Sam Webb: Just take us through Aubrey’s trajectory this season. Obviously he was forced into more action, but he has gotten more comfortable on the floor. We started to see (his growth) midway (through the season) when you started to run plays for him, and then boy, Saturday he was on another level.
John Beilein: “I’ve got to take you all the way back to August when we went to Italy. We virtually get off the plane, practice for a day and then we play, albeit not a great Italian team, but I put him in the game like the first five minutes of the game. I think we platooned every five minutes and the first time he catches the ball, he just shoots it in from three. It is just like, I say alright we’ve got one of those guys, who can come off the bench and make a three. So I saw that I he could do that and then as we got more into the beginning of the season when we had more depth in the backcourt. There were other areas that he was like a typical freshman, defensively with learning our system, learning the counters in the system. It was coming to him at a normal rate, which is never fast enough as a freshman. Once he had been forced in there, he has continued to learn and continues to make steps. He still had what he had back in August, if I can see the rim, I believe I can make it.”
Sam Webb: I think we could see signs early on that he could shoot threes, but to make eight threes in a game and not saying he can do that game in and game out, but he’s had big time shooting performances, where he’s hitting five, six, eight threes in a contest. Did you kind of see him early on as that kind of three point shooter when he came in?
John Beilein: “No not like when you see Stauskas in the practices and when you do your drills. You see the Staukas with like gaudy numbers, but Aubrey always gets enough in all that we drill them in. There is like 10-12 shooting drills that we do with them and he always gets the number, but not like gaudy numbers. To get eight in a game, he not only is a good practice guy, but when the lights go on, he can even play his game on a higher level. The upside is huge here. He has to continue to learn to play harder, smarter, work with his ball handling and all those things. He can really shoot it.”
Sam Webb: He certainly led the way for you guys in that contest. I would be remiss to talk about on Senior Day, what you got from Max Biefeldt, 14 points, 11 boards. You got a double-double from that guys, it was certainly key for you guys on Saturday.
John Beilein: “That was really good to see him do that. He has done a great job. He is healthy for the first time in his career here, so it has been good. We’ve been watching some of this in practice over the past four years and then get injured. It is really hard to come off the bench when you’ve been a player your whole life in high school. Some guys it takes a while to be able to do that and he has finally adjusted to that. Come in and know you might only get three or four minutes, and the only way you get more minutes is if you make the most of them. He has finally adjusted to that too. So a lot of good things and really proud and happy for Max.”
Sam Webb: What is the thought process on him as far as whether or not he is back next year?
John Beilein: “It is almost like the same thing you do with a guy who may have the option to go pro. You don’t even address it during the season. We didn’t want to ever have a kid…we’re giving four year scholarships at the University of Michigan and a kid that has a fifth year, if we feel it is really good for both parties then the fifth year will be granted. We want to do that a year or two ahead of time to make sure that there are no surprises. So to err on caution, we said, plan on this being your fourth year and you graduate and you’ll have great option. If you have a great year and I say I want you back and you tell me to stick that in my hat, that’s fine. But I’d rather have it that than the other way. As we always like to do, we like to under promise and over deliver, but I want him to explore his options and I want us to explore our options to see what best fits Michigan’s needs. It’ll be a decision made down the road by us and by him.”
Sam Webb: What an efficient for Kam Chatman. What a good shooting game for Kam Chatman. He was 4/5 from the field, but 3/3 from three point range and that was part of his game that he talked about working on the most and seeing him have that kind of success had to do your heart good.
John Beilein: “It was good. What I like is that he has not been afraid to shoot it. He has a very low three point shooting percentage and when he has been open, he is not afraid to shoot it, even though sometimes I would say that is not a good shot. Believe it or not, I like those guys more who have the courage that believe in themselves to shoot it and not worry about if they don’t make it, than a guy, who once you say hey that’s a bad shot, he never wants to take a shot again because he’s afraid it will be a bad shot. We worked a lot on his mechanics. Val found a flaw in his shot a couple of weeks ago and has been working with him on it and that certainly was good always for him to be able to do that. He is still 18 years old. I tell you guys all the time the ages, but I think it is so relevant when you see high schools juniors that are 18 years old right now. He’s still 18 years old and he is still developing, so that was a good way for him to start to finish what I think is the end of the beginning. The first year is always tough, the beginning. It is really good and it looks like he is going the right direction.”
Sam Webb: How has he been mentally this year?
John Beilein: “He has been pretty good, but there are moments where I’m sure he is sitting there and he is playing five minutes a game or something like that. He didn’t play in the second half against Northwestern and there are certain things that he needs to continue to work on, and as a coaching staff, we think sometimes it doesn’t help us win games, but at the same time, when he works at them, it will help us win games.”
Sam Webb: Let’s talk about the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan will play Illinois on Thursday at Noon, a team that you guys have battled twice and both times those games went to overtime. You two teams seem like you’re pretty evenly matched as you head into your third contest.
John Beilein: “They’ve been really close games. The first time we played them at full strength and they were at full strength. The second time, we were down to the new nucleus that we have now. Rice was just coming off of his first game and the difference with them right now is that Rice is playing at a real high level. Stokes is playing at a real high level. Neither of them were playing like that when we played them earlier in the season, three or four weeks ago. This team is really talented. It is really talented. It is going to be difficult for us to stop them, but we have proven that we can do that before. Everyone is going to have to bring their best games from here on out. If we go in there and we have a couple of guys that have to shoot high percentages and other ones have some 1-6 nights, 2-7 nights, it’s going to be tough to win. We are going to have to shoot the ball well both inside and outside. They have a lot more weapons right now because they are a very veteran team. Even though the two sophomores are really good, but Rice is a fifth year guy, Egwu is a fourth year guy, Stokes is a fifth year guy. They’ve got a lost of experience out there that is very hungry to win and on the bubble, so they’re going to bring everything they got. They need to beat Michigan probably. They’d have to have a lot of those go right, but it would really help their cause if they can beat Michigan and we’re going to do everything we can not to let them do that.”
Sam Webb: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think Egwu scored until overtime, so you did a really good job in that contest.
John Beilein: “It is a little, if you remember Tim Hardaway’s freshman year, we were on the bubble and we played them in the first or second round and Tim Hardaway and Darius Morris made some…we were down 13 to Illinois with about eight minutes to go and we ended up winning the game. It put us in the NCAA tournament. Illinois is trying to do the same to us.”
Sam Webb: Lastly you’ve got a couple of managers and you had them in uniform and on the court on that senior day a couple of days ago.
John Beilein: “When we were really down, Derrick was out, Caris was out, we had people sick, we just had a lot…we didn’t have enough people to scrimmage. We wearing coach Val Jordan out, I mean wearing him out. We just needed one guy more to help us. The managers are only allowed to do so much in a practice. They can shag balls, they can do some drills, but they’re not allowed to do any live, 3-on-3, 4-on-4, 5-on-5, which we spend more of our time doing. So we were wearing out Spike, Muhammad and Dakich were our only guards at the time. They were getting worn out, so we just need somebody out there. These two guys, we’ve watched them shoot around, they’ve been managers, so we had to go and petition through the NCAA for eligibility to make sure that they were eligible and then actually put them on our roster – not dress in games. This was so they could play live. We promised them a couple of weeks ago that they were doing such a good job, hey listen, that last game we’re going to dress you, not thinking they would ever get in the game. So we dressed them, the warm up, they loved the warm up and being out there, but actually get them in the game was terrific.”
Sam Webb: Any chance at all that Derrick Walton is available for the tournament?
John Beilein: “I do not think so, but I think today will be one of the last days that we give it a try. We’re trying all types of therapy right now to see what will work, but he has not been able to practice yet. If he is in any pain right now, I do not think it is advisable to play him, but all of a sudden he is pain free today, which could happen. With these injuries, all of a sudden, one day it is pain free and everything you do because he has been resting it so much. It has got to get to that point. As we saw with him, his game changed when the toe came. He was never pain free after the toe injury and he couldn’t make a layup. Remember, he was missing all kinds of layups because each time he pushed off of it, it hurt and that can be a distraction. We’re trying to get him right and playing him may not be the best thing.”