The Wolverine

November 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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38 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2018 2018-19 BASKETBALL PREVIEW BY JOHN BORTON M ichigan head coach John Beilein insists it's a math- ematical certainty — he's going to play freshmen this season. After watching Moe Wagner, Mu- hammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Dun- can Robinson and Jaaron Simmons head out the door following last season's run to the national cham- pionship game, there are simply too many holes to fill. It's not like he has no options, given a five-man class ranked No. 11 nationally by Still, there's an urgency to get freshmen up to speed. "Two of those guys are going to have to play," Beilein said. "We only have seven guys returning. If we're going to do a nine- or 10-man rota- tion, two or three of those guys have got to find their way into that lineup. We've got to get them ready. "Defense and strength are what keep most freshmen off the floor. We're trying to work at both." One of those two involves an ap- parent can't-miss early opportunity. Five-star forward Ignas Brazdeikis, sporting a 6-7, 215-pound, college- ready body, looks like a lock to be- come a solid part of the Michigan rotation. The freshman from Ontario will most likely be joined in early minutes by an East Lansing import. Brandon Johns Jr., at 6-8, 225 pounds, brings strong athleticism and very solid bas- ketball skills to the mix. U-M's biggest frosh is Colin Cas- tleton, the 6-11 forward who has al- ready experienced his first college setback. He broke his hand late in the summer and wasn't cleared to play until late September. Castleton can be brought along at a measured pace, with several U-M big men battling it out and sharing time. Meanwhile, guards David De- Julius (6-0, 190) and Adrien Nunez (6-6, 205) can learn behind returning starters Zavier Simpson, a junior, and Charles Matthews, a redshirt junior. It's certainly ranked as an impact class, and at least 40 percent of it could impact sooner, rather than later. IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS Brazdeikis, a five-star prospect, didn't feel any need to demonstrate freshman deference to his elders on Michigan's preseason sojourn to Spain. He proved en fuego at times on the foray into Europe, leading the Wolverines with a 15.7 scoring average. He's a handful when making strong moves to the basket and han- dles the basketball well. Well enough, in fact, to be working at both the power forward and shooting guard spots. "Ignas is the one that would stand out to everybody just now, because he led us in scoring and rebounding [in Spain]," Beilein said. "He's got some great instincts about the game itself. We're going to find a place for him out there. And we're going to make him very versa- tile so he can wear a lot of hats." Beilein also noted Brazdeikis wouldn't be the first player with the versatility to flip between the two and four positions. "This is like the third time we've done this," Beilein noted. "It's a unique thing. I had a left-handed player at Richmond named Scott Un- gerer who did both. Johannes Herber at West Virginia did both. Scott Hicks did it for me at Le Moyne. "It's a really interesting combo po- sition. If you've got the body and the size and you've got some tough- ness, you can really do it. It will re- ally help our rotation if we can make that work." Brazdeikis got to know another Ca- nadian who became a huge part of a Beilein Final Four squad as a fresh- man, Nik Stauskas. Don't bet against Brazdeikis enjoying similar early suc- cess, according to his teammates. "Iggy is really good," junior center Jon Teske said. "He can get to the hole, and he can shoot it. Defensively, it's going to take him time, but he'll be a great defender for us." Observers on Michigan's trip to Spain noted Brazdeikis has work to do on defense, after he allowed some back-door plays and experienced his head spinning at times like most col- lege freshmen. But assistant coach Luke Yaklich, Beilein's defensive specialist, calls Brazdeikis adept at picking up in- struction and expects his efforts at guarding to take a natural progres- sion. "Iggy has a college body," Yaklich said. "He's incredibly physical and has a really, really good stroke as well. He's a fast learner." "Definitely, Iggy is going to be out there a lot," added Matthews. "Iggy is probably the most advanced out of the freshmen, but they're a talented group of guys. We have one at each position, and they'll be outstanding players. "Physically, he's ready to play. His body is mature for his age. That's the first thing you see. He just knows how to play the game as well. "I was able to see throughout the course of the summertime that his game is advanced for his age. I think he's ready to play." BRANDON JOHNS Johns represents a second per- former Beilein has declared physi- cally capable of playing early. The four-star recruit (No. 60 overall, No. 14 power forward) will look to compete at a forward spot, CONTRIBUTORS NEEDED John Beilein Assures Freshmen Must Step In Ignas Brazdeikis is the third five-star prospect head coach John Beilein has signed during his time at U-M and the first since Zak Irvin in 2013. PHOTO COURTESY NIKE HOOPS SUMMIT

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