2015-16 Player Preview: DJ Wilson

Dylan Burkhardt

With the start of college basketball just weeks away, we’re breaking down Michigan’s roster player-by-player. Today we look at redshirt freshman big man DJ WilsonPreviously: Aubrey Dawkins, Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Spike Albrecht.

Anyone who saw the 24 minutes that DJ Wilson played last season probably doesn’t expect him to make an impact this season. He played 15 minutes against Division I foes and was 0-of-2 from the floor with two blocks, two rebounds and four fouls. His only made field goal in a Michigan uniform before being sidelined with a knee injury was in a 24-point rout of Division II Hillsdale College.

But even for those who saw Wilson’s lack of production, his potential was obvious. Even as a 6-foot-9, 220 pound freshman with a scrawny long arms — Wilson showed promise on length alone. He suffered a knee injury and shut things down for the season and put his redshirt season to good use. Looking at Wilson now, it appears that the year in the weight room could have been the best thing for his career.

Now he stands 6-foot-10, 235 pounds with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and looks like he’s ready to play Division I basketball.


Camp Sanderson pays off

When Wilson committed to Michigan, he was never expected to be an instant impact player. He had missed significant time during his high school career due to several injuries (most notably a stress fracture of the fifth lumbar vertebra in his lower back) and his slender frame didn’t look ready to make an instant impact by any stretch. But the potential was there which is why he was regarded as a top-100 prospect. With a wing-span measuring in at 7-foot-2 and a solid skillset, Wilson’s best basketball was ahead of him, he just needed to realize it.

The numbers in the photo above speak for themselves. After a year and a half in the gym with Jon Sanderson, Wilson increased his vertical jump by 7 inches, gained 20 pounds, improved his quickness and gained strength across the board.

“He’s 235 now, but he’s trying to play at 235 instead of like he’s 190,” John Beilein said at Michigan Media Day. “Every day there’s something new that happens with DJ and we say okay that’s the right step. There’s some habits that you have (when you add weight) that he’s trying to change.”

For comparison, Nik Stauskas added 12 pounds and 5 1/2 inches to his vertical jump after his freshman year. We aren’t quite sure where Wilson’s numbers started, but his physical development is eye-opening.

Four or five?

Nobody is sure yet if Wilson fits into Michigan’s rotation. The Wolverines don’t have many spots up for grabs and we haven’t really seen Wilson play other than a few hours of light drills in practice, open gym whispers and other general preseason prognostications. In other words, not much.

But the far more interesting question is if Wilson is going to be a rotation player for Michigan, then where will he play?

“What will D.J.’s ultimate position be once we get settled? Will he be at the five?” Bacari Alexander said during a radio interview on WTKA. “If so, we’re talking about a three-headed monster and I’m reminded of previous seasons where you had Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, Mitch McGary and Max Bielfeldt as an emergency big.”

The easiest route to playing time is at the five spot. There 40 minutes to be split between four players — Wilson, Ricky Doyle, Mark Donnal and Moritz Wagner. Doyle played significant minutes last season and is a safe bet to do the same this year, but there are definitely minutes up for grabs in the mix.

It’s easy to love Wilson as a ball screen defender at the five spot. He has the length to contest and presumably the versatility to switch out onto ball handlers in the pick and roll game. The concerns about Wilson as a center grow as we get closer to the basket. Can he feasibly hold his own physically against bigger and stronger players in the post? That’s the million dollar question.

At the four spot, things are much more crowded. Aubrey Dawkins and Zak Irvin both play the wing spots and look like good bets to play 30 minutes or more per game. To play those kind of minutes, one will be spending extensive time at the four. Kameron Chatman’s natural position is also four and Michigan’s guards could also be pushed up a spot if the Wolverines go with a two-point guard look.

Michigan coaches say that Wilson is destined to play the four in the long-term, but does he have the necessary shooting, passing and ball-handling skills to play there this season?

A shot blocking threat

Michigan has never ranked better than 255th in block rate under John Beilein. Over the last seven years those numbers check in at 340th, 308th, 255th, 310th, 311th, 309th, 226th.

The Wolverines have really had one true shot blocking threat, Ekpe Udoh, and he transferred after one season under Beilein.

“We can do some things defensively, we can play zone with that type of height if we want to play both guys,” Beilein said. “We have four guys that are 6-9 to 6-10 and how many minutes are out there for them? I would think that would be evolving all year long. “

Given the fact that Wilson’s wing-span measures over 7-foot tall and he added 7 inches to his vertical leap, he has the potential to be one of Michigan’s best shot blocking threats under Beilein.

Rebounding will drive production

The versatility, the length and the potential are likely to come down to one thing: can DJ Wilson attack the glass, box out and grab rebounds. We haven’t seen that from Wilson quite yet, but we know he has some ability. He’ll likely face a constant battle to be more physical and aggressive around the basket, especially early on this season.

Michigan has never been great in the middle under John Beilein and last year was one of the worst seasons for the Wolverines inside. They struggled to defend post-up scorers and were ranked 279th in 2-point defense, 203rd in 20-point offense, 325th in offensive rebounding and 175th in defensive rebounding. Those numbers are all ugly. Simply put, Michigan needs to be better on the interior in 2015-16.

Wilson has the potential to add a unique skillset to that mix, but he has to prove he can play with the physicality necessary to produce.

  • Chillax

    Sweet Mama Jama!!!!!

  • DingoBlue

    Honestly to me the biggest X-Factor on the team. I have some idea what we will get from Aubrey, but if DJ Wilson is providing quality backup minutes at the 5 or maybe the 4, then I increment my expectations for the team.

  • JJ3ball

    Seems like DJ Wilson still has a perimeter mentality. If he wants to play, he’s going to have to contribute in the paint, rebounding and defending. I find him capable. It’s a question of defining his role for this season and his commitment to flourishing in the role the coaches see for him.
    The little I saw of Wilson last season leads me to believe he can be an energy guy off the bench this season. He and MAAR are the two guys capable of disrupting the opponent on the defensive end of the floor. If Wison accepts this role, I see him as the first Big off the bench spelling Doyle.

    • DetroitDan

      Yes. Wilson was extremely high energy last year. To me, he’s our best hope to become a much better rebounding and defensive team.

  • MChem83

    I see Wilson being the first guy off the bench to spell Doyle, and getting somewhere between 5 and 15 minutes a game at the 5 (hopefully more towards the higher end). If he’s not good enough to be in the regular rotation, that’ll mean he’s still behind Donnal, which will not be good. I’d be very surprised if we saw him and Doyle on the court together as 4/5 except in very limited situations. I just don’t see him and Doyle both being good enough to get Beilein to change his fundamental habit of only playing one big and using two 2’s or two 3’s.

    That being said, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that a redshirt freshman Wilson will do at least as well this year as a true freshman Doyle did last year, being more athletic to begin with and having another year of conditioning. If Doyle also shows some improvement, we should at least be adequate in the middle. We’re not going to be great inside under any likely scenario, but we have the shooters to cover a lot of other flaws.

    One question I haven’t seen anyone address: Will the shorter shot clock help teams that have weaker interior defense?

    • DetroitDan

      Unlike, say Chatman, Wilson never got a chance to show much last year. Imagine if Walton and LeVert hadn’t gotten hurt. Then Dawkins and MAAR would still be big question marks.

    • Champswest

      I think Donnal will be first off the bench to back up Doyle. I see Wilson getting spot minutes at the 5 and possibly backing up Chatman if he is the starter at the 4. Unlike others, I would not be surprised to see Wilson at the 4 with Doyle/Donnal at the 5 in situations.

      • MChem83

        I think that if Donnal were going to be any more than a marginal player, we’d have seen signs of it by the end of last season. When a player has been in the program two years and still hasn’t shown anything, that’s a pretty good indication that they never will. I still have some hopes for Wilson, since he’s only been here a year, and his redshirt was due to injury, rather than his just not being very good. But if Donnal instead of Wilson is still in the regular rotation at the end of December, that’ll be cause for worry.

        And as noted, I’d be very, very surprised if Beilein plays two bigs any time when it matters except maybe late game free throw rebounding situations. He’ll rotate two guys at the 5, and that will be pretty much it, except for garbage time or serious foul trouble. Dawkins and Irvin will start at the 3/4 (really two 3’s, but call them what you want), with Chatman coming off the bench. The only way I see Chatman starting is if Irvin is not healthy to start the year, and even then, it will only be temporary. Both Dawkins and Irvin were playing much better than Chatman at the end of last season, and there’s no indication that Chatman has improved enough to jump ahead of either of them.

  • X-7

    Since it’s the end of the world and I can’t afford drugs except for cheap beer (know you need this), I’m really excited to escape into the finely-crafted (micro-brewed) read-and-react aesthetics of a Beilein-&-Staff coached team. The high character, team-first players populating the hardwoods are truly a pleasure to watch. Particularly excited to watch the progression of DJ Wilson and Duncan Robinson; and some progression-love for Mark Donnal and Derrick Walton as well.

    Maybe reading between the lines inaccurately, but in several articles regarding the ongoing evolution of Mr. Beilein’s coaching techniques, I noticed what I think may be an adoption of some of Mr. Harbaugh’s techs. Seems like these brilliant coaches would have had an off-season lunch or two to share some knowledge nuggets?
    Anyway . . . appreciate this site; Go Blue.

  • Kenny

    big unknown. I doubt DJ will be a force from day 1, may contribute later into the season if he learns how to play ball screen. I really don’t see him at 4. there are too much talents and experience on the wing and back court to not give them significant minutes. the leftover minutes at 4 will likely go to Chatman and Duncan, both have good passing abilities.

  • bobohle

    The best thing about DJ is the shot blocking ability. 2 blocked shots in 15 minutes of playing time? Thats one block every 7.5 minutes of pt. We’ll take that. How many did Doyle and Donnal have last year? Enough said.

  • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

    DJ Wilson will bring a nice defensive presence and will active on putbacks!

  • A2MIKE

    I think DJ is the biggest key to the season. If he can truly be a threat on both ends and an option at the 5 on off nights for Doyle, then this team will be in the hunt for the B1G Championship. If he struggles and becomes an indifferent option from donnal then we will be a mid tier B1G team and bubble team come March. I see this team as very similar to 2012 as far as known commodities and question marks.

  • Wayman Britt

    Historically Beilein goes 8 maybe 9 players deep on his rotation. I don’t see that changing this year. By January I see MAAR, Chatman and maybe Wilson as odd players out. I have heard some people say Wagner could red shirt, don’t see that happening because he is from Germany. He would just book for Germany his 5th year.

    • bobohle

      If Wilson is the odd man out,I hope Donnal is vastly improved!

  • Chezaroo

    Just don’t think DJ is viable at the 5. Has been a perimeter player all his life, now trying to morph into an interior presence because of body rebuilding. Don’t see it. He’ll get rooted out of the paint with little resistance right now. He’s really a stretch four who realistically is fighting for non-available minutes. Most likely candidate to be left out of the playing group when the rotation is finalized IMO. Only extreme foul trouble will allow him any appreciable time at the 5 this season. Be very surprised when the year is over if his mpg tops 5-7.

    • If there was a Jordan Morgan or some sort of steady constant at the five position then I’d agree, but what are the obvious answers? I’m not sure he doesn’t at least earn a crack.

      • Chezaroo

        Possible. But if that opportunity manifests itself than that means Doyle and Donnal have not improved a bit. If that’s the case, it’s going to be a difficult year.

        • Fair point… Friday can’t come soon enough.

          • Chezaroo

            One variable that you can’t dismiss is JB’s first half two foul benching. If/when Doyle or Donnal pick up their obligatory two quick whistles, DJ becomes a stop gap option. He just doesn’t have the lower body/core strength to be effective yet IMO. Hoping for a smarter more experienced better conditioned Doyle to grab the opportunity and run with it. That kid has got a lot of ability. A year of education in the B1G should prove fruitful.

          • Yep, I feel like three bigs in Beilein’s rotation is pretty much critical. Bacari talked about recreating the ‘three-headed monster’ of McGary, Morgan and Horford from a few years ago.

          • Chezaroo

            Big hopes for Doyle. The biggest key to us having a great year.

          • Wayman Britt

            Dylan – I assume there is no “secret” scrimmage this year with the likes of EMU or Kent State?

    • bobohle

      I tend to disagree. Sometimes you need a shot blocking presence in the rotation,whether it comes from the 4 or 5 spot. That’s what Wilson brings. Doyle and Donnal do not. Dawkins and Chatman? Maybe. Robinson and Wagner? Incomplete or unknown.

  • MikeMichelle Haggerson

    Hillsdale is a very small Div II college.