Spike Albrecht is a gamble that continues to pay off for John Beilein.
Albrecht was originally added to Michigan’s roster because the Wolverines needed a point guard to play just a few minutes off the bench behind Trey Burke. Albrecht played that role marvelously and became a household name with his heroics in the National Championship game.
But his importance to Michigan’s program didn’t stop there. Last year he was critical in easing freshman point guard Derrick Walton along, even stepping up with a 7 point, 7 assist game against Iowa when Walton was sidelined due to illness. Now, Albrecht is one of Michigan’s elder statesmen. Albrecht and Caris LeVert are the only two players left on Michigan’s roster that played in the Final Four two seasons ago and at 22 years old he’s going to have to assume a leadership role on Michigan’s young roster.
Mark Donnal spent last season battling against Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary and Jon Horford in practice as he sat out during his redshirt season. The rest of his time last season was spent in the weight room – he’s now up to 240 pounds – as he prepared for his number 34 to be called this season.
Now Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan and Jon Hoford are gone and Donnal finally has his opportunity.
Michigan’s trip to Italy was his first chance to show off his improvements since his senior season at Anthony Wayne High School. The 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman started all four games for the Wolverines and averaged 10 points and seven rebounds per game in an impressive first step overseas.
By Dylan Burkhardt | 2014-15 Season | Posted on August 28, 2014 at 1:45 pm
Derrick Walton was Michigan’s fourth option offensively last season, but expectations are high for the 6-foot point guard from Detroit. Walton was a complementary star last season and while he made huge plays on the road at Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State he was always just out of the limelight.
Walton was solid in Italy – averaging nine points, five rebounds and three assists per game – but once again it was his teammates that were grabbing the boisterous stat lines, attention and headlines. It’s tough to read too much from a trip to Italy, but for whatever reason Walton never had to take control of the game.
The phrase ‘three-and-D’ is commonly used to describe the perfect role player in the NBA. A ‘three-and-d’ player is athletic enough to guard multiple positions and can knock down three-point shots reliably. They don’t need the ball on offense and don’t complain if they aren’t involved, but are ready to make plays when required.
Aubrey Dawkins was recruited to Michigan to fill that niche. He’s not going to be the focal point of Michigan’s offense any time soon, but he looks like a player more than capable of filling the cracks in the wing rotation off the bench.
Caris LeVert was off of his feet for 16 weeks this summer after undergoing stress fracture surgery on his foot. With only a couple weeks of practice under his belt before Michigan’s trip to Italy, it would have been understandable if he struggled to regain his form in August.
“He just needs repetition right now,” John Beilein said before the trip to Italy. “He was not able to do a lot of work during that time, so he needs to just get his legs back to an endurance area where he can go longer. We’re going to need a lot of minutes from him.”
LeVert got his repititions in Italy and picked up where he left off last season. He averaged 14.3 points, six rebounds and a team-best 4.3 assists per game during the overseas trip while shooting a steady 56% on twos and 40% on threes. He showed his entire arsenal on film during four games overseas, from his hesitation crossover to his smooth jumpshot and his transition passing ability.
John Beilein has made a career out of his ability to recruit shooters and his perimeter-oriented offense has always been stereotyped by the three-point shot.
While the three is still ever-present in Beilein’s offense, recent years have seen the rise of the playmaker. Ball screens and isolation sets have allowed players like Trey Burke, Darius Morris, Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert to rise to prominence due to their abilities to attack the basket as much as their jump shot. Nik Stauskas was an elite shooter, but it was always his ability to create off of ball screens that made him a special player.
Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman was added to Michigan’s roster in April because Beilein realized he needed more playmakers. Stauskas was gone – much quicker than anyone expected – and other than LeVert (who has already been mentioned in NBA circles), Michigan’s roster lacked lacked a versatile combo guard. Early returns in Italy are enough to suggest that ‘MAAR’ could fill that role this season for the Wolverines.
“Muhammad has really gone out there and used his speed, where he has been able to get to the foul line again,” John Beilein said after a Michigan win in Italy. “That’s two games in a row (he’s gotten to the line). Right now I think what we are valuing is his ability to see the floor when he’s going his quickest.”