‘Camp Sanderson’ pays off for Zak Irvin

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan 70, Arizona 72-10
Dustin Johnston

The phrase ‘Camp Sanderson’ has become ubiquitous with offseason improvement in Ann Arbor.

The skill work, drills and testing that originally made John Beilein’s offseason regimen famous are still present, but last year Caris LeVert and Nik Stauskas set a new benchmark. The duo stayed on campus all summer – enrolling in both summer semesters rather than the traditional single session – and dedicated themselves in the weight room with strength coach Jon Sanderson.

“There’s been a major push from guys who want to be here the whole summer,” Beilein said earlier this offseason. “I expect many of our guys will be there. But I don’t have all the numbers. We’re not saying we want people to come back for both summer sessions. We definitely want them for one. It’s going to be completely up to them for that first session. All I know is it really paid off for Caris and Nik. But it was their choice to do that, and that’s what’s important.”

The hard work paid dividends as both Stauskas and LeVert added strength and broke out as sophomore stars. Stauskas added 15 pounds, checking in at 205, and progressed from a complementary shooter to the Big Ten Player of the Year and a top-ten pick. LeVert also added 15 pounds of muscle, up to 185 pounds, and was Michigan’s second best player last season – something no one would have imagined last summer.

But now Stauskas, Robinson and McGary are gone and LeVert has been sidelined most of the summer after foot surgery. The summer baton has been passed to Michigan’s new sophomores, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton. Both players stayed for Camp Sanderson and have already made strides in their physique. 

Irvin’s offseason strength gain – he’s up 15 pounds to 215 — was obvious according to observers at the Adidas Nations camp in Garden Grove, California. Irvin reflected on his physical development after participating in a game with other college stars from across the country.

“I’m definitely getting stronger,” Irvin said at Adidas Nations. “I know that was a big thing (entering this season). That was the big jump I wanted to make between my freshman and my sophomore years and also become more of a complete player. Last year I shot a lot of threes, this year I’m trying to get to the basket.”

Irvin played mostly out of position at the four spot last season and was forced to learn just how difficult the game can be in the frontcourt. Standing at 6-foot-6, he’ll hope to move down the lineup, but should be more prepared to battle this season. Irvin learned exactly how physical basketball can be after his freshman year.

“Playing in the Big Ten, it’s a physical conference and I have to be able to use my body more to finish around the basket,” Irvin said.

Back at Adidas Nations after participating in the event as a high-schooler two years ago, Irvin is trying to turn his added muscle into results. Hoping to demonstrate how he’s diversified his game, Irvin reflected on his improvement.

“I’m trying to be more than just a spot up shooter like I was last year,” he reiterated. “Just get more into ball screens and I’ve definitely worked on my ball handling as well.”

While Irvin’s physical improvements were clear, the results on the court in California didn’t quite match up to the hard work in the weight room. Irvin still struggled to show off his complete game and his improved handle.

“I really wanted to see Irvin do more using dribble penetration,” NBC Sports’ Scott Phillips told UM Hoops. “He was still solid as a catch-and-shoot option — generally receiving looks from camp teammate Walton — and ran a bit hot and cold with his jumper but he was mostly steady in that capacity. But when he put the ball on the floor, Irvin had trouble creating and making his own shots and got stripped a couple of times in traffic. Irvin did do a nice job of moving without the ball and spotting up in prime shooting locations, obviously helped by his familiarity with having his own point guard there. Defensively, Irvin was so-so, as he did a decent job of tracking shooters off of down screens but he rarely made notable impact plays on that end of the floor that resulted in turnovers.”

Zak Irvin will have a prominent role in Michigan’s offense this season, even if he is just a bigger and stronger version of the player that he was last year. John Beilein’s offense needs shooters and cutters as much as it needs creators and both Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton appear poised to serve as Michigan’s creators. But if Irvin is going to take the next step, he’ll have to continue to diversify his game, showing off those dribble pull-ups and straight line drives that he was capable of at the prep level.

Quotes special to UM Hoops from Scott Phillips (@phillipshoops) of NBC Sports at Adidas Nations in Garden Grove, California.

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  • Well-written post. Nothing’s stopping Irvin from scoring 13-16 PPG if he can finish at the rim and do some work off the dribble this year. If he can fill the scoring role that Caris executed so brilliantly behind Nik last season, Michigan should see success again. If he doesn’t, then we’ll need more from Walton and Chatman/the other freshmen. Either way, it’s nice to have options.

  • sane1

    I think that Zak’s progression will be more like THJ’s. May never be a great ball handler but keep improving it and his ability to dribble drive, while solidifying his deep shooting. Nik’s frosh to soph progression was a rare phenomenon and as much utilizing what he already had as developing his game further. I fully expect Zak to play his junior year here. Would like to see him use his added strength on the boards, too.

    • The Tim Hardaway Jr. progression is interesting. Tim was a much better jumper which really allowed him to explode in transition. But Zak’s ability to not be a true creator, but grow as a shooter/straight line driver seems more realistic.

      • John

        Agree. I think you hit it spot on. THJ is a better pure off the screen pull up shooter. Especially when is on his game. Zak does have much more potential to do other mid range shooting because I believe he can create more opportunities in that area. He has that cross over game that we seen in high school.
        THJ was much explosive getting out on the break. Similar to GR3. We will see but THJ made his living shooting bombs. If Irvin can diversify his game somewhat like Stauskas then we are in business.

    • Kenny

      THJ has a respectable handle for a 2G, and he was pretty good creating off ball screening even as a freshman. His handle was not his strength, but was never bad either, people picked on his handle mostly because of his famous father.

      • sane1

        IMO, THJ’s handle was pretty loose as a frosh and a soph. Another factor is knowing when to go and when to give it up. Nik was great at that, having a feel for when to put the ball on the floor, recognizing an opening, instead of driving into traffic. THJ, and probably Zak, had to learn that.

        • Kenny

          It is not fair to compare THJr’s handle to Stauskas’s. The latter had the ability to play quasi-PG coming out of high school, and are expected to be in such role in NBA. As a 2G, Nik’s handle is excellent if not exceptional. Nobody ever expect THJr to play quasi-PG, not in college, not as a pro. But his handle is at least average for a 2G and, as you said, knows how to play within himself.

          Irvin’s handle is a notch below THJr and he needs to improve it to be able to create any offense. I see him playing mostly at 4 next season while Chatman is our 3rd option in terms of creating offense.

          • John

            Nope. Irvin isn’t going to play the #4 spot. His handle is a notch below THJ? I am assuming you are comparing at the same stage. We must have been watching different players because Irvin is no worse than THJ at the same stage in creating off the dribble.
            This isn’t necessarily a shot at you Kenny but I have noticed fans who engage in this romanticizing phase of ex-players. They were better after their careers than actually were during their careers. Sort of an appreciation of their efforts.
            I understand. THJ was a good player for UM but in no instances was he some guy who could create off the dribble unless he got a pick or took one bounce and then shot.
            Maybe he can do that now at the Pro level but he sure wasn’t doing that 98% of the time in college.

          • Kenny

            As a freshman, THJr had 59 assists and went FT line 119 times. Irvin had 13 assists and 23 FT’s. Irvin’s minutes were about half of THJr’s, but even after adjust for that, THJr was much better creating offense and getting to the FT lines.

          • geoffclarke

            Hardaway was the 2nd option to DMo. Irvin came off the bench and even then as the 4th offensive option. Different roles. Case closed.

          • John

            Agree. This is for Kenny. I respect your opinion.
            Irvin .4
            THJ 1.3
            3 to 1. More PT for THJ. More reliance on THJ which should also explain why THJ had more assists. More risk.
            Lets agree to wait till this coming year to see exactly what Irvin brings to the table. I would definitely take Irvin as good offensively as THJ. If he is 80% of Nik then we have a deal.

          • John

            You had THJ playing with Morris. I don’t recall THJ creating offense off the dribble unless their was a pick. He had alley oops. He probably finished off of passes of Morris but in no way was THJ better a creating offense.
            You can get an assist now by passing the ball to a player and having the shooter create his shot on his own.
            THJ was a vital cog in the machine his frosh year. Irvin was playing with Stauskas & LeVert. You also need to factor in TO’s which I will go look up.
            I guess if Irvin was allowed more freedom by JB last year then I am sure Irvin could have created more offense but with more TO’s.

          • I think Irvin is definitely the three offensively because if Zak and Kameron are on the floor together then Chatman is going to play the four as a lefty. Positions are almost identical within the offense, just depends what direction Michigan runs stuff.

          • Kenny

            Good point that Chatman is a lefty and naturally should play on the left side of the court, I never paid attention to that. If this is the case, Irvin needs to improve his shooting from the right corner, from where he was pretty good but not as good as from the left corner.

          • Chatman will play on the right side of the floor as a lefty because coming from the right wing you generally attack with your left hand to the middle of the floor.

        • John

          1.9 turnovers average his soph and junior years. Something tells me Zak is going to have some sloppy turnovers this coming year. Has to play within himself. He isn’t Nik or Caris

  • Arn P

    I hope Irvin isn’t putting too much pressure on himself to be “more than just a spot-up shooter.” He keeps emphasizing that over and over in interviews, like the “just a shooter” tag is bothering him.

    There’s nothing wrong with being a phenomenal shooter and having his offense flow from that. Even if he just repeats his Freshman shooting performances, and adds a few other elements here and there, that’d make for a fantastic sophomore season.