Beilein Saw the Possibilities in Italy

John Beilein sat down with GoBlueWolverine’s Sam Webb recently to recap his team’s foreign exhibition tour. Michigan’s eighth-year headman shed light the vast cultural experiences his players had, the role definition beginning to take hold, the performances turned in by his young big men, and much much more.

Sam Webb:  Coach, just looking at some of the pictures and tweets, man it really seems like your team obviously a lot from the on the court experience, but it seems like you got a ton from your off the court experience as well.

John Beilein:  “I’ve done several of these trips and this was the fifth one, the group itself was extremely engaged into the history and culture of Italy.  You just sort of watch around and certainly sightseeing is different to everyone.  Whether we were at the Coliseum or at St. Peter’s Basilica or wherever we were, they were engaged.  It really showed that they see the world, themselves a different picture than some young adults that you might find sometimes.  I was really enthused by the overall, what we were able to get done on the trip, both on the court and as far as discovering you just don’t live in this little box here in Ann Arbor or the United States.  There are so many other things happening and have happened in the world.”

Sam Webb:  An unbelievable cultural experience and once in a lifetime experience for many people.  Like you said, there are a ton of people that never leave the continental United States.  On the floor, coach, obviously it’s an opportunity for you to learn some things about your team to see where they are.  What good things did you see and what things did you see that they need to improve upon, obviously a lot of things at this stage of the season.

John Beilein:  “I think what we saw are the veterans that we have returning and there is not many of them, with Max being out, we have Spike, we have Caris, we have Derrick and Zak Irvin.  Those are the only four guys who have really played in some meaningful games.  I saw some nice improvement from everyone and there should be.  They’ve been working hard for the past year.  As we said, a year prior, there are a lot more shots out there, there are a lot more minutes out there that the five really good players that graduated or went to the NBA and left, so these guys see that opportunity.  I just like that they have worked hard to take advantage of this.  The new environment that they are playing in, where they are the veterans.  The freshman, you never know what to expect and you  never try to judge freshman too early, but none of them played like some freshman have played, where they’re deer in the headlight type of look when they get out on the court.  They all seem to be pretty comfortable with being out there and being in the real action.”

Sam Webb:  You have the luxury of having experienced guys at your one, two and three spots, but that inexperience that you talk about, your young guys at the four and five.  From those positions in particular, first at the five spot with Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal, what did they show you in the few games that they played over there?

John Beilein:  “As time went on, they got much more comfortable, first of all with the European style of play, the amount of running you have to do and how to stay out of foul trouble.  The first three games, there wasn’t a big man that they were throwing the ball into it, it was more they were spreading us out and shooting threes with their bigs.  The last game, they posted us up, so they made great progress in all those areas defensively.  One thing that was consistent was there effort.  They worked very hard and whether they were getting garbage points, whether they were running the floor, whether it was throwing it inside to them, all of those things, they grew more and more comfortable as the trip went on.”

Sam Webb:  Do you have kind of a vision at this point about how those guys will function offensively.  Obviously, J-Mo was a pick and roll guy, he was a guy that could finish around the rim.  These guys have some different abilities.  You’ve got a feel for how you want to utilize them just yet?

John Beilein:  “Just a little bit of a feel.  I think we’ve got to see more.  The summer school program is so busy for someone like Ricky that they don’t really get to rep things.  So we’ve got to see where his talents lie offensively.  Mark Donnal, I certainly some of things that he can do, now can he do them on a consistent basis, can he do them in real games.  We have to just keep watching them as we go along, but you’re right it is a different skill set than Jordan.  If we can get what Jordan Morgan gave us for his four years that he played at Michigan, those would four pretty good year.”

Sam Webb:  Kam Chatman is a very skilled guy, obviously getting some time at the four spot.  What about him and who are you rolling in at the four position?

John Beilein:  “He’s one of the four wards.  We’re trying to get away from threes and fours.  He just one of our forwards and he has the capacity to play all four positions if he needed other than the big man.  He’s got a really good vision for the game and I think I was impressed with how quickly he picked up things that we’re doing and offensively and defensively, he’s a talker.  Obviously, there are some things that he has got to work on just like all our freshman, but we were really pleased with the way he played.”

Sam Webb:  I know in past years, knowing you well now, one of the things that you mentioned in past years is that you focused a lot more with the team early in the season on defense.  Is that the case with this, or was that the case with the team as you guys headed over to Italy and what did you see from them on the defensive end of the floor.

John Beilein:  “I saw some great length and real versatility, where whether we’re going to switch screens or not switch screens depending on who we’re playing, the length is good.  I don’t think the strength is there yet, but that has a lot to do with maturity and experience in the weight room.  We played 100% quarter-court, man-to-man.  I think there is a capacity there, now you’ve got to have a will to play really good defense, but the length at times was really good.  When you have Caris who is almost 6-7 at the two and then both forwards are the exact same size as well.  That’s 6-7, 6-7, 6-7 or roughly.  That’s pretty good.  I think they are interchangeable and challenge shooting, as well as their feet are good and they can stay in front of people.  Now doing that and doing that as a team, there is a lot more to it than just ten days of practice let’s go do it.  The whole focus coming into the fall workout is to rep shooting, ball handling.  We turned the ball over a lot over there.  Just simple ball handling things and then work on the repetitions that you  need on defense,  just staying in front of people.  We’ve got a lot of work to do, but that was a good first glimpse and I’m glad we can do it once every four years.”

Sam Webb:  A big thing on teams that have a changing of the guard so to speak…. guys moving on to the next level or graduate is role definition.  So leadership roles coach, did you start to see that kind of rise to the fore over there in Italy and at the same time, you have a number of guys that can score the basketball.  Ideally, it seems from the outside looking in that Caris is the go to guy, but what about that particular instance did you see that emerge as well?

John Beilein:  “The leadership, there is a natural progression to it, but there are some moments when you say, okay, you say it to one of your sophomores or juniors, get that team together or find out what time curfew is going to be.  You guys decide what time you guys want us to consider curfew and you say, you talking to me?  You want me to help make this decision, I’m only a sophomore.  It is the time for them to assist with the team building.  It’s come on sooner than they may think, but it is the environment that where we are right now with this team.  So I saw that and I think we’ll be the same way that we’ve been in the past that we’ll experiment with a lot of things to see who and how we can run our offense through late in games.  We’ve been pretty good at that in the past.  It’s changed over time depending on who’s producing.  So I think we’ll see some of that and we saw some in Italy and as practice goes and early games goes, I think we’ll see more.”

Sam Webb:  You talked about the guys and being really engaged, it sounds like the chemistry is terrific.  One of the things that I think you and your staff have done an amazing job of is recruiting and cultivating chemistry on your roster.  As short a way as you can, how do you do that, how do you recruit that, how do you cultivate that, because you guys have something in your program that I think a lot of programs, not just basketball aspire to.

John Beilein:  “We’ve always believed and I actually heard it this summer from someone who…I don’t think we’ve said it exactly like this, but of all people, he said Rudy Tomjanovich told me this one time and I think we’ve lived this and now that I know Rudy said it, it works.  We’re not amassing talent, we are putting together a team and when you are doing that you’re looking at chemistry all the time.  You can put a very talented team with talented players out there, but will they be a team?  So we just really spend a lot of time on who fits this particular team, who fits the university, who fits our coaching staff and we’re not always going to be right.  Sometimes we’re surprised how people have really grasped and really embraced this culture because maybe they never had this.  There is a conscious effort and I think a lot of teams do this, the successful ones do, but our kids from the time we begin recruiting we talk to them an awful lot about this part of your experience at Michigan.”

Sam Webb:  Great stuff coach and one of the things that recruits say is that they get a good deal of time with the players themselves and I image that the guys, your players yourself give you a good idea of the guys you’re recruiting too.

John Beilein:  “Yeah that is big.  There has been times as you take over jobs that you’re really challenged where I’ve been.  As you take over a job and you’re trying to recruit, who do you put this young man with in order to get them to really like Michigan and that can be challenging sometimes.  Right now we’ve got about 10-12 guys, I think virtually our whole team that we can put recruits with or when they come for unofficials/official visits that the young men feel really comfortable with the type of character and passion and enthusiasm for Michigan that they would be with.   So it is key in building this, they are our best recruiters many, many times.”

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