Sam Webb: Even in the disappointment this season, you can see some silver lining. To me, the silver lining is the growth that we’ve seen with all of the guys. I want to start with Zak Irvin, in that Wisconsin game, he was a willing defender of a guy who might be the player of the year in Frank Kaminsky and did a good job. At the same time, on the offensive end of the floor he had a good game as well.
John Beilein: “Everyone had the opportunity to just improve during the year because they weren’t going to come out of the game or we could move our offense and defense around to best suit them and then show them areas where they had to grow. It allowed a guy like Zak to handle the ball more that we probably wouldn’t have known if Caris or Derrick where there with Spike. You don’t need four ball handlers out there. It helps, but we probably wouldn’t have pressed it the way we did to get Zak. He did a lot of work with Coach Jordan, Coach Meyer, myself, just to improve in that area and play with his head up. The next progression is Aubrey and Muhammad doing the same thing.”
Sam Webb: One of the plays in the tournament that we saw from Zak, he caught the ball behind the three point line, put it on the floor, had a step through two defenders into a lob to Aubrey Dawkins. That’s not a play that I thought he could make.
John Beilein: “No, absolutely not. With all our guys, everybody wants those lob passes and they’re so exciting and much like when we first started with Glen Robinson. We threw them and they would never result in two points. We’d say we had the ooh without the ah. We worked on, worked on it and worked on it. How about the pass where he drove the alley and came underneath and threw it under two guys to Max for a dunk. That never would have happened. As we go forward, we know he can play three positions now and that helps us because you can move him according to what the other guys can’t do.”
Sam Webb: So Spike who was the heart and soul of the team. Even before the injuries you could say he was the emotional leader of the team. We saw growth from him when it came to aggression on offense. Even in that Wisconsin game, ten of his points in the first half, he was a major factor for you scoring in that first half.
John Beilein: “Yeah without question. We knew going into this season, any injuries that he had could be limiting at times. We didn’t know how much. At the same time, we never heard one word out of him the entire year. Spike are you alright, yeah I’m good. He wasn’t good, but he just kept playing through it all. He showed some warrior like characteristics this year, especially when he was pressed into being a 38-40 minute player. I have much respect for how he handled his sudden impact on the team that he had to have. If he didn’t have a good game, we weren’t going to have a good game and he handled it beautifully.”
Sam Webb: You went over last week Aubrey’s progression and how he’s really come on. How about Muhammad’s growth late into the season and what kind of improvement are you looking for him to make in the off season?
John Beilein: “I think the biggest thing with both Aubrey and Muhammad will be now they know what they didn’t know about his level of basketball. About how well you have to shoot and how quickly you have to shoot, how you have to be able to see the floor. Both of those guys, I’d be shocked if they grow in their career at Michigan, they’re not laughing at their assist numbers that both of them had this year. Aubrey got his tenth and eleventh in that game. You just watch, I see that as a good thing, he didn’t turn it over much. I see it as a good thing because if he does what Zak does, all of a sudden those numbers can come way up as well. Muhammad is the same thing. Muhammad has learned this year about how quickly you have to shoot it, especially at 6’3”, he’s going to be guarded by 6’6” guys a lot. You’ve got to be able to get the shot off very quickly or off a ball screen, etc. They’ll go to the off season now, knowing what they didn’t know before and now it is reality and that’s really a positive for them.”
Sam Webb: Rickey Doyle battled injury and illness at times, but you saw some flashes. I think back to Syracuse for instance and even against Wisconsin, he had 12 points against Kaminsky. You saw him play with some confidence against one of the best big guys in the country. What about his progress and his offseason?
John Beilein: “His will be similar to what we just talked about with Aubrey and Muhammad, he’ll know about the physicality, the importance of the jump hook. His shooting stroke is much better even though we didn’t see it in practice. This is one guy that I’m confident of and a lot of big guys are like this. When you say, here is the work that you’ve got to do this summer and here’s how you do it, it’ll get done, almost to a fault where we’ve got to be very careful about wear and tear on him as well. He will get it done. He’s got things, the ability to shoot a big time jump hook with both hands. That’s one thing you can rep out. I can’t say everybody is going to be a great three point shooter because sometimes the arc or whatever, it is a distance shot. If you’ve got a good jump hook and you work on it, it can become 80%, 70% shot. He’ll work on that like crazy. His passing the ball and his ball skills, all of those things will become better.”
Sam Webb: These days there is more of an opportunity for you guys as coaches to work with players in the off season. Can you break down for us exactly how much and when you’ll be able to work with the guys. I know Sanderson gets them, but I mean you guys as coaches.
John Beilein: “They’re almost unlimited with Sanderson, whether it’s in time, we get eight hours a week for the next four weeks and then for eight weeks during the summer. So there is 12 weeks worth of work that we can do with them. If you put that out there, that’s only 24 hours and so right now, they go 18 hours a week with us. You can see the tremendous change…this is the importance of having really good high character kids that you can count on them on their own, because that’s really where it is going to get done. The next four weeks, we have about eight hours and I wasn’t expecting this today. I wasn’t expecting anything. I’m just going to go into the office early and begin this whole process. We’ll do two hours of actual work with them and Jon Sanderson has them for six hours a week. He doesn’t need all six and that’s it. Many of them will go home for the summer, some may stay *** session and work with Jon even more. There is a lot of opportunity for them, but it has got to be meaningful, purposeful practice, not just going to the gym for an hour and shoot around. I think some of our guys have done that. Nik Stauskas changed exactly how he practiced and he was purposeful in his second year and that’s the same thing that all our guys have to do.”
Sam Webb: Offseason surgery…. is that in the forecast for Spike for sure, with Derrick is just rest or might that be on the horizon for him, what about off season surgery, any of that?
John Beilein: “Injuries are a funny thing and I don’t like to speak too much on their behalf. They both have…I think Derrick just based on what I’m seeing with his improvement yesterday, maybe just a little bit more rest now should take care of that and lots of therapy to improve all the areas so it doesn’t happen again. Spike has some options ahead of him for him to try and get 100%. I know he’ll work closely with our doctor’s and our trainers to get that done.”
Sam Webb: You are obviously in a position that you didn’t expect to be in, to be able to talk as an analyst that is going on, but you’re in a unique position because you’re team, you played Villanova, you played Wisconsin, you played Arizona. So when you look at these teams, do you see any of these teams as being a particular threat to the team that everyone is favoring in Kentucky?
John Beilein: “Yeah I said last night to the beat guys that of all those teams, you just got to go by the scoreboard. We think we were up nine on Villanova and had a chance to win it, but missed a foul shot and then we ended up having a shot blocked. Wisconsin was an overtime game and the other one, here it is tied with seven minutes to go and it is a one position game with three or four minutes to go. Arizona, we were never in the game from the beginning. Now it was on their court, we never played Villanova on their court or Wisconsin on their court, but there is something about Arizona that I really like. They have a strong point guard, they got big guys. They’ve got athleticism on the wings. Kentucky has had a tremendous season and I don’t want to take anything away from that. When they get into this thing and they get down to that Sweet 16, on neutrals courts, they’re going to be playing some teams that are really going to be challenging for them and they’re going to have to perform, they probably will, but it won’t be easy. I know John and his team know that, but Wisconsin is like no animal that they’ve played this year. This will be difficult for them if they get matched up with Wisconsin somewhere along the line.”