The Wolverine

February 2020*

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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40 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2020 BY CHRIS BALAS M ay 13, 2019 might go down as one of the stranger days in Michigan basketball his- tory. It was the day John Beilein stunned the basketball world by leaving U-M after 12 seasons to take a job with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it ranks right up there with Bill Frieder accepting the Arizona State job prior to the 1989 national championship run led by assistant Steve Fisher. Michigan fans listened to sports ra- dio and read articles of Beilein's depar- ture in shock, and yet they had nothing on young Franz Wagner. The 19-year- old German was just about to board a plane for his official visit to Michigan when he got word from his brother, former U-M standout and first-round NBA Draft pick Moritz (Moe) Wagner, that Beilein at Michigan was no more. The Wagners weren't sure what to do. Most close to the program were on commitment watch, expecting the visit to almost be a formality. Instead, the coaches had to convince the younger Wagner to come while being in limbo themselves, not sure if they'd even be working at Michigan much longer. The family was already planning on meeting up with Moe in Ann Arbor, so they boarded the plane and made the long flight to Michigan. From there, it became a team effort to keep things as normal as possible, Moe told for- mer Wolverine and current basketball analyst Tim McCormick on his weekly podcast. "Honestly … it's funny, because it was like a shock moment, because no one really knew," Wagner said of Beilein's move. "I didn't really know what to tell [Franz]. What really stuck out to me about that weekend is that my brother still wanted to look at ev- erything. It was cool because it kind of took the pressure out of it a little bit. "Me and the coaches, we kind of did it together … we just walked through the study hall, all that stuff. The arena, the PDC [Player Development Center]. We kind of let Franz handle the sched- ule, and it wasn't as organized. It was a little random." But it worked to Michigan's ad- vantage. Instead of leaving campus a foregone conclusion that he'd go back home and sign with his Alba Berlin German pro team, Franz kept an open mind. He already knew there was plenty to like about the school, having followed his brother's Michigan jour- ney closely, and he was curious to see who the Wolverines would bring in to replace Beilein. Moe was, too, both as an alum and a brother with a vested interested in his sibling's future. When it became clear Juwan Howard was emerging as the top candidate, he reportedly spoke with NBA legend LeBron James, Howard's teammate in Miami, along with former Wolverines Duncan Rob- inson and Derrick Walton Jr., who had also spent time with the Heat. Older brother became convinced that not only was Howard "good enough," but also that he could play a huge role in developing Franz for the next level. The visit, though, was what got the ball rolling, and for that U-M has Moe to thank. "It was cool because Franz kind of had the opportunity to show what he's interested in and kind of explore what he wanted to do," Moe remembered. "I think that was very helpful for him. "We kind of made the best out of that weekend, as weird as it was. It was definitely an emotional time, but we got past that. Now he's there, and I'm cool with it." AN EARLY SETBACK If Franz was nervous about fol- lowing in his brother's footsteps and adding to the family's Maize and Blue legacy, he certainly didn't show it during Michigan's media day. He was comfortable, laughed when told his English was much better than his brother 's upon arrival, handled all comparison questions (and there were many) in stride and didn't even blink when he was told his new coach called him a "future pro." It didn't take long, though, to get his first taste of adversity. A fractured hand sidelined him for the first four weeks of the season. His return coin- cided with facing a gauntlet of elite teams in the Battle for Atlantis Tour- nament in the Bahamas, starting with Iowa State and proceeding to top-10 teams North Carolina and Gonzaga. Wagner scored six points in 23 min- utes in his first game, making 2 of 5 shots. He struggled against Carolina, going only 1 of 6 from the floor, but notched 10 points in the champion- ship win over the Bulldogs. He also looked the part defensively, adding length to an already skilled group. "Early on when he came back from his injury, he only had one practice, and after that practice went straight to the Bahamas," Howard noted. "It was like game after game after game, just tough from a recovery standpoint for a guy to get into basketball shape after one game. "Then to the next game, another game. Your legs start to get heavy, and as far as your wind, you're not in the basketball shape you thought you were." But Howard knew what he had, and he knew he wanted Wagner on the floor. His rookie averaged 27 minutes in his first three games and looked like he belonged, even when his shot wasn't falling. "His level of competitiveness was proven," Howard continued. "He welcomed the challenge, was doing whatever he could to help the team win. His presence on the floor by playing hard defensively was actu- ally better than just the ball falling in the basket." But the Wolverines need Wagner's scoring, too, and it's taken some time for him to find his way in that area. HIS OWN MAN Franz Wagner Is Proving He's More Than Just Moe's Little Brother After just three double-digit scoring per- formances in his first nine appearances, Wagner scored at least 10 points in all four outings from Jan. 5-17 while averaging 15.0 points a contest during that span. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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