Michigan assistant Bacari Alexander couldn't help but beam with pride when looking back Mitch McGary's memorable performance versus Virginia Commonwealth. The 21 point, 14 rebound effort was the type of game the Wolverines brain-trust had been helping the talented youngster work towards all season.
(I feel) more like a proud uncle," said Alexander. "A lot of times (the players) joke with me, ‘hey Big Unc… how you doing? I'll say ‘hey nephew, keep playing defense!' Mitch McGary has been a joy to work with. Here's a young man who was a highly heralded recruit, decided to come to Michigan… back to the Midwest, in the midst of all of the different shooters that were out there enlisting his services. We just feel privileged and happy to have him as a part of our team. He's a very unselfish young man."
McGary's willingness to play a role, take instruction, and be accountable made him an ideal student. So when the coaching staff impressed upon his the importance of being consistent with his conditioning, he quickly took corrective action.
"(His weight) fluctuated," Alexander recalled. "He came in at a light weight in the 250s, (then) he ballooned up a little bit, enjoying the cafeteria maybe a bit too much. Then he got back recalibrated with his discipline. I'm just so proud of him because he's done a great job of being disciplined, being consistent, and sticking to the plan of our nutritionist and our strength and conditioning coaches here at Michigan."
"Mitch McGary has benefited from his enthusiasm and his consistency. His discipline has grown. His understanding of the game has grown. His pace of play has grown. And if you notice when you watch Mitch play, he's not falling a lot in the games. He's getting his balance. All of the different things that we work on that looks like it's small, but it's huge in the end."
With Alexander as a conduit, John Beilein's attention to such details has found its mark. One of McGary's biggest areas of growth has been in his mental preparation. That improvement is largely responsible for his ability to impact the game from the start as opposed to coming off the bench.
"For him, film study is something that slows the game down," Alexander explained. "Not only for just players, but coaches alike. But in Mitch's case in particular, he took a really good level of ownership with regard to locking in on that level of preparation, which now in turn slows the game down for him when he steps out on the court. We felt that he was more of a visual learner… see the mistakes of others, see the pace of play, then insert yourself in there to be a contributor. But the fact that now he's in the starting lineup just shows you the maturity and understanding, and the benefits of studying film."
Thanks to McGary's recent run of success, the opposition will have to spend more time studying Michigan's film. If he manages to keep up his torrid pace, the task of stymieing the Wolverines' attack becomes all the more daunting.
"Everybody would agree that Trey Burke's a pretty tough cookie when you get out there and play against him, but Mitch now brings another element to the table," Alexander stated. Sometimes we joke about those guys being the Justice League. If Trey Burke is Batman, and Tim is Robin, I'll tell you what, Mitch McGary might be Hercules (laughter). But that type of spirit, that type of confidence, that type of presence, is something that's been needed in our program, that we probably haven't seen since the early nineties."
And though pleased with getting back to a tournament level not seen in Ann Arbor in almost two decades, Alexander insists that neither he nor the rest of the team is satisfied with where they are.
"(Making the Sweet 16) means a ton," the Michigan assistant said. "As a program when you talk about what John Beilein has done over the course of his tenure here at Michigan, this is just the tip of the iceberg. We look forward to building on this success with our core values and our togetherness, and our fan base, and bring Michigan back."