The Wolverine

January 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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42 THE WOLVERINE JANUARY 2020 M ichigan freshman Franz Wagner was expected to make an imme- diate impact for the Wolverines this year, but the German and younger brother of former U-M great Moritz Wagner suffered a wrist injury before the season. When he returned, he was thrown into the fire against great competition, facing Iowa State, North Carolina and Gonzaga in his first three contests, fol- lowed by a road game at No. 1 Louis- ville before Big Ten play started. It took him a while to get back into basketball shape. He averaged 7.7 points per game on 15-of-43 shoot- ing (34.9 percent), including a 5-of-23 showing (21.7) from long range, head- ing into the game with Oregon Dec. 14. Wagner then exploded against the Ducks for his best game of the year, notching a team-high 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including 4 of 7 from long range. He went 7 of 8 for 18 points in the second half and overtime, backing up head coach Juwan Howard's pregame statements about him. "He's going to be one of the best to ever play at Michigan," Howard said. "He's a fierce competitor and a skilled wing at 6-9. He's a smart, high-IQ player and he can shoot the ball very well from the outside. He's a basketball genius." Howard has said since the pre- season he felt Wagner was a future pro, and he didn't back off that stance even when the young player seemed to be struggling. The coach backed him up again after Wagner's big game against the Ducks, noting he'd been playing well in a number of other ar- eas even when he wasn't scoring. "Franz, you all think he's having a bad stretch," Howard said at his post- game press conference following the 71-70 overtime loss to Oregon. "For me, he's been playing great for us because Franz has been affecting the game in other ways other than just putting the ball in the basket. He's been defending, rebounding against bigs who may have 50-70 pounds more than him, some are also taller than him. He's been competing, div- ing on the floor for loose balls. "He's been affecting the game in dif- ferent ways. Tonight, it was his night and the shot went in. There were also good looks and he was aggressive, but it goes to show you, Franz is a guy who's a competitor." Wagner is his own worst critic, Howard agreed, and there are times the coach has to keep him from being too hard on himself. The freshman has played solid defense from the get-go and shown an ability to get to the rim, something the Wolverines need more of heading into the meat of the Big Ten schedule. But they also need shooters, and Wagner showed he can provide plenty of help outside against the Ducks. "I felt good today," Wagner said af- ter the game. "Like I said last [game], sometimes you're going to have a good offensive game, sometimes you don't. I just have to take what the de- fense gives me and stay confident out there. I think everybody does that on our team, and I think we have to con- tinue to do that." He remained confident even when he was struggling, he added, and stuck to what he knew: playing within himself and taking good shots. He hit a key triple at the shot-clock buzzer in the second half and opened overtime with another long three to provide a needed spark. It just wasn't enough. "No adjustments, no nothing," Wag- ner said of his performance. "I just did the same things that I did before, and shots just started falling. "I'm confident in what I do because I go to practice and give my best ev- ery day. When you do that, you're not nervous or anything; you don't have to adjust. The confidence comes from working." — Chris Balas JUWAN HOWARD NAMES TWO CAPTAINS Michigan head coach Juwan How- ard was in no hurry to name his cap- tains, having yet to make a decision or an announcement even when the season started. He finally ended the suspense prior to U-M's with Oregon Dec. 14 game when, in no surprise to anyone, he announced that senior point guard Zavier Simpson and se- nior center Jon Teske were named team captains for the 2019-20 season.   MICHIGAN BASKETBALL Franz Wagner Is Making Strides Since Returning From Injury Since missing the first four tilts of the season, Wagner started the next seven contests with clips of 9.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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