Reg Season Wrap-Up with Mike Jackson (Part 2)

In part two of our sit down with Michigan assistant basketball coach Mike Jackson, he discusses how Manny Harris has evolved as a leader, John Beilein's ability to teach, the signs of growth he sees in the team, Kelvin Grady, and more.

For those that missed part one, click here.

Sam Webb: In your experience both as a player and as a coach, have you noticed that big time players have to get to the point where they trust their teammates? It is not just a given that they are always going to feel confident in other guys around them. Is that something that they have to gain through the course of playing with them? It that what you've seen with Manny?

Mike Jackson: “Sometimes, but you know I think certain players; in Manny’s case, he averaged so many points as a senior and he did so much. It is not like he is just looking guys off or just being selfish that is what he did. He just drove and made plays and scored. So once you put other good players around him, it takes some time for those guys to be like, ‘Man, he is going to make that shot' or 'man let me make this play and drop it to this guy right here.’ He is just maturing and learning how to do those things. I always tell him when you continue to do that, it is always going to come back to you. He is still turning the ball over a little too much for me and I know for coach, but he is going to have some turnovers just because he is so aggressive, but he has just got to take those one or two away where he is just losing it or crossing over too close in front of a guy. He is a talented kid. He is a coachable kid and I really believe that he is going to be a very, very good player for this program as he continues to go.”

Sam Webb: So with Manny, you talked about guys being more vocal and Manny has always been a confident guy. I was curious how it was going to work with such a dominating personality and presence, even though he is soft spoken, he is a guy that has a dominating personality. Have you noticed during the course of the season that the guys on the team being more open to what a young guy might have to say?

Mike Jackson: “Yeah I think so. I told him this a long time ago. Whether he likes it or not, when you are the leading scorer and you are expected to make plays at times and do things at certain times, there is just a level of respect and responsibility that you have with that whether you like it or not. Unfortunately, you don’t want that to be a freshman a lot of the time, but it is in our case. Whether it is right or wrong, good or bad, that is the position that he is in. So I think the guys do listen to him. Ep and some of those guys put him in his place and every now and then (laughing), but for the most part he is respected. Guys are listening to what he is saying. They know he is going to compete and play hard and that is the biggest thing because you can talk a whole lot, but if you are not doing what you are preaching, a lot of time it goes on deaf ears. So Manny does a good job of making sure that he is doing the right thing in terms of competing and playing hard. I think that gains a lot of the guys respect.”

Sam Webb: So that is something you have to really coach. Did he express some sort of hesitancy to when, 'Hey I am a freshman coach. These guys played before. I don’t know if I should really be getting after these guys like that.' Was he a little bit reluctant about that at least at the beginning?

Mike Jackson: “I don’t think that he has ever been reluctant. Like you said, Manny has got a pretty strong personality, so he is pretty confident himself. I just think that he needed to learn how to do and when to do it. So I just think that that has been a process that has grown over this season and he is learning how to say stuff to guys. I recently got the biggest laugh with him and Ekpe. I don’t know if people remember the play, but there was a kid #11, (Stanley) Pringle from Penn State (in the home game at Crisler) drove baseline and Ekpe is rotating over and he is getting ready to block the shot and the kid reversed the layup and it was a beautiful play.”

Sam Webb: It was gorgeous.

Mike Jackson: “We all know Ekpe. He was going over there to block the shot and really our defense package is to rotate over and step in front of them. Well in an immediate time-out afterwards, they come over to the huddle and Manny real calmly goes, ‘You know Ep, you don’t have to block every shot. Why don’t you just rotate over?’ It was so funny how diplomatic he was about trying to tell Ekpe you don’t have to block every shot. Ekpe being Ekpe, he got six or seven blocks in he game, he is thinking I am about to get me one more. It was classic. I laughed during the time out. It was classic. I know that they will be upset at me. It was classic. I laughed so hard. He was just like, ‘come on Ep, just rotate over, you don’t have to block every shot’.”

Sam Webb: It is like you said before... sometimes hearing it from a teammate is different than hearing it from a coach.

Mike Jackson: “We all got a laugh. Ekpe remembered the exact play. He looked at me and was like, ‘yeah I was thinking about going to get it too.’ I said yeah, ‘that kid went on the other side of the rim on ya and made a heck of a play’.”

Sam Webb: Yeah he had something in him on that play that I didn’t know he had, I must say. You know…hey at 6 blocks it is hard…

Mike Jackson: “Not want to go get one more.”

Sam Webb: It is hard not to go get one more and I think if you are Manny you are probably saying, “I don’t want to tell this guy not to be trying to block these shots”.

Mike Jackson: “Yeah because he has saved me three or four times.”

Sam Webb: He was down there getting it done. What about Coach Beilein. What was Coach Beilein’s reaction to it?

Mike Jackson: “Again, it is hard to take that away from Ep. He is so good at blocking shots. We almost get used to him going over and rotating and blocking the shot. The kid just made a great play. He attacked Ekpe before he could ever even get off of the floor and used the rim to shield him too so he couldn’t block it. Nobody even said anything to Ep. Manny was the only that said something to him. But that is just to the point where Manny has gotten to now. Manny is comfortable enough to tell Ekpe, ‘come on Ep, just rotate ever’. That is like the little running thing with them. He is always messing with Ekpe about trying to block every shot. He is like, ‘Ep you don’t have to block everyone’. That is why it was so funny because I have heard him say that before. Those guys mess with him about that. Ep blocks their shots so much in practice, I think they get tired of seeing it.”

Sam Webb: I want to get into Coach Jackson on the bench because there is always interaction between he and Coach Beilein. Coach Beilein is one of the most active coaches in terms of walking up and down the bench. What is he talking about?

Mike Jackson: “You know what is funny is Coach Beilein is the calmest guy I have ever worked for. Other head coaches have been like, ‘Can we talk”, you know and I am sitting over there like, ‘yep, yep, yes coach.’ Coach Beilein a lot of times is just teaching stuff. He will turn around, I sit next to him so I get a lot of it when he sits down sometimes, but I will be more upset sometimes than him. He is always in that teaching mode. He is unreal like that. He is just like, ‘we got to get them to do this better’ or ‘we got to cover that a little bit more in practice’. Sometimes he gets upset, but his upset is almost like, it is his fault… like he didn’t teach them good enough. It is just incredible. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to be a great teacher and he really is. I think sometimes undo. Sometimes I am like, ‘you guys got to do this now’. He’ll be like, ‘ugh, I got teach them a little bit better. We got to do this a few more times in practice’ or whatever. He is incredible man. A lot of times a conversations that we have is more about offensive stuff. I am more of the offensive assistant and we are discussing what we are going to run the next time down or I am just barking out recommendations to him and he may do it, he may not do it, but those are a lot of our conversations. If he is talking to Coach Dunn, a lot of time it may be about defense and Coach Mahoney it might be about post guys or defense or whatever, but most of our conversations are about offense, what we should be running. What I think I see or he will even turn around a lot of times and we will have conservations about, ‘Man we should run that a little bit different next time, remind me in practice we are going to change this.’ So we have those conversations where I will hit him like, ‘Coach we need to do this next time on this play.’ So a lot time we are having dialogue about sets, offense, what we should change and what we should do. That is a lot of what is going on.”

Sam Webb: He is just so active down there and sometimes something will happen on the floor and he will be talking to the guys on the bench about what happened on the floor, exactly.

Mike Jackson: “He will miss plays sometimes just teaching a guy on the bench, like, 'you need to be doing this,' or whatever. I mean he is always trying to help a guy become a little bit better, whether it is when they come right off the floor, if he thinks about something, while a guy is sitting there he will tell them. Or he will tell one of us to tell him. Really he is a consummate teacher. He really loves to teach. He wants these guys to get better and I think we are starting to see it.”

Sam Webb: Mike, when you look at the way the process has gone this year, I am sure it is tougher than anything that you have had go through. I am just guessing. It is clearly been tougher than anything Coach Beilein has had to go through. One of the things he said this season was, “In the past in my coaching career, after wins, I’d just be upset about, we didn’t do this, we didn’t do that, we got to do this better.” After his experience this year he said, ‘after wins I will never do that again in life. I will never after a win not be happy.’ That is one of the biggest things he has taken from that experience. Is that something that you have internalized too?

Mike Jackson: “No question... no question. I think especially for me personally after the Ohio State game (on the road). I think I took that one as hard as I have ever taken a loss, because I was tired of our guys coming so close and deserving the win and not really winning. One of the guys that I used to work for, I have worked for a few different guys. I want to say that it was Brian Gregory at Dayton, but one of the guys would say, ‘you got to deserve to win.’ Sometimes you can win a game and not necessarily deserve it and sometimes you can lose a game and actually deserve to win it, and I really felt like we have had two or three of those games were we actually deserved to win and we didn’t. The Ohio State game was like the second or third time that it happened and I was like, ‘Man we got to get one of these.’ So from that game going to the Penn State game and really feeling like we did deserve to win that game, because we played hard, and I think the guys executed and weathered storms and it just felt good to win that game. No I heard him loud and clear, if you can get a win, cherish it for that 24 hours or however and then lets move on and try to get the next one.”

Sam Webb: It is key to seize upon that? Because I sit on the morning show when we talk about basketball and consistently talk about, 'hey, you might not see it in the win and loss column, but the guys are making progress.' We know the guys are making progress, because we get the opportunity to come down and see practice from time to time or talk to you guys before or after practice. So we are privy to a few more things, but we are not even privy to all the things that you guys see. So for fans who only can see the win/loss column, tell them how this team has improved during the course of the season. What does this team do better now than they did at the beginning of the season?

Mike Jackson: “Without question, defensively. Just our man-to-man defense, I think. We were trying to do a few different things with the r zone and playing a little bit of two zone, which is just a 2-3 and then man-to-man stuff that we were doing. I think over the course of time, we realized, you know what lets just be get better at defending man-to-man. I think we’re doing that. So I think that is one thing. The second thing without question, we are able to run our offense at a high speed without having what we call blowing it up, where a guys forgets what he is supposed to do. Now it is hard to guard when guys have no idea what is coming and we can run it at a high speed and be able to get the shot that we want to get without it getting broken up. We were just joking about that there is a specific play we run and Zach Gibson, I think ended up with a three. We ran it so crisp and so hard and Zach got the shot off so quick, it was just like, ‘man they are getting it’. They were able to run it at top speed and get that shot off exactly what were thinking and what we wanted. So, when we do dummy offense…we were doing dummy offense today and the guys are on each other about it. All they say is top speed. Like we are going at top speed to run our offense and we run so much stuff and we have so many reads and so many things that we can do, if we can just run the offense at top speed, there is no way that people can know what it is coming, because there is just so many different things that we can do. They just got to be a great defensive team, react well and we have to literally have to miss some shots, because there is just too much going on for people to know.”

Sam Webb: When you describe it like that, it is exciting. It is like there is some good stuff coming.

Mike Jackson: “It is. It really is. The way that we run our offense and the amount of things that we can do, the options that we have, the looks that we can get for certain people, but the problem is that it takes a while to get to that point, especially with young guys and young guys that have never played that system. I think that the fans that are watching will see where we can flow and get in the offense and really run it crisp and sharp and hard and execute it. As we continue to do better and we are going to have all these guys back next year running this same stuff and new variations that we come up with, it is going to be really fun to watch. We can get out in transition off of missed field goal, we can run our offense, crisp on makes. It is going to be good stuff.”

Sam Webb: One of the guys that could be a key part of your future is Kelvin Grady. What kind of progress have you seen him make and what kind of progress would you like to see him make from here on down through the end of the season?

Mike Jackson: “The biggest thing we have talked about is leading the team. There was a point where he wasn’t completing understanding the offense and so that is a tough spot for a point guard for you to tell him run our team and he is still trying feel it out. I think now he is at the point where he is comfortable with the offense and now he can run the team like a point guard should. He can get guys in the right place, he can demand the ball and be able to get us into something. He has gotten to the point now where we are in timeouts and he is recommending stuff to coach and I think that is when you start seeing your point guard mature is when he starts understanding things enough that when he comes off the floor, he can say, ‘Coach I see this, can we try this’ and Coach Beilein is so good about being open minded, he is always listening. Now whether he does it or not that is a different story. Sometimes he has done things that Kelvin has wanted to do and sometimes he hasn’t, but Kelvin is confident enough now to come off the floor and say, ‘Coach I see this, can we do this’. When you get your point guard to that point, then you are starting to get somewhere and I think Kelvin is comfortable knowing that coach trusts him now. Coach is comfortable knowing that Kelvin is on the same page as him. It is a good thing when your point guard is like that. So he is maturing and again, you got a young freshman who is getting to the point now where he is ready to run your team.”

Stay tuned to GoBlueWolverine for part three, coming tomorrow

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