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Posted on Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 6:01 a.m.

Michigan basketball is young and inexperienced, but John Beilein has been there before

By Michael Rothstein


This will be the first season at Michigan that fourth-year coach John Beilein will have a roster full of players recruited to play in his system. file photo

There will be times during the upcoming Michigan basketball season when the Wolverines will struggle. They might look lost.

It’s all part of the growing process.

For the first time since he arrived at Michigan, fourth-year head coach John Beilein will have a team comprised solely of his recruits. That they are as young as they are wasn’t necessarily part of his plan, but this is his team. For better or worse.

“I like the process that you go through in developing a team and this is part of that process,” Beilein said earlier this month. “I have loved every team that I have coached in different ways.

“But it will be interesting to see how fast they will develop because there will be some very challenging moments this year with a young team. We can start three freshmen. That could possibly happen. You start three freshmen, anything can happen.”

Five players from last season’s team are gone. So are all three assistant coaches.

In their place, Beilein has two new assistant coaches, Bacari Alexander and LaVall Jordan, and a promoted administrative specialist in Jeff Meyer. He has four freshmen, two redshirt freshmen and no seniors on his roster.

Twice before, Beilein had teams this young and this inexperienced: His 1992-93 Canisius College team and his 2002-03 West Virginia team. Both ended up with losing records, but set up successful teams in the future.

In 1992, Beilein inherited a roster with one senior and two juniors at Canisius, his first Division I head coaching job. The rest of the team was made up of freshmen and sophomores. Those underclassmen were also the guys who played the majority of minutes.

“I think he did that because he knew we would come back for the next two or three years, because no one was going straight to the NBA or anything like that,” said Darrell Barley, who was a freshman guard at Canisius that year. “If he started with younger guys, he could put his system in and do things his way and then we could be successful in the future years.”

That team finished 10-18, but showed glimmers of hope. In the season-ending MAAC tournament, Canisius upset Iona on a last-second shot. The next year, the Golden Griffins won the league. The year after, they made the NIT semifinals and in Beilein’s fourth year went to the NCAA tournament.

“I remember the next year (Beilein’s second), we were picked second, up there,” former Canisius assistant Mike MacDonald said. “John was saying ‘Jeez, we had a terrible February but hit one shot against Iona and the whole perception of the program changed, that we’re a program on the rise.’

“I think our guys bought into it, too.”

Typically, former players and assistant coaches say it takes two years for players to fully grasp Beilein’s two-guard offense, with its intricacies and the reads he wants players to be able to make.

At Canisius, it took the majority of the first season. At West Virginia, it took a couple of years. Both times, though, he was working with a young group he could mold into his own instead of taking another coach’s upperclassmen recruits and making it work.

Beilein’s first year at West Virginia was a struggle. The freshman class, including Kevin Pittsnogle, revamped the culture as it went 14-15 overall and 5-11 in the Big East. As they learned, they bought in to Beilein’s system and grasped it -- even if they didn’t run it very well.

By their second year, they reached the NIT. The third year, they went to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. Much of it was because of the foundation they built in the first year.

It was in that year, both former Mountaineers player Patrick Beilein and former West Virginia assistant Matt Brown said, the Mountaineers understood exactly how to play.

“When the kids figure out how to play, it’s really, really good,” said Brown, now the head coach at Missouri-Kansas City. “It’s hard to guard, hard to prepare for, especially when you have short windows in league play. It’s very, very difficult because few teams play that way.

“It could also make you look really, really bad, too, as kids learn it. So there’s obviously a big learning curve.”

There are similarities between those two teams and Michigan’s current group. First, the Wolverines are going to rely on youth, especially in the frontcourt, where two players who have never played a college basketball game are likely to start.

Second, this might be the deepest and most skilled group Beilein has had in Ann Arbor. At some point or another, Beilein has praised the basketball savvy of every player on his current team, something that often leads to success in his system.

Third, those previous players in their year of struggle built a foundation for the future years. That is perhaps one area where Michigan is ahead of those Canisius and West Virginia teams. The Wolverines have experienced players in Stu Douglass, Zack Novak and Darius Morris that have already fully bought in to Beilein’s system.

“They have a good core of guys with that same type of attitude,” said Patrick Beilein, a freshman on the 02-03 WVU team, a former graduate manager at Michigan and now an assistant coach at Dartmouth. “No one expects them to be anything this year after losing DeShawn (Sims) and Manny (Harris).

“Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, Darius Morris have that chip on their shoulder, 'Just because Manny and DeShawn are gone doesn’t mean we can’t play.'

“They have that attitude.”

Fourth, much like those Canisius and West Virginia teams, many of Michigan’s current players weren’t superstar recruits. But they are players who understand team concepts.

“He was a guy that bred confidence in all of us,” Barley said. “We all were confident and tough. He doesn’t have to say it now because he’s at Michigan, but his favorite saying was ‘Those guys are McDonald’s All-Americans. You guys eat at McDonald’s.’

“That was his favorite line.”

He doesn’t need to go there now -- even though none of his current players were McDonald’s All-Americans -- but at both West Virginia and Michigan, Beilein has had a habit of taking under-the-radar recruits and molding them into a successful team by developing skill and shooting.

So, like those first two teams, they feel the need to show they can be good, too.

“I think those teams were very hungry to prove themselves,” John Beilein said. “They played with a chip on their shoulder. This team may have a little bit of that, as well.”

Michael Rothstein covers Michigan basketball for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.



Tue, Oct 26, 2010 : 3:16 a.m.

This program is becoming stale. Apathy is setting in as there are no expectations for this team. Beilein's program is no different than Amaker's program, both are irrelevant. This is JB's 4th season and there is no noise that the team will be good this season.


Mon, Oct 25, 2010 : 10:37 p.m.

John doesn't have any experienced players because he keeps running off the guys with experience i. e. Manny. This is John's 4th year so he had better PRODUCE! Last year was a complete disappointment. I had better not hear him say a thing about being young in the post game interviews. John used that excuse up 4 years ago. I am still debating about whether or not I want to make the considerable drive and put my tush in Crisler.


Mon, Oct 25, 2010 : 9:03 p.m.

@Trevor, Didn't Dom Pointer recently commit to St. Johns, an NYC school? I'm concerned that he might not have wanted to play for Beilein.

thomas h blaske

Mon, Oct 25, 2010 : 8:05 p.m.

we're gonna win same number of games this season as we did last season, & THAT"S progress also, gonna be much fun to watch keep the faith friends! good times ahead


Mon, Oct 25, 2010 : 6:45 p.m.

Tater, Almost sounds a little bit like slander that you are tossing Izzo's direction. Did you sit in on the recruiting pitches... or are you just making up your stories? And after 6 final fours, 13 consecutive NCAA trips, a national championship... you still can't give credit to Izzo for doing a good job (heck I'm not even saying you have to say he's God's gift to coaches), and that MSU made a darn good hire with Izzo, and Izzo has created something special at MSU. But you know what, if you can't I don't care. MSU is an elite basketball power. And one last thing... how does that phrase go... something like... if you don't learn from the past, you are bound to repeat it. Just curious how Rich Rodriguez is working out for you? I think Dantonio is building that fence you are mentioning.


Mon, Oct 25, 2010 : 8:21 a.m.

JB is a good guy but his offense is too complex to be practical. This program is stagnant like Amaker's program. There are no expectations this year and this is his 4th season.


Mon, Oct 25, 2010 : 7:58 a.m.

JB is a good guy but his offense is too complex to be practical. This program is stagnant like Amaker's program. There are no expectations this year and this is his 4th season.


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 10:42 p.m.

@ rocco: So Beilein didn't just make a push for Dom Pointer? Do Brundidge and Burke fit into your notion of small town guys? How many one-and-done caliber players has Michigan had since Rose/Webber? When's the last time you actually read an article on Michigan recruiting?

Josh Ditton

Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 9:39 p.m.

Well, nobody thought Michigan would do anything in 2008-2009, a year that featured Michigan knocking off a few Top 5 teams en route to the 2nd round of the NCAA tourney. Looking at the schedule, Michigan will probably struggle to make it to 16 wins, but it could happen. At least Beilein is making an effort to get Michigan into high profile games, playing @ 'Cuse, bringing Kansas here, etc.


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 5:51 p.m.

Beilein gets a little slack for his team making the tourney two seasons ago...but that slack will run out if they underachieve this season. I don't expect UM to be B10 champs EVERY year, but they've got to show that they are making progress towards competing and making the NCAAs on a yearly basis. By year four, we should DEFINITELY be seeing that. Outside of year two under Beilein, this team has done worse than they did under the previous regime. Again, he's a class act and has earned some slack, but he's got to show some major steps this season.


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 5:05 p.m.

Tater tot should stick to being this week's Heisman trophy candidate.

Michael Rothstein

Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 4:41 p.m.

Michael, You're right. That was my error. It's been fixed. Thanks for catching that.


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 4:07 p.m.

Hey Michael Rothstein get the facts straight. "The freshman class, along with redshirt freshman Kevin Pittsnogle," Kevin Pittsnogle was not a red shirt freshman. He was recruited by Gale Catlett.So when Beilein took the WVU job in April of 2002, the first trip he made was to the Pittsnogle house in Martinsburg to convince Kevin to stay on board. He was never a redshirt freshman, but don't let the facts get in the way of a good story.


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 3:52 p.m.

Oh Tater you and your opinions you really crack me up. We can't win games beacause JB is looking for the diamond in the rough. His offense will not work for big ten. Martin made huge mistakes in hiring the WEST VIRGINIA DUO. I don't remember ever thinking hey I wish we are West Virginia.................... Izzo will always dominate Michigan and the whole Cleaves era was before Michigan got busted. So there goes your argument Tater.


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 2:50 p.m.

The Michigan basketball team is going to surprise people this year. I don't think they'll be a 20-win team, but 16 or 17 wins is not out of the question... GO BLUE!


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 12:15 p.m.

Bill Martin gives Beilein a contracy extension. Makes no sense.


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 12:03 p.m.

Tater, hes changing the culture but for the worse. It excludes major players from urban public schools (Manny Harris type players), any high risk high gain players (Rumeal Robinson type players), any strong individual players who might jump to the NBA after a season or two (Chris Webber type players). What were left with are nice, compliant, moderately skilled, small town guys from mostly well-established families. Its like a Bobby Knight team without the talent. His culture is inappropriate for a major public university with a strong commitment to diversity, innovation, and progressive change.


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 11:09 a.m.

Tater you just crack me up with anti-MSU spew...


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 10:29 a.m.

XTR...the roster has finally been purged of all players who were recruited by an unwelcome, unqualified other words, things start looking up THIS YEAR

Macabre Sunset

Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 10:16 a.m.

Many consistently good teams are young, because the elite players leave for the NBA early. Major college basketball is all about recruiting, and Beilein really hasn't done a good job in that department.


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 9:29 a.m.

This is sounding like a broken record with U of M basketball. Beilein is a fine and decent man. However, it might be time for Brandon to change coaches (thanks Bill Martin for the contract extension). It doesn't look to me like John Beilein can recruit players for the Big Ten. We will be "little brother" to MSU for the forseeable future in basketball.


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 9:05 a.m.

I do not know why the article is saying something like Beilein is starting over etc etc. This is his 4th season and he is back in square one. I don't know why this guy is not in the hot seat yet, I mean he is a good guy and all but his teams are going nowhere. Now his team lost All Big Ten players. Can't imagine this team performing up to par this year. Hope that Beilein proves me wrong.


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 8:16 a.m.

It's going to be a long season, that's for sure. I hope Beilein proves me wrong, but I'm still not on board with the theory that you can win the Big Ten with teams built mostly with guard-type athletes. Michigan has to start recruiting big, athletic players who can rebound, score inside, and block some shots. I don't see any other way.


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 7:55 a.m.

this team will not win this year they have a coach that cant recruit and a system that doesnt work. just like football loosing has become the norm at michigan.


Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 7:37 a.m.

This team will not win much this year, probably 11th in the Big 10. The team just does not have the horses, system or no system.