Last year Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin were in high school watching Michigan play in postseason. Now they both are integral parts of program. The learning curve has been steep like it is for any freshman, but they each have made a habit of overcoming the challenges in their way.
In high school Walton was used to being the focal point of his team and taking the big shots out on the floor. The difference this year is he has many more talented players around him. As the point guard he is still plays a vital role, but he contributes to his current team in different ways.
"I am able to put my thumb print on the game… just seeing things one or two steps ahead as things are developing out on the floor," Walton said, "My teammates point out opportunities on the floor, and that is really helping me a lot with finding those guys. It is starting to get a little easier for me. I am doing a lot of film study with each coach, and it's really helping me improve my game."
Improvement doesn't always occur in a straight line, and it hasn't for Walton. The times when he has veered off course a bit, his coaches haven't hesitated to let him know. And that's fine with Derrick.
"I try not to let those things get to me," said Walton. "Coach wants me to play at a certain level. I need to get better and finish the game and help my teammates win."
Irvin has found in the same position as Walton this year, and he too has managed to make an impact. When he enters the game he has a bounce in his step, ready to help his teammates out any way he to help them win.
"My role is coming in and knocking down shots," Irvin said. "My teammates are really looking for me when I come in the game. And also I come in to play tough defense. One of the things that I wanted to do at the beginning of the year was to bring enthusiasm. My team really leans on me for that. I just want to come out there and bring energy to the floor."
Both youngsters have taken major cues from their coaches. Walton has increased his understanding of the game, thanks in large part to his relationship with assistant coach lavall jordan. From their practice interaction to their conversations off the floor, Coach Jordan has been extremely effective at getting his point across.
"Well with Derrick it's a feel, and he and I have had conversations about just the feel for the game… a pulse for the game," said Jordan. "Knowing what the game is asking from you as the manager offensively. And so he attacks when he needed to attack."
Whether the play works out or not, Jordan says it's the recognition of what to do that is the most important for the freshman PG. "He threw a great pass to Nik in the corner -- he didn't make it but it was the right play. He got a little excited. The lob he threw to Glenn off the backboard it was actually the right play it was just a bad delivery. So I thought he made great decisions -- and just to know when to go and when to slow it down. Late in the game he is managing the game and using a little clock before we get into our offense. Tonight he had a late assist and a big shot down the stretch to put the game away."
Spike Albrecht sees how Derrick has really come along in his play, and a lot of that has to do with the youngster wanting to get better.
"Derrick is a terrific kid who is always willing to listen and ask questions about things he doesn't know," said Albrecht. "He has really picked things up well and is playing very well."
Irvin has impressed Jordan with how he has come along as well.
"Zak's confidence is something that you don't see often from a freshman -- for a guy to check in with that amount of confidence," said Jordan. "That is something as a staff we really appreciate, because it is an important role for us. I thought Zak checked in and gave us a spark. He hit a couple in the first half and gave us a lift. It's something he is been doing for us all year."
Coming out of high school it is tough to learn how to play defense on the college level, but Irvin his picked it up relatively well. He has really pleased the coaching staff with the way he has played on that end of the floor.
"Defense for freshman is what they typically struggle with because things are coming at them so fast early on," said Jordan. "It is good to see Zak out on the floor calling our switches or being in the right position, zoning up away from the ball. In high school they have been totally use to locking in guarding their guy, then when they get here it is a team defensive concept. Zak is doing a good job of being in the right spot and talking through defensive possessions."
"Zak has done very well in the 1-3-1 zone," Caris LeVert added. "He looks well out there at the top. Zak is learning how to do it at the top. He doesn't get the chance to play there a lot but he is getting really good at it. He talks to me about how to play the top, and is always asking questions about it."
Walton and ZIrvin have moved from freshman uncertainty to being confident players aware of their capabilities out on the floor. The two young men been assertive enough and consistent enough in the way they play for the coaches to trust them to make the right plays during the game. If Michigan is to go deep in this tournament both will continue to be important pieces to the Wolverine puzzle.
Freshmen Important to Michigan's Success
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