go play for Tom Izzo. It wasn’t the case when I was growing up, and now with Crisler Arena’s renovations, and a team capable of getting to the NCAA and advancing every year, some of those kids growing up today are going to start thinking Michigan.
Sam Webb: Vince, lets go back, I can think of a number of guys – J-Rich.
Vince Baldwin: Jason Richardson for sure. I don’t even know if Michigan fans really know how close Jason Richardson was. you know, Mateen Cleaves, I mean Mateen Cleaves was really really close, and those two players could have changed the fortune of not only Michigan State’s program, but keeping Michigan at the level that it was. I think Mateen Cleaves for one, you know, with him making that decision to go to Michigan State, started the upswing for Michigan State, and started it down for Michigan. And he was days, minutes, away from choosing Michigan.
Sam Webb: How close were they to Jason Richardson?
Vince Baldwin: Very close. I think Jason Richardson was probably a couple days and then one bad conversation kind of swayed things a little bit, and you know, again, it’s as simply again, and again this is sharing some real inside information, but Brent Darby, I don’t know if you guys…
Sam Webb: I remember Brent…went to Ohio State.
Vince Baldwin: …went to Ohio State. He wanted to go to Michigan more than anything in the world, and he was a local kid. He was an all-state guard.
Sam Webb: Michigan wound up with Kevin Gaines, right?
Vince Baldwin: …went with Kevin Gaines .and not knowing that Brent Darby was Jason Richardson’s best friend. And if Brent Darby had gone to Michigan, Jason Richardson would have went to Michigan too. And you know, Kevin Gaines ended up having a very lackluster career at Michigan, and you know, Brent went on to have a good career. Not a great career, but a very good career. But if he had had brought Jason Richardson along with him, I think it would have been worth taking that too, so, just small things like that really go to change the fortunes of a basketball program.
Sam Webb: No question about it – Joe Crawford, Al Horford…
Vince Baldwin: Malik Hairston!
Sam Webb: All those guys. Joe Crawford and Al Horford committed to Michigan.
Vince Baldwin: Yeah, and again, you know I was very close to the previous staff so I’ll be very kind in how I put it, but a couple of mistakes here, and you know, it really does, it can change everything. Al Horford was committed, and wanted to come to the University of Michigan, and then some things at the end of his recruitment changed, and they dropped the ball, and he ended up winning two national championships in Florida. Just think about how the careers could be different. You know, again, more inside information, but you know, Malik Hairston, who ended up going to Oregon, wanted to go to University of Michigan. He was going to commit, him and Joe Crawford were teammates, but they didn’t necessarily want to go to school together. So when Michigan took the commitment from Joe, it kind of eliminated Malik from the process, and then Joe de-committed and went to Kentucky, and they were left with neither one of them. That’s two high school all-Americans from the state of Michigan, from the city of Detroit, and neither one of them went to Michigan. That was unheard of in days past.
Sam Webb: Well fortunately, those things look like they’re in the past. Lets talk about Mitch McGary. Tim, you’ve seen him play… you’re a big guy. Just talk about his game. What do you think of Mitch’s game? What does he bring to the table? What kind of impact do you think he could have as a freshman?
Tim McCormick: I think he’s got some pit bull in him; and I’ve had a chance to see him play six or seven games. I saw him at the Orlando Showcase. I saw him at the Top 100 camp, and I try to put in context how unique he is…now I’m not saying he’s this guy, but I played with Charles Barkley, and he reminds me a lot of him from the standpoint that he’s a little wild and crazy out there. He grabs a rebound; he’ll go the length of the court, and he’ll dunk on somebody, then he’ll talk some trash, and then two plays later he’ll go over and apologize and say “I shouldn’t’ have done that, we’re ok?” Like, he’s so emotional, and he’s physically dominant – he’s tough, he’s athletic, he is so unique on the basketball scene, because you see a lot of big guys that are physical, but to have the engine that he has…he runs really hard, he’s so enthusiastic. He loves chest-bumping…just like Charles Barkley. If you were on Charles’ team, you got excited to play because you never knew what he was going to do. That’s what Mitch McGary brings.
Sam Webb: Vince?
Vince Baldwin: Yeah, I would agree. Just his energy, it’s like he drank a case of Red Bull before every game, because he plays with such reckless abandon. And I think he’s going to be an immediate impact. You know, on the way over here, I was thinking, it’s kind of like Ndamukong Suh, kind of like the impact he had for the Lions – with his intensity level, rose the level of everybody that’s around him. I think Mitch will have a similar effect. For one, he's going to be a fan favorite, because he’s so crazy, and you’re just going to love some of the stuff he does, because you shake your head at it. I mean, he’ll tell you, you see him, 6’10”, grab a rebound and start dribbling, you’re saying” no, no!”, and then he crosses behind his back, and you’re like “give it up, give it up!” and then he keeps going, and then he dunks on three people, and it shouldn’t happen, because it’s against the laws of all basketball, but he does it, and he’s just an incredible kid to be around. We had him for a whole week at the LeBron James All-American camp and he probably ended up as our favorite player.Tim McCormick: Mine too – I mean, at the Top 100 camp he was fun, and you know, like Tyler Hansborough, little bit crazy out there. He was just going to do fun stuff – stuff you don’t see out of big guys. He makes people better.
To view the rest of this feature, a team by team breakdown of this year's Big Ten, Mitch Mgary's recruiting story in-depth, and much much more, be sure to check out the next issue of GoBlueWolverine