Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin picking up on defensive principles

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-92dc6ab3f48f3a2f[1]It’s a well-known trope in college basketball that the most difficult concept for freshmen to grasp is defense. And for the majority of players, it’s true — adjusting to the speed of the college game can be difficult for even the most talented first-year players.

But according to Michigan’s coaching staff, it appears the Wolverines have a couple of anomalies in freshmen Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin. While it’s inevitable that the two guards will experience defensive ups and downs throughout the season, the coaches are excited about their defensive potential.

Michigan assistant LaVall Jordan said he has enjoyed getting to know Derrick as the guards coach and is looking forward to seeing what he allows the team to do defensively.

“It’s been good to get to know (Walton) better, spend some time with him, have some conversations,” Jordan said during an interview on WTKA’s Michigan Insider on Tuesday. “You know, you get to know these kids and develop a relationship and understand where they’re coming from and why they make the decisions that they make. That’s the fun part for us as coaches and mentors. One of the things that’s exciting about this team is defensively, being able to play with more size, more quickness on the perimeter, he’s shown the ability to really be able to get after it defensively. I think he’ll be a guy who, once he learns more about what we want to do and our defensive schemes, I think he has the ability to be a really good defender on-ball and off the ball.”

While Walton has been impressive on the defensive side of the ball, it was Zak Irvin who came in with a stellar defensive reputation. Cutting his teeth on the AAU circuit, Irvin routinely matched up with the opposing team’s best player and consistently displayed a natural talent for on-ball defense.

Irvin’s long arms on his 6-foot-6 frame make him an ideal perimeter defender for John Beilein’s defense. But it’s not just his physical tools that make him a potential defensive standout — it’s his ability to grasp Michigan’s defensive principles that impressed Michigan assistant coach Jeff Meyer.

“Zak has come in, and he has really picked up our defensive principles in a hurry — getting into the gaps, building walls, recover,” Meyer said during the WTKA interview. “And defensively, being able to get to the position you need to be in so that you can have the trust level built trust-wise into your defensive concepts. Zak has done an outstanding job of focusing and committing to the defensive end of the court. He’s doing an outstanding job with his length, his mindset, his understanding of what we’re looking for.”

The defensive progression of the two freshmen may be considered a pleasant surprise to this point, but it’s also reassuring the coaches that their offensive ability is as good as advertised. Both players are athletic and have the ability to create plays, with Walton usually creating for others while Irvin finishes his own.

Irvin, Meyer added, has already shown that he can create his own shot against college competition — his own teammates during practice. However, that ability is tempered by a tendency to get down on himself, a la Tim Hardaway Jr. The coaches are working to build his confidence and encouraging him to move on from bad possessions.

“Offensively, (Irvin is) very very comfortable shooting the basketball,” Meyer said. “A little bit like Tim in terms of the ability to really get a shot off, a good look, pretty much any time he needs to, which is really a gift because he has the ability to extend and separate off the bounce and with his shooting ability. The whole idea of him being able to add value and make contributions early seems very positive. He is a little bit like Tim in that every possession is a competitive possession for him. He can be tough on himself if it doesn’t go well for him. We as a coaching staff, as mentors, are aware of that and we try to stay positive with that and keep him in a positive mindset. He can be really tough on himself because he is a great competitor.”

Where Zak creates his own shots, Walton creates for others. Jordan especially praised Walton’s ability to find the sweet spot with his passes, knowing not just when to hit his teammates but even where they like the ball when they catch it and placing them in a position to finish with said ball placement.

According to Jordan, Walton is more of a pass-first point guard than departed Michigan lead guard Trey Burke was.

“Derrick, he’s a competitor. It’s been good to watch. In practice, the battles at matchups and when we scrimmage have been intense,” Jordan said. “I think he’s a really gifted passer, to where he can make it easy for guys to just catch, whether you’re a shooter spotting up on the perimeter or whether you’re a big cutting or rolling through the post near the basket, Derrick can find you. That’s his gift and just something he does really well.

“In terms of the conversations that we’ve had over the past couple weeks, looking to score more, to be able to set up the pass. Trey was more of a hunter by nature. Trey could compete and you were always worried that he could get 30 on you, whereas Derrick has the ability to score and finish around the basket, and he can make the jumpshot when he’s open, but his first instinct is to look for others. Just having the conversation of how and when to do what and finding that sweet spot. As a young guy, you’re trying to do what coach says, you’re trying to run the plays, you’re trying to understand how everything goes here, but not losing that aggressive instinct and what you do and what you bring to the table naturally is always a sweet spot as a freshman.”

Photo Credit: MLive

  • Alex

    If the defense can be improved from last year we may be in for a special year. I think the offense is going to be fine although the big thing is finding the go to guy in crunch time. The defense was an issue at times last year and if that picks up significantly watch out. All three guys are great additions to the team and can’t wait till bball season starts again.

  • Mattski

    The interview is really worth a listen–even as they remain strongly positive about them, the coaches are very forthcoming about the kids and their development. Clearly, they believe that Spike has a place on the court. They also referred to Horford as a possible high-volume shooter at crunchtime (!), and say that it is only this year that they think that fans will start to see what he’s capable of.

    One thing that interested me a lot was Jordan (I think) noting that McGary not only hopes they can run the offense through him, but do that from many positions on the court (paraphrasing with all this, I hope correctly). He said this is possible, that the issue there is TOs, whether McGary can hang onto the ball.

    This got me to thinking about a debate we’ve held here sometimes–which player’s development do you think will be most crucial to the team’s success this year? Your opinions about this could change after listening to the interview. . .

    • DingoBlue

      Development from last year? Or development over the course of this season?

      From last year, it probably is Caris or Stauskas. GRIII is a proven scorer and him filling into that role better is just good news. Having a heady, capable ball-handler be able to initiate some offense and create for others while being able to creat your own shot is going to be key. This is where Nik or Caris will be needed (envisioning one of them at the 2).

      Development over the course of this season I think is obviously Derrick Walton. He needs to be healthy the whole season and the sooner he’s a capable floor-leader, the better.

    • arsenal926

      Theres tons of players who can add an extra dimension to the team, but as far as the most important I’d have to go with GR3. A couple of days ago Nick Baumgardner tweeted ,”Mitch McGary has a ceiling. Trey Burke had a ceiling. So did Hardaway. Robinson? I’m not so sure …”
      Also you add in the comments Jeff Goodman had regarding GR3 being the most impressive player he saw and it seems like he has limitless potential.

      • Wayman Britt

        There is no doubt GR3 has athletic talent and I agree he has limitless potential, I just hope his mental game is improved. There were many times last year he was timid and nobody even knew he was on the floor.

        • guestavo

          Might have something do with playing out of position….

        • Chezaroo

          I believe that was just his personality to be deferential. He undoubtedly will take a much bigger leadership role this year sans the loss of Trey and Tim. It was very frustrating last year to see so much talent and ability not exploited to its best use. But I don’t believe that will be the case this year. I think we are going to see a vastly confident and attacking player, that knows it is his time. But I would be remiss not to acknowledge your concerns about his mental game knowing your background Wayman. Let’s hope he has grown in that area as well. On a side note, very sad to see that Flint Northern has closed. I’m am well aware of the numerous athletic standouts ( including yourself) that played for the Vikings! Fond memories for us all.

          • Wayman Britt

            Pseudo Name

          • Chezaroo

            Convinced me!

    • Mattski

      Before listening I would have said Walton, hands down. But it’s clear we can be in good hands with several other people playing guard, and that takes some of the pressure off. Now I would have to say GRIII or McGary, or even–to be a little bit wild here–how those two combine/conspire to bring down the house. I think that Morgan and Stauskas may really come up big in more defined roles. And my surprise candidate is Horford; I have long thought he could be a monster, and the interviews tend to confirm it. If McGary is slow recovering Horford will be all the more important.

  • Ben Sheler

    Michigan had some of its best games when Trey did not put up big point totals. What Trey did was score when no one else could get anything going. If the opposition was playing great defense Trey could take over and score when no one else could. The question in terms of replacing his presence is that if the across the board improvements will limit the amount of games in which the team will struggle as a whole.on offense and thus the need to have one player go out and do everything. Walton seems to be great for a team that will need to utilize its overall improvements in creating an offense that will not (and likely can not) need to rely on one player bailing them out.