Q & A with Mike Jackson (Part 2)

In part two of our sit down with Michigan assistant basketball coach Mike Jackson, he discusses the progress ever changing player rotation, the development of Manny Harris and Kelvin Grady, the development of DeShawn Sims, and much much more.

For those that missed part one, click here.

Sam Webb: The lineup really seems to be in flux. Is that something that is going to be massaged as the year goes on, or are you right now set on what it is pretty much going to be the rest of the way?

Mike Jackson: “With the way our team is right now and there are a lot of guys that we can play, I don’t think there is anything that is necessarily set that we are just going to go with the rest of the year. I think that it is going to be a work in progress. I think there are a few guys that we feel comfortable in the lineup. There are a few guys that we like to bring off the bench. There is just a lot of dynamics as to why we play a lineup the way we play and why we bring certain guys off the bench. I think a lot of it is a work in progress and you could easily see a change if it was warranted.”

Sam Webb: Your two leading scorers on the team are native Detroiters in Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. I don’t know if they have been surprises to some people, but for folks that got a chance to watch them play in high school this is what you kind of saw. But you obviously have a deeper vision of where you want them to be. What are some of the things that they still need to do to get where you want them to be?

Mike Jackson: “Starting with DeShawn, I think he has got the toughest situation, because he is transitioning to playing a lot on the perimeter. So I think that I have been impressed with how he has been able to handle that transition as a work in progress. Defensively, I think both guys still have to do a lot of things better defensively. DeShawn, again probably has a lot more to do because he has never played perimeter defense as much as he is doing this year with some of the switching patterns that we do. Manny, he is just a young guy, who I think I said last, he just wills a lot of things to get done. But the technique is not completely there with him. So little things like boxing out, how to navigate screens, even coming down on two feet because he is so slight when he gets to the basket. He did that as well as he has done all year and that is something that we teach a lot, when those guys get to the basket, come down on two feet to be strong. He did that as well as he did all year and it showed by some of the passes he made last night. Both guys are really doing well. They are doing a great job of being coached and I think they are ready to continue to get better because they want to get better and we are doing everything we can to help them.”

Sam Webb: You talk about what they are doing well and you mentioned defense there. One of the things that I keep noticing, though, is Coach Beilein is always yelling, telling them to ‘get back on defense’, ‘get back on defense.’ Is that something you guys see in practice or see in game film that you really need to stress with them right now?

Mike Jackson: “No question. That was the biggest thing that I talked about in the Duke game and it wasn’t just the Duke game. We have had games where our transition defense wasn’t very good and it is a little more of the communication piece than it is the actual sprinting back. Some of it is, we are not sprinting back as hard as we should, but a lot of it is just a lack of communication sometimes between two guys, three guys or whatever. We are constantly on them about sprinting back, talking, finding somebody and not giving up an easy basket. Because we want them to have to play against our set man to man defense.”

Sam Webb: His much progress has Kelvin Grady made thus far?

Mike Jackson: “It has been great. I told him after the Duke game, I was so pleased with how he handled that. For a kid that is a freshman that is starting to go into that environment and not turn the ball over was extremely impressive to me. I mean he played a lot of minutes. He got pressured all game and he did an unbelievable job. He is a typical freshman that is going to be up and down during the year. For him not to play great recently, doesn’t bother me that much because it is expected a little bit. That is the toughest position to transition into and so he has got to deal with outside of just learning certain stuff. As a freshman point guard sometimes it is hard to just take command of a team of guys, some guys who have been there before and some guys who have led their team, on their high school team or something. He still has got to get into a comfort zone where he can have complete command of our guys and so he is transitioning a lot of areas too and he is going to have ups and down. He hasn’t been horrible last night. It’s just CJ Lee just happens to be playing really well and so we’ve played the guy that was playing really well.”

Sam Webb: Yeah no doubt about it. You guys have stressed not necessarily focusing on the result. You’ve said to your players that it is not as much about the result as it is about the process. Has that been hard to get across to them when you are losing, maybe like a Harvard or a CMU? I know that was disappointing for them. Has it been difficult to get them to maintain their focus on the process as opposed to the result?

Mike Jackson: “Yes and for young guys, they want to the result. They don’t want to worry about the process sometimes. That is always a challenge, but again I thought last night, we grew in a lot of areas. How we were being guarded the last few games; Oakland tried to duplicate what some of the other teams and we countered like we had talked about we were going to counter. The transition defensive stuff, I thought we did a better job of that. We weren’t great. We still gave up some transition baskets, but we were better. Our offense execution just in terms of running specific plays, offense certain things, our execution is just getting better and we all saw growth as a staff. They saw growth as players. Coach has kind of talked to them about the things that they grew up, or that we got better at. So as long as they can see some progress and we get a win, I think that helps the process. Even if we drop a couple, if we can take the things that we learned in those losses and turn them into a win and learn something out of that win also then I think you start growing and the process does happen.”

Sam Webb: Philosophy question for you. There is a line of thought that says, “Hey you coach the talent you have. You try to take advantage of their strengths.” There is another line of thinking in coaching that says, “Look, this is my system, we are going to keep having them run this until they get it”. How do you guys know when to stick with what you’re doing even when they aren’t getting it as opposed to maybe doing some of the things that come more naturally to them? How do you balance that?

Mike Jackson: “I think you have to obviously get to know how quickly your kids can learn, their basketball skill level and then you have to take those two things and figure out how quickly you can put stuff in. I thought and Coach Beilein has said this, we gave them a whole lot early and then we actually scaled it back so that we could get good at certain things. So Coach Beilein for him to have coached over 900 games and coach a lot of different players, he is really good at being able to coach and adapt to what he has. I think the best coaches coach their players and not their systems. Like he has a structure to his system, but he has so many things that he can do in that system. He can tailor it to a DeShawn who has got some inside skill and get him touches where he can play in the post.”

Sam Webb: We’ve seen DeShawn on the blocks recently getting some shot attempts down there and it has looked like it was within the flow of the offense.

Mike Jackson: “It was no question. We made sure that we were able to get him touches where he is comfortable, so we did that. In the Duke game, we tried…Manny and Kelvin are unbelievable off the dribble. So we knew that we were going to get pressured, so we decided that we were going to let these guys make plays off the dribble, get to the basket, and try to find some guys. Because we weren’t going to be able to run a lot of offense. So we have done some things to be able to allow guys to put the ball on the floor and make plays and just break out of the offense sometimes when people are playing us a certain way. We are continually trying to incorporate and make the offense fit our personal without Coach Beilein completely changing everything that he has ever done.”

Sam Webb: Speaking of Manny, he goes to the basket with a purpose every night. I am wondering, though, when you watch him from a coaches perspective, have you had to get him to not necessarily always focus on going directly to the basket with a one track mind?

Mike Jackson: “Well we have talked to him about taking open shots though. Manny will sometimes drive the ball when he has a jump shot that he should be taking. Coach again, when you’re open shoot it. We spend enough time working on shooting that when you get open shots you have got to take that shot for our team, because guys are anticipating you taking it. So from that regard, we have told Manny that you have to take open shots and not over penetrate just because you feel like getting to the basket that time. Take open shots and trust that you have put enough work in that jump shot that is it going to go in. Manny has shot the ball pretty well this year, so shoot it. The only other thing that we have talked to him about is again, like I said, is just coming down on two feet, because guys at our level take a lot of charges and so early on, Manny ran a lot of people over. He was getting to the basket, but he was picking up charges here and there, so we have really spent a lot of time talking to him about just slicing and getting to the basket. Manny is really crafty and he has gotten good now at avoiding charges and still getting to the rim and sliding by people to find somebody open or to score a basket. So those are probably the adjustments that we have made, but never trying to take away his aggressive mentality because that is how he plays.”

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