CHICAGO -- Riddled with injuries in 2014-15, Michigan men’s basketball team didn’t come close to the levels of previous seasons deep post-season runs.
In fact, the defending Big Ten champions stayed home last post-season, mostly due to the loss of key players Caris LeVert (foot) and Derrick Walton Jr. for most of the season.
At Big Ten media day in Chicago, U-M coach John Beilein acknowledged last years difficulties, but was quick to add he’s already focused on 2015-16 season, of course, with his expected leader, LeVert, leading the way.
“I think we approach the beginning of the season with great excitement. We have a team and I mean a true team, with Caris LeVert is, obviously, a spectacular talent,” Beilein said. “However, he right now is one of the greatest teammates you could ever have and sees his role as being a leader on this team.”
LeVert, who averaged 14.9 points in 18 games before injuring his foot, is coming back for his senior season stronger and faster, Beilein says.
“He's been rehabbed quite a bit obviously since the injury,” Beilein said. “It's a long time, and we really erred on the side of caution to give him even more time in rehab. But he's running faster, jumping higher, stronger than he's ever been. That's the good news, is that he has spent so much time building his body up while he was rehabbing the foot.
“So it really is exciting to watch right now. And I think of this -- you know, he's just 21 years old as a senior, just turned 21 in August. So he is still -- I think he's still developing as a player at this level and then beyond.”
With LeVert going down last year, it gave other players like Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman opportunities to get key playing time they otherwise wouldn’t have received, says Beilein, noting it only adds to this seasons depth.
“So we're going to determine that out, and it is great to have depth,” Beilein said. “And it gives you all kinds of choices. Sometimes that's tough too. We're trying to still figure things out, and we're really looking at these six weeks of preseason as a time to try and figure it out and then start the season. You still don't have all the answers. You try to evolve during the season as well.”
Kameron Chatman started off last season starting U-M’s first 15 games, in the process never finding his shot. In the end, he found himself coming off the bench closing out the season.
However, this off-season, Chatman has already shown improvement on his shot, Beilein says, after Chatman shot a 31.8% from the field as a freshman.
"He's made great strides so far. He has -- his shooting has really improved,” Beilein said. “His body continues to improve, like they all should at this time, with another year of weightlifting and another year of quickness training. Just his knowledge of you can accomplish a lot more if you maybe try to do less a little bit. Just his general understanding of the game and his body and his ability to shoot the ball right now that has really improved.”