Zak Irvin capable of “same strides” as Caris LeVert

Alejandro Zúñiga

The name is Camp Sanderson, and the results are unquestionable.

Spend a summer with Michigan strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson, and you’ll reap the benefits throughout the upcoming season.

Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert did it last summer. Trey Burke made the leap before his sophomore season.

Spend a summer in Camp Sanderson, and you’ll improve your vertical jump, or your sprint speed. You’ll certainly enter fall practices a much stronger player.

So don’t be surprised if forward Zak Irvin makes a similar progression to Stauskas, LeVert or Burke this winter. Actually, be surprised if he doesn’t.

Since choosing to spend the summer months training with Sanderson in Ann Arbor, Irvin has added 15 pounds of muscle and five inches to his vertical leap, putting him in line for a breakout year.

“We all had the choice and opportunity to stay here, and I thought it would be best for me in terms of my development as a basketball player, whether that be agility drills or being in the weight room,” Irvin said Tuesday. “When we’re in the weight room, there are no days off and no slacking. We’re giving it 110% every time we are in there.

“I don’t want to be one-dimensional like I was last year, being just a shooter. I want to be able to shoot the ball from the outside and score easy baskets as well.”

Not that Irvin was a liability last season. He shot 42.5% on 3-pointers, averaging 6.7 points while coming off the bench in all 37 of the Wolverines’ games. He didn’t drive to the basket frequently, but then again, Michigan didn’t need him to. Stauskas, LeVert and Derrick Walton took care of that.

From a shooting aspect alone, Irvin should see some improvement from his already-stellar freshman campaign. Last season, the combination of his vertical and unconventional release made his shots difficult to defend. Add a few inches to Irvin’s release point, and he should have no issues finding looks.

But much like Stauskas expanded beyond his role as a spot-up, outside shooter in 2012-13, Michigan coach John Beilein expects Irvin to use his increased strength to diversify his offensive arsenal.

“He made big baskets for us as a freshman; so did Caris,” Beilein said. “Now, what’s the next progression? Getting in the lane, finding people and playing off the dribble.”

And early indications suggest he may do just that.

Irvin should move into a starter’s role at the three (left-side wing) while sometimes filling in at the four, positions he manned during the team’s 10-day trip to Italy over the summer.

Though the Wolverines faced severely overmatched competition overseas, the first look at Irvin post-Sanderson was incredibly promising. He averaged nearly 21 points while grabbing 7.8 rebounds per game, making 67% of his threes from beyond FIBA’s line that’s 16 inches longer than the college one.

Irvin didn’t need to drive to the basket, but he did that well on limited opportunities. And in addition to his newfound rebounding prowess, he improved as a defender, too. Perhaps the only area in which Irvin didn’t impress was in distributing the ball — he averaged just 1.3 assists on the trip.

As we heard ad nauseam last year, LeVert and Stauskas bulked up under Sanderson and improved across the board in 2013-14. While that has created lofty expectations for Irvin, Beilein isn’t downplaying them.

“He’s making a lot of the same strides that we saw Caris make from his freshman to his sophomore year,” Beilein said.

The prospect of a knock-down shooter who can rebound and attack the basket should excite any Michigan fan. Play Irvin alongside Walton and LeVert, and the Wolverines could have a trio of veteran slashing options who are also deadly behind the arc.

That’s the high standard LeVert, Stauskas, Burke and Hardaway have set recently. But Irvin believes he’s ready to become the next alumnus of Camp Sanderson to meet that bar.

“I was so one-dimensional last year, just being able to shoot the three,” Irvin said. “Versus this year, not only shooting the three, but actually getting to the basket, rebounding, helping the team in other areas on the court.

“One year under my belt, I have more experience, know more about the physicality I’m going to have to go against this year. I think I’m definitely going to be prepared after staying up here for the spring and summer.”

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  • jakerblue

    his offernsive spark off the bench was so critical in some games last year. Is there anyone on the bench that can provide that instant offense this year? Do you have Spike to hit those 3’s, it doesn’t seem like we have anyone else on the bench with that kind of shooting ability. Or is the offensive spark just going to come in a different form this year, like instead of coming from 3’s maybe it comes from MAAR driving right to the hoop.

    • Great question. Spike brings the shooting. MAAR the dribble drive. Aubrey the bounce and maybe shooting.

      Will be interesting to see how those minutes are divided.

      • jakerblue

        seems like that may mean it will be tougher to mount a comeback if they fall behind, if JB has to make a choice everytime and doesn’t have a sure option like Irvin was to come in and score some quick points

        • David DeMember

          In addition, I think for the first time in a long time, we may be able to start and bring a big man off the bench (donnal / Doyle) that we can dump the ball down low for some post offense or kick outs. Morgan is/was amazing, but he was never a true back to the basket guy. McGary had potential, but we never got to see it :/

    • mikey_mac

      In what looks like a somewhat down B1G year, Spike, as an upperclassman with a great outside stroke and enough handle to pressure a defense, becomes a real bench weapon, I think.

    • Richmond_Eric

      Zak’s spark off the bench against Minnesota may have been the most critical moment of the B1G (even entire?) season! I remember that lots of people were down on the team entering the conference schedule, GR3 went down with an ankle (?), in comes Mr. Irvin and hits 5 treys to save the day! Of course there were other big moments and performances, but without that first road win, who knows?

      Go Blue!

      • jakerblue

        That Minnesota game was definitely in my mind when I was writing that comment

  • Richmond_Eric

    Go Zak! I am really rooting for him to breakout. His patience last year being sixth man will pay off big time this year. I heard during many a telecast last year that he would have been starting on most other teams in the nation. Anyway, our “big 3” will be outstanding this year and JB will have the entire team playing a very entertaining brand of basketball again.

    Can’t wait, Go Blue!!