Sam Webb: There are few things that I look forward to than being in the presence of these three guys. I learn a lot, it is entertaining at the same time and what I can appreciate, which most fans can’t; we remember what was. We remember the success that we used to be and then we went through the darkness, the cloud hovered over for all those years. Then these fellows were part of parting that cloud and they have kept those clouds parted for some years now. Coming off an Elite Eight performance and I’ll admit and concede to these guys right here right now that when Mitch McGary went down, I said, this team is going to have to improve a lot to not be a bubble team and wow, did you guys improve a ton. You guys went on to win a Big Ten crown and made another run in the postseason and were a haymaker shot away from progressing to another Final Four. Joining me once again, Michigan assistant basketball coaches. Starting off first with Jeff Meyer, Coach Myer, how are you doing this morning?
Jeff Meyer: “Outstanding. I always say, better than I deserve, Sam. It’s great to be back with you.”
Sam Webb: Glad to be back with you as well. To my left, I call him BA, Coach Bacari Alexander. How are you doing?
Bacari Alexander: “Amazing, glad to be here.”
Sam Webb: And of course, the smooth one, Val Jordan. How are you doing, Val?
lavall jordan: “Good morning, Sam. Glad to be here, man.”
Sam Webb: Glad you guys could be here as well. Let us go back to that point, six and four in the season, role definition, still in flux at that moment and you guys get the news. You guys probably were privy to it well in advance of us that Mitch was going to be down. Take us in that moment, what you guys were saying to your team, what you guys were saying to one another to kind of bring this thing around because the team hadn’t yet found its identity, needed to in order to get to where you guys eventually got to.
Jeff Meyer: “Well obviously, it’s kind of like a basketball game, Sam. You’re in the game and you’ve got a lot of activity going around you in that moment and you’re just trying to win the next possession. You’re just trying to see what your team can benefit most for in the next possession, next two possessions, next three possessions. It was kind of like that with a snapshot with Mitch’s decision to have the surgery. As a staff, we are just trying to find the best next possible move for the team. It was because of the development of Caris LeVert, which is well documented by now. The next best possible move was pretty obvious in terms of moving Nik (Stauskas) back to his wing position and playing G over on what we call the right side and because Caris had played so well through the preseason and early part of the season. You know, the development and being able to depend on Jordan (Morgan) and Jon (Horford) and that center position because very very important and of course BA does a great job of coaching our bigs and those kids continue to develop as they knew were very dependant upon their success.”
Sam Webb: You mentioned that’s one move, Nik back to his natural wing spot. You had to move Glenn (Robinson). He’s playing more of the four. He was very candid after the season, saying at the point where I start to happen to play more at a force but I’m thinking wow, am I regretting doing this? Am I regretting coming back? He gets his mind right. You guys are obviously a part of that. The other piece, a much longer development was that of Jordan Morgan…. because I’ve got to tell you guys, when he came into Michigan, there were a few that projected him to have the kind of career that he did and a few that projected him to have the kind of year he did coming off of last season. He, at that moment, when Mitch goes down, has to take a step up as well. Let us focus on those two guys in particular because they obviously were crucial, were pivotal to your eyes.
Bacari Alexander: “You speak specifically to Jordan Morgan situation. You’ve got to go back to the previous season because his production in the fifth year was a byproduct of that versus the experience prior year. So, here is a young man who has been a consistent starter for us throughout his career, starts out with a 16 and 0 run, as the starting center for us last season, only to go down to a really bad high ankle sprain. In lieu of that, Mitch McGary was developing at a pretty quick pace and probably saw an opportunity for him to elevate his game in the midst of Jordan’s injuries. So, the perfect storm happens, the timing in which it happened was unique in the fact that we were on the brink of the back half of the Big Ten race and Jordan was working really hard to get back. Unfortunately, he just couldn’t be the Jordan Morgan that he was when we ran off 16 straight wins. So, Mitch McGary ended up ascending to the starting role and Jordan was sort of regulated to a spot minute guy, which Mitch McGary was prior to that. So, what that can do to the psyche to a player is devastating at times, you know, and maybe even alarming. When you fast-forward out of that and you go into an off-season and you come back into a season where the guy that beat you out had gained such great momentum and national prowess, it can do something to your confidence. Then when you talk about going into the fifth year as a coaching staff and you’re trying to ascertain whom do you invest in, where do you go? In the midst of this migration plan of players that are trying to play multiple positions. Jordan did a really really good thing in my view. He spent some time working on himself in the off-season. He took an overseas tour with Athletes in Action and it really fueled kind of a faith-based center and it gave him something to anchor himself on. He has probably said it many times in the media and in articles, ‘When I’m thinking about others, I do well myself.’ So that whole lead by giving is something that propelled J-Mo to what we enjoyed last season. When I look back on his career, whether you talk about specifically the NCAA Tournament, here’s a guy that is flirting with 14 points a game, nine rebounds, 71% from the floor in the NCAA Tournament, 85% from the free-throw line and to walk out of here the all time winningest player in the history of our program, it’s a testament to this young man’s faith.”
Sam Webb: Not just that though… I hear modesty emanating from every word that you gave. Here’s why I say that... I saw Jordan Morgan in high school, he was a good player. But he wasn’t one that had the swagger that I saw develop during his career at Michigan. So much of, when we talk about coaching, so much of it is X’s and O’s but the psychology of coaching is something that I have learned a lot about watching you guys work and with him in particular. I can’t remember who it was, maybe it was Trey (Burke), maybe it was Darius (Morris), I can’t remember which one of them it was but one of them said, hey, BA told J-Mo every time he dunks the ball he wants to hear it. He wants to hear him when he dunks the basketball. And what that said to me was, you know what, he’s putting a little fire in him. He is injecting, infusing some of that swagger, some of that toughness in the equation. Kind of take us through the psychology of coaching a little bit.
Bacari Alexander: “Certainly, when you talk about post play in particular, it’s very important to understand that you have to want to be there for starters. Jordan was always a contact seeker, a big guy who had to develop and sharpen his tools in terms of how he played the game. More importantly, I thought Coach Beilein did a phenomenal job of having a vision for Jordan. As you mentioned, back in his high school days and him accepting and committing to the University of Michigan, maybe to the chagrin of many, Coach Beilein had a vision. When I was fortunate enough to come on board and assist coach in the development of Jordan Morgan and other players, one of the things that we wanted to do is make sure that we elevated his levels of basketball self esteem. Oftentimes, when you come to a conference like the Big Ten, which is very unforgiving, it can test your moxie, it can test your toughness. And the type of players that were coming through in the early stages of his career, the Jared Sullingers, the Juwan Johnsons and others. Those are formidable guys. What we try to establish specifically with finishing a basketball was one, when you finish it is very important to have sound effects. So for Jordan, Jon, and all those guys who were freshmen and every our veteran, Blake McLimans, we wanted to create the illusion of toughness even though I know they were puppies in the locker room.”
Sam Webb: Toughness… fake it until you make it… show that toughness until it actually comes and they did a great job. Let us get into Glenn. We were in the tournament and he said it was up and down, early in the year, Stanford, Minnesota, he made some big plays. Then you had that dip and then he came out of it at the end, making big plays, game-changing plays at the end of the game, wanting the basketball in crucial and clutch situations and he said part of it was accepting this role, part of it was also letting go of, you definitely want to be a three. Kind of take us into that development as well because it wasn’t a straight line for Glenn this year.
LaVall Jordan: “No it wasn’t but he did a great job, Sam, of getting to that point of role acceptance. Glenn from start to finish, he was voted a captain by his teammates and the staff agreed with it. So he has always been a team guy, whatever it takes for the team to win, to get it done, whatever he had to do to sacrifice and one of the things that was noticeable about our team this year, and Glenn was at the forefront of that, was that they really liked each other. These guys in the locker room, if you were around us at our training meals, on our road trips when we travel, you just got the sense that it was definitely a brotherhood, that guys really genuinely cared for one another. G was willing to do whatever for his guys and I think there was some up and down, back and forth and we saw that, but he was there when we needed him most. You talk about the Stanford game that you mentioned, the game at Purdue, where he hit the game winner, at Ohio State, big three in the corner, Indiana here at home, big three in the corner, Texas, a couple plays late. So, he started to flourish when he just let it all go and it was all about winning, which it always has been. This group, the sophomores, in 59 games in two years they won. I think that is the most in a two years span in Michigan history. So G, he put in so much work, like right now, these guys, Zak (Irvin) and Derrick (Walton) here, Mark Donnal is here. You put in all this work because you are excited about the next opportunity to come. There is a point where, okay all the work that I put in for maybe my own individual goals and then the team goals and how you merge all that together. So, it always happens for each player, I think, that you have to find that sweet spot between what I need to do for my team and what I’m trying to accomplish individually. All of them have goals individually. As Bo (Schembechler) taught us, the team, the team, the team is more important than any of that. So, for us as a staff, we had to find a balance as well. You’ve got Nik Stauskas who is blooming and flourishing. Caris LeVert is flourishing right in front of our eyes. We had Mitch kind of in and out to start and Glenn and so, how do you get all of these guys involved. How do you kind of keep them, give them the spots that they’d like, that they can operate, where they can use their strengths. It is a balancing act for us as a staff as well, not only just Glenn.”