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Much of that top eight (player rotation) appears to have already been determined. The marquee player in that group is undoubtedly sophomore guard Manny Harris. The 6-5, 185-pounder averaged 16.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game en route to earning second team All-Big Ten and first team All Freshman honors last season. As impressive as that was, Harris' coaches are expecting him to be even better in 2008.
"I think Manny in certain situations last year was not very efficient because he got to hunting shots sometimes," Jackson explained. "I think for him, less is more. We talked about that at the beginning of the year… where he doesn't need to do a whole lot in terms of being able to score points and to be able to make plays. Sometimes he felt like last year that scoring points was the way to contribute and making plays is really the way to contribute. I think that he is a guy that has a better understanding of Coach Beilein, what he's looking for, our system, and our team. I think you'll see that he has worked on his ball handling and he has gotten a lot better at ball handling. He has also continued to improve his shooting and his weight is up, so you are just going to see a better player… a guy who plays like he has got some games under his belt. He is a veteran now and hopefully you'll see a lot better product than you did last year, and last year wasn't bad for an 18-year-old."
Teaming with Harris in the backcourt much of last season was point guard Kelvin Grady. The 5-11, 170-pound Grand Rapids native struggled grasping the offense last year, but became more adept at directing traffic as the season progressed thanks to the prodding of his coach.
"I've seen Kelvin not having any struggles in the beginning of the year," Jackson said. "He was feeling his way out (last year). Coach was tough on him early and justifiably so. On your point guards you need a lot from them. With Kelvin, I am expecting him to really be a guy that can lead our team from the point guard position. He is one of our best jump shooters. He has got to make shots. We really expect him to be solid from day one."
Last season Grady was pushed by former walk-ons David Merritt and C.J. Lee. This season he will likely be pushed /complimented by a trio of freshman, one of whom has already been on campus for a year.
Former Flint Powers standout Laval Lucas-Perry transferred to Michigan after playing his first semester at Arizona. NCAA rules prohibited him from playing with the Wolverines last season, but he was able to practice with the team. His familiarity with the system should give him a leg up on his incoming cohorts. At the same time, his coaches are careful not to set expectations too high for a player that didn't get actual game experience last season.
"I think it is going to be a growth process for him," Jackson said. "Like any guy that has sat out a year, he is probably going to try and do a little too much when he gets out there, but we're expecting him to contribute to us when he starts playing. The contribution from whenever he plays, until maybe the middle of the Big Ten (schedule) we hope will gradually increase and improve. For us to think that he is going to walk into the first game and just be a major contributor, I think is unrealistic and unfair to him. I think that we need to make sure that we bring him along slowly. He has a lot of ability and we all feel like he is going to help us, but we've got to nurture it and bring it along the right way because I think putting too much on him too soon could be detrimental to him."
If/when Lucas-Perry starts clicking on all cylinders the Wolverines will gain a versatile presence that can contribute on both ends of the floor.
"First of all, he can score the basketball," Jackson stated. "He can put the ball in the basket and that never hurts. You can never have too many guys that can put the ball in the basket. He is a physical guard. He has a good feel for the game, so he'll be able to play both guard spots for us. He can handle the ball for us, he can pass it, and he is a very good defender, so he brings a lot of different things to our team. He gives us a good athlete and another guy who gives us some toughness. Our guys believe in him now. They have been around him for a year. They know what he can do and when he gets out there. He won't have to establish himself as a guy who we don't know if he can make that shot or we don't know if Laval can make that play. They know that he can make plays and so some things. It will just be up to us to bring him along the right way and put him in the best position to be successful."
For the rest of this story previewing the 2008/2009 Wolverines, a national college basketball preview, non-conference opponent previews, the potential impact of the incoming frehsmen, an interview with strength coach Mike Curtis, an in-depth feature on quarterback Tate Forcier, and more, check out the next issue of GoBlueWolverine