Sam Webb: As the season went on, Coach Beilein began talking more about getting the ball inside. Was that something you have made a concerted effort to do in practice or is that just something that you guys would try to do during the course of games if teams tried to play you a certain way?
Mike Jackson: “We have made a concerted effort to make sure that we got Peedi (i.e. Deshawn Sims) inside more. Because obviously the kid being 6’8”, 235, he needs to play with his back to the basket; he is good at it. We have made an effort to work with him on scoring in the post more. Ep and Zach (Gibson) work at it every day. I mean they work with Coach Mahoney every day on their back to the basket moves, their Sikma stuff, facing up. They work that stuff every day. What you’ve seen from Ekpe was just from a lot of work that he has been getting. Peedi is just talented and when he can get it going down there sometimes, he is hard to stop.”
Sam Webb: Watching DeShawn going all the way back to high school, you saw him like I did. He was a guy that made his living in the post, probably out of necessity. At Pershing (Detroit), he was the biggest player, no doubt about it, but in talking to him recently he said look, ‘I’ve got to force myself to go down there. I have been struggling with my confidence down there. I haven’t really been converting.’ I found that it was kind of peculiar to hear that guy that did so well in the post in high school be reluctant to go down there during the course of a game. Had you guys noticed that kind of reluctance on his behalf or is that just something he sort of let out in the media that he had expressed to you guys yet?
Mike Jackson: “No. I think it was just one of those things where sometimes when you start doing something new, you can fall in love with it a little bit. He has really improved his jump shot. Peedi has made the most 3s on our team, I think. He is falling in love with that a little bit and we just got to make sure that he gets a steady dose of both things, of playing in the post and playing on the perimeter. I just think it is a function of him having a little success being outside and he hasn’t put as much focus and attention in scoring in the post. Whether he likes it or not, he is going to score in the post for us. Because we need him to score in the post.”
Sam Webb: Sticking with the post, I remember earlier in the season… I talked to Ep after a couple of games and you know how big men get when they aren’t necessarily getting the ball… they get a little frustrated and that was obvious with Ep. One of the things I noticed as the season went on was he just said that ‘I’ve got to go get it… I’ve got to go get the ball.” Now even when he doesn’t get a whole heck of a lot of touches, you see a guy out there that is a presence… not only a presence on the defensive end of the floor but an emotional presence out on there as well. Is that something you’ve talked to him about?
Mike Jackson: “We talked about it early in the year, probably around Alaska. That was probably when he first got back into the stride and form of how I thought Ekpe was going to be coming into the year. He had struggled scoring in the post even after that but really the bottom line was the work he was putting in with Coach Beilein and Coach Mahoney… to continue to work at being a good scorer in the post and being consistent and handling the ball when guys are dropping it down in there. I think what you’ve seen is just a lot of work that he has put in and now he it is starting to pay off and he is starting to get confident with it. I think the biggest thing with players nowadays is when they put a lot of work into something, it gives you a lot of confidence. So I think now he has put a lot of work into it, he feels confident with certain moves that he can go to. With the emotional leader, I think a lot of times when you start having success in certain areas, it obviously gives you some self confidence. I think defensively he has been playing unbelievably for a while and when you can start adding a little offense to that, you have a really, really good player.”
Sam Webb: One of the things that Ep said… and it goes back to that player’s only meeting… he said that his teammates told him that he was dead out on the floor. He wasn’t the kind of presence that he needed to be and maybe that is one of the things that you talk about. When you hear from your coach, it may carry over one way, but when you hear it from your teammates, it might have a whole different effect.
Mike Jackson: “There is no question. I think they respect their peers more than anybody. Those guys like each other, they respect each other. So when they start saying stuff like that to each other it is going to go a long ways. That is news to me, I didn’t know that that was said in the meeting, but again whatever was said he has responded to it. Because he has been blocking shots, talking to guys, being vocal in huddles, practice. He has been very good. He has been really, really positive for us.”
Sam Webb: We need to talk about some of the other guys that really stepped up their game. I know it is hard to keep sight of that when you see losses sometimes, but to me it doesn’t obscure the fact you see some guys really improving. One of those guys is Anthony Wright. He came out against Penn State earlier at home and went 5/7, 13 points. He has given you guys a boost like that in a few different games. Where is all that coming from? Has he been displaying that in practice for much of the season or is he just now coming on a little bit?
Mike Jackson: “I think he is just starting to come around. I was talking to one of the woman’s basketball coaches recently, Mike Williams, and we were talking about Anthony. I was like, ‘sometimes we just want to rush stuff. Anthony is a redshirt freshman, he hasn’t played yet.’ Now I think Anthony has a confidence about him, ever since the Illinois game. Really when we played at Illinois on the road, he came off the bench and he hit three or four 3s and kept us in the game. I mean he really played well. I think ever since that game his confidence is steadily increasing and he has been in the right places on defense. He has been rebounding the ball. He has been making shots. He is one of our better passers from the forward position I think you are starting to see what you are going to see in the future from him.”
Sam Webb: You hadn’t really gotten a chance to evaluate his game. What kind of shooter is he? Is he a guy that can shoot off of the dribble, was he coming off screens. For folks who don’t get to see him in practice, how would you describe Anthony’s Wright game coming on down the line here?
Mike Jackson: “Anthony was recruited because he is a big time shooter. If you look at his stroke, his mechanics, Anthony has got a picture perfect jump shot. Anthony was having a confidence issue with just being consistent with it. Then it was just that going through the phase of learning how hard you have to play at this level to be successful. That happens to most freshmen. They just don’t understand how hard you have to play to be good consistently at this level. He is starting to figure it out. He is starting to figure it out, the right positions to be in, how hard he has to play, how to get his shot. The two things that have always impressed me about him is his feel for the game, he is a very good passer, he sees things well and his jump shooting ability. He really shoots the ball well.”
Sam Webb: So talk to me about Manny (Harris). You are coaching all the players, but the guy who I see is your protégé, the guy who looks like he is trying to emulate, trying to internalize, everything that you tell him is Manny Harris. The guy looks like every time he is on the floor, a lot of it is instinctual, but he is trying to do what Mike Jack is telling him to do. Tell me where he is at this point in the season versus he was to start?
Mike Jackson: “I think he has a better understanding
of how to be effective in a game. Manny has the mentality that, I am just going
to make it happen. I am going to just go to the rim when I feel like it. I am
going to just do what I want do and that is a really good thing but sometimes
it can get him into trouble where he was trying to make things happen that weren’t
there. Now I think he has a better idea of getting stuff within the offense.
He wouldn’t take open jump shots sometimes. That was one of the biggest
things. He kept trying to get it to the rim when he should have been taking
jump shots. I think he is starting to understand now that he has got to trust
his jump shot, shoot it in when he is open, attack when he needs to attack,
share when he needs to share. I think overall he just got a better flow to his
game with trust to his teammates, trust in his jump shot. Just knowing that
he is going to be able to get things within the offense and that he is a good
enough player that he is going to be able to score points and make plays just
because he is talented. So just let it all come to you and I think that is what
you are starting to see now.”