Sam Webb: Coach Meyer, I know I called you guys Horizon League guys, but you’re the veteran of the group. You’ve seen all kind of changes to the game on the defensive end of the floor, how do you think this impacts college basket in general? And more importantly but I’m more interested in you guys specifically moving forward if things stay how they are.
Jeff Meyer: “The one thought on the block charge, and I think Coach Beilein alluded to this that if they are going to favor the player with the ball on the drive, obviously we use that to our advantage offensively with Nik, Caris and Glenn and just getting two feet in the paint and keeping pressure on them. On the other side of it, if you can find and develop a rim protector that might be moving forward of more value defensively than what it has been at the college game. In the NBA, we’re all watching the playoffs right now and that is a big term about protecting the rim with guys with length and that can block shots or alter shots. Moving forward that certainly is a piece of the conversation.”
Sam Webb: Might there be a switch in the recruiting emphasis a little bit?
Jeff Meyer: “There may be a little bit more emphasis on the ability to have somebody to be able and maybe it is not just a player but multiple guys with length. We have some young guys with length coming in to be able to not only rotate but be able to protect the rim rather than to set up for a charge, as we saw Jordan who was very, very effective with that. A lot of the block-charge scenarios, you can take on ball charges. Val was a champ early on, on this. Maybe you take more on ball charges as opposed to helping and getting into a position and setting up. In my mind, from a defensive standpoint and Coach BA and Coach Val do a great job of anchoring in terms of our discussion and Coach Beilein. Contrary to popular belief, we spend an enormous amount of time in shell work in practice. Our kids are drilled and drilled and drilled on the four defense absolutes. Our guys are in stance, they’re in position. They are basically able to see ball and man and be where they’re supposed to be and the whole talking piece. That right now for us, the thing about a young team will be very, very important as we move forward with this next group is establishing our defensive principles. Remember Joe Gibbs, the great coach of the Redskins, reading a book and he always said that your defense always stays the same in terms of your principles year in and year out. You tweak your offense to kind of stay ahead of the game, changing maybe 20-25% of your offense because of how people set up to play against you. Our job early on is to establish our defensive principles.”
Sam Webb: We need to start talking about specific guys. You guys are coming off some skill development. I’m curious what you charged the individuals with improving on their own. There is a point where you’ve got to let them go and let them work on themselves in addition to whatever they might do with Coach Sanderson. What did you say to particular guys in the aftermath of the skill work that you did with them, what did you see during the skill work by the way. What did you tell them they need to improve upon this going forward.
lavall jordan: “With Caris, who is a guy that I’ve worked with or talked to and met with along with Coach Beilein and Nik. Obviously, strength was a big part of it, the Camp Sanderson piece. The ability knowing that you are losing Trey and losing Tim, who were a high volume of the shots and a high percentage of the offense. So for those guys, for Caris it was to be a more consistent shooter. He ended up shooting 40% from three this year. His freshman year he made a couple of them in big games. He made two against Syracuse in the Final Four game, but become a more consistent shooter overall and he did that. He has always been quick and had good ball handling skills, being able to finish better with contact, which the strength part was a big part of that. So being able to finish with contact at the rim, he needed to be able to do that. That was something that Trey provided and Tim got a lot better and developed into his junior year where he was attacking the rim more off the bounce and coming off the ball screen and being aggressive. Caris is a high level, that was the emphasis going into the summer. Him and Nik both; Nik shot it at a high clip, but he had to add more to his game and then Caris the same. He (Caris) needed to be able to shoot it at a better clip and then be able to finish when he did get to the basket. We knew he was gifted and he was going to get there. He has got that ability to get by guys, even with or without a ball screen. Now being able to get there and able to finish. The other part was for those two guys was seeing the rest of the floor. We have a formula called E2C4, engage two defenders and see four teammates. You take a guy like Nik Stauskas who was really good at pick and roll as a freshman, he was not as involved in it as much because Trey had the ball a lot. He was a guy that would see more himself as an option and then see our roll man, so J-Mo, Mitch and Jon benefited from Nik being a skilled player, but didn’t see the others. There are three other guys out there and you’ve got to be able to read defenses and make good decisions and that’s where he made a huge gain and evolved his game. He led us in assists this year with 118 because through film study, through skill development, to be able to make more of those reads and see more of his options when he was involved in those moments.”
Sam Webb: There are more pieces I want to focus on starting with Derrick Walton. I remember when Coach B first got here; the notion of a freshman coming in and being able to pick up his system was farfetched. It was damn near impossible at that point, but one thing that I think we’ve all come to appreciate about him is that he has been highly adaptive when it comes to his scheme, offensively with what he asks guys to do. I wonder how that has manifested the point guard in particular. Derrick had a really good freshman season, highlighted by an outstanding performance at Nebraska, an outstanding performance at Michigan State and I thought he was really strong at Ohio State as well.
Bacari Alexander: “One thing before Val starts; it is interesting that you talk about the ability to pick up a system. The recruiting process is very important to know that we evaluate so many different things. Derrick Walton was one of those kids who had displayed an academic transcript, where from eighth grade all the way to his senior year, this kid has only had two C’s. So when you see A’s and B’s on a card marking like that over a period of time, you know a kid has strong memorization skills.”
LaVall Jordan: “Yeah Sam, we were all very pleased with Derrick’s progression. You don’t know until they actually touch two feet on campus in the summer. With the new rule changes, we’re allowed to be with them a couple of hours a week when they arrive for summer school, which is beneficial because you kind of gauge what kind of capacity they have to pick things up. You can introduce some things earlier than you’re used to and it gives them a little more time to get acclimated not only on campus but on the court as well, whatever it may be the nuances of the system. You like Derrick’s progression in his freshman year, I thought he was feeling it out a little bit going on early in the nonconference, just trying to get used to playing with really good players. You saw him play in high school that’s an adjustment when you’re not the only really good player on the team and there is five, six or seven other guys out there and you have to get used to.”
Sam Webb: One thing I wrote in high school is that he passes too well for this team, for his high school team. What he saw was too far in advance for the guys he was playing with at that level.
LaVall Jordan: “Right and he grew up into making that adjustment. Derrick is a kid with a high care level and he wants to be the best point guard that he can be for his team and try to find how to get each guy involved. I thought he did that early as well as any freshman that has come along under Coach Beilein tenure. Then trying to find out how to get yourself involved also. The Nebraska where he made a few plays that were really significant. Probably the breakout for him was the Florida State game. Where he had to score the ball also. It wasn’t just about running the offense correctly, following Coach Beilein instructions, but also about, hey Derrick we need you to be a go-getter a little bit as well, and he did that. The byproduct is that the Big Ten season, Derrick was 80% from the free throw line, 43% from the field, 43.5% from three and then he was a 2.4:1 assist to turnover in Big Ten play. He made a significant jump. It was like through the nonconference, he was feeling it out and figuring it out and then when Big Ten season came along, he said, okay I kind of got this now. Not completely, but there was a big jump in just his confidence, his credibility with his teammates and his presence on the court. The Nebraska game was maybe the starting point of that.”