Reaction: What Mitch McGary Means to Michigan

Dylan Burkhardt

“I am excited about this new opportunity at Michigan, I wouldn’t go there if I didn’t think they could win a national championship.”

That was John Beilein in 2007 on the day he accepted the Michigan job. It sounded optimistic at best for a program that hadn’t made the tournament in nearly a decade and a coach whose reputation was built on Cinderella runs more than conference domination. Four and a half years later his plan appears to be coming together.

His first four years in Ann Arbor were far from perfect. The first season was worse than it should have been as a team with several talented players finished with one of the worst records in Michigan basketball history. The second was encouraging and rejuvenating, breaking a decade long NCAA tournament drought, but that goodwill was wiped away by a deflating and disappointing third season. Things spiraled downward throughout the first half of year four, bottoming on January 22nd with a home loss to Minnesota, but the climb back began with a trip to East Lansing.

Michigan was in the midst of a six game losing streak, hovering around .500 with a 1-6 conference record, and another loss to its in-state rivals would have served as the knock out blow to another disappointing season. Instead, the Wolverines scrapped their way to a win and haven’t looked back since. From that day on, both on the court (Michigan won 10 of its final 15 games) and on the recruiting trail, the Michigan program transformed.

It’s impossible to pin point one specific element that led to the transformation. You can credit Beilein for ceding control and allowing his new assistants a greater influence or you can credit Beilein for taking more control and revamping his entire assistant coaching staff before the 2010-11 season. Those new assistant coaches have been universally praised both for their player development – Darius Morris and Jordan Morgan are prime examples – and their recruiting prowess. Bacari Alexander, Jeff Meyer and Lavall Jordan have all played an instrumental role in at least one top-100 commitment since arriving on the job.

There’s also the construction in Ann Arbor. The Player Development Center is open for business and Crisler Arena is in the midst of a massive overhaul. In just a couple years, some of the conference’s worst facilities will transform into some of the league’s best. Gone are the days of sharing practice time with the women’s team or being relegated to the IM Building because of the annual Pow Wow in Crisler Arena.

If the win over Michigan State was the spark that triggered this perfect wave of momentum, McGary’s commitment is the kerosene to keep it burning.

Michigan basketball fans have been scarred from more than a decade of disappointment. The best way to summarize Michigan basketball in the aughts is constant cycle of hope and promise followed by disappointment, despair and frustration. Brian Elerbee brought in talented players who were more likely to end up on the police blotter than earn a diploma. Tommy Amaker did everything right but fell one recruit, game, shot or healthy ankle short – four times. It appeared that John Beilein turned the corner after making the tournament before the Wolverines fell flat on their face in 2010. As for recruiting? Big time commitments like Lavall Blanchard and Daniel Horton never quite reached their true potential while names like Joe Crawford, Malik Hairston, Al Horford, Patrick Beverley, Scottie Reynolds, Alex Legion, Casey Prather and Trey Zeigler remained etched in the memories of Wolverine fans.

Mitch McGary isn’t the first domino, he’s the final domino. John Beilein has already landed seven other top 100 players in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 classes – talented players in their own right – but McGary is the player that elevates Michigan from conference contender to national contender. On the court, McGary and his 2012 classmates join a team that could return as many as four starters. John Beilein’s best recruits to date will be competing for playing time with his most experienced and accomplished players in Ann Arbor.

Off the court the McGary commitment could be equally as important. His commitment will act as a catalyst toward Michigan’s newfound recruiting momentum. Recruits want to play with other top recruits and McGary’s pledge gives the Michigan coaches the cachet to walk into any living room and sell their school.

Now it’s time to sit back and enjoy the ride. It might have taken a bit longer than expected but John Beilein has his players and his program. Just one year after the program appeared to be on the verge of crumbling, the future and direction of Michigan basketball is as bright as it’s been since the mid 1990s.

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    “Just one year after the program appeared to be on the verge of crumbling, the future and direction of Michigan basketball is as bright as it’s been since the mid 1990s.”

    Hell yes.

    • TMURDA

      Dylan, thanks for your coverage today (and every day)

  • Devin

    Great piece, you’ve got me pumped up for the exhibition game tomorrow!! 

  • Bill

    Hopefully this opens doors to a level of player you need to win in the Big Ten and lets hope the team play we have been seeing continues. The consistency in recruiting is what keeps programs at a high level and it’s about time. Hoo Hoo!

  • Josh

    Great article Dylan! What a great day to be a Wolverine…been waiting for a moment like this for a decade and than some!! McGary is the man, but there is so much more coming with him too! I want this season to start tonight…and I can’t wait to see the growth from the players from last season. So excited right now!

    Go Blue!!

  • Lankownia

    good stuff

    • wes

      Nice piece Dylan… What a great day!!!  I will say this, if things develop like they could and we start raising Banners in Crisler, I really think Zach Novak should have statue somewhere. I think his play at Mich State last year was the single moment that all the momentum changed… Go Blue!!!!

  • meechigan
  • Wayman Britt

    Dylan – excellent article.  Nice recap of the recent history of UM basketball. 

    Having experienced the pain, frustration and agony of the Ellerbee and Amaker years, the last years under Beilein have been promising with the future looking very very bright.

  • The Yooper

    When I (hopefully) arrive in Ann Arbor in 2013, hopefully the ball will still be rolling and we get a couple more All-Americans to look forward to.

  • section13row15

    The talent level in Ann Arbor in 2012 and 2013 will be amazing! Nice piece, Dylan.

  • Stasselin

    Well written Dylan!, awesome, I am so excited for this season & the future, GO BLUE!!

  • FGCU Maize Rage

    I’m not usually one for looking way ahead to the future and making predictions with so many unknown variables… but my god this team will be a Final Four contender if Timmy stays for another few years and leaders emerge after Zack and Stu graduate.

  • Mattski

    Two quotes that I love from Sam Webb’s piece in today’s DetNews (and wow can that guy write; the News puts the freep to shame in terms of quality AND integrity): 

    “I think it’s massive,” Daniels said. “And I think what makes it even bigger is they’ve got a guy that is improving tremendously in Glenn Robinson. I think Glenn Robinson has an outside shot at possibly making a run for (the) McDonald’s (All-American game). Mitch McGary coupled with the other guys they have in this class — it’s program changing.””There’s absolutely no prima donna to him at all,” [said Snow]. He’ll run through a wall for you, he’ll dive on the floor. Then he is a pretty good athlete. He can really face the rim and handle the ball, especially against centers. He also scores down low, blocks shots, and he is one of the better rebounders in the country.

    From The Detroit News:’s-best-‘the-moment-he-walks-on-campus’#ixzz1cgxOGSwK

  • Tserfix

    This is so good to hear. Can’t wait to see how this plays out.

  • GoBLUE

    dylan, appreciate all the coverage today (and everyday). I think this is one of the better posts. Thank you for covering Mbball for as long as you have. I enjoy that your style hasn’t changed, even in the worst of times. Always even-keeled with your reporting. The potential for this team is great. Rather than making predictions or listing expectations, we should just “go for the ride”…there isnt a truer statement.  So cheers to the potential and growth of this team, and the teams in the future. Go Blue

  • Alex

    McGary sounds like the ultimate package: talent and willingness to play for the team. I was extremely excited to hear he’ll be joining our program but I was worried that this would hurt the team dynamic possibly. We’ve been recruiting guys that mostly stay for 3-4 years and then in comes this guy expecting to be the man without having played a second of college ball. It’s good to hear that he is a team player and not a primadona at all. I am very excited to have McGary and hope that he has a great basketball career.

  • A2JD

    Well written.

    While I really like the 2013 recruiting class, I really hope landing Mitch can couple with another successful season here in ’11-’12 to create another monster class in 2014.  I hope we are targeting more Top 10 or 20 talent.

  • Detroitbry2

    Dylan you are the man. You have been doing a great job buddy. To all the spartoons, CACKLE the dominoes have been toppled and it is a wrap, the gap is cemented shut baby bubba!

  • Bluest of the Blue

    When Beilein came in to Michigan it was said by many that Michigan would give him
    the opportunity to bring in the types of athletes that he could never have recruited at West Virginia and Richmond.  Looks like that prediction is  most assuredly coming true.

  • Brandongerth

    I Can’t wait to watch McGary vs. Zeller.