The Wolverine

November 2016

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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NOVEMBER 2016 THE WOLVERINE 43 2016-17 BASKETBALL PREVIEW averaging 14.3 points and nearly five rebounds a game as a sophomore, earning the first of two consecutive team MVP honors. He tried to put the Wolverines on his back down the stretch, but it wasn't enough. Then his back gave out. Irvin underwent surgery on it dur- ing the summer before his junior year. He only missed one game at the start of the season, but that didn't mean he wasn't missing something. The power to elevate forcefully — a factor in shooting, rebounding and in many cases, defending — just wasn't there. Yes, the Wolverines made an NCAA Tournament First Four contest and won it, before blow- ing a double-digit halftime lead in a still-stinging ouster against Notre Dame in the round of 64. But the journey — and especially the ending — proved fraught with frustration. "Obviously, we've been plagued with injuries," Irvin said. "We've tried not to use that as an ex- cuse, and we try not to look back in the past. The best thing you can do is learn from it. This is the year we have coming up. It's my senior year, and I'm just trying to make the most of it." "He never, in my mind, allows the challenges that have happened to him — the injuries, the surgery — to affect him moving forward," ob- served Michigan assistant coach Jeff Meyer. "He's been tremendous this year with his effort and his attitude." ALL EYES FORWARD There's really no other choice for Irvin, staring down a final season in Crisler Center. It helps that he's feel- ing back to his old self, thanks to a lot of hard work under the watchful eye of Michigan strength and condition- ing coach Jon Sanderson. Irvin missed the summer work a season earlier, due to his injury, sur- gery and subsequent rehab. Now he insists he's back up to speed. "I've been working hard. I think it's the hardest I've ever worked in the offseason," said Irvin. "I wasn't able to have an offseason last year, with my back and everything. But I feel great." Walton worries at times that he's working too hard, trying to get every- thing back before the season begins. "I think he's supremely ready," Walton said. "It's about him not overworking his body again, taking it a day at a time. It's about not try- ing to speed up the process of being great right now. "Being his roommate and one of his closest friends, I know he's ready for things to start clicking and be the way we expect it to be." They expect it to be like it was their freshman season, but that takes both armaments and attitude. Irvin aches to supply some of both in his final season for the Wolverines. He's seen his three-point percent- age slip from that 42.5 in a freewheel- ing freshman season of getting open looks on the break, to 35.5 as a more defensively targeted sophomore, to 29.8 in an earthbound junior cam- paign. He's scored 1,115 points over the course of three seasons, good for 40th on Michigan's all-time scoring list. He just knows he can do more, es- pecially when completely recovered. Plus, the better he plays, the more attitude he injects. The made threes of his younger days often carried with them the hand to the face as if he were talking on the phone, ringing up another score. He dialed back that act, even be- fore the shots stopped falling as fre- quently. But that doesn't mean he isn't making his presence felt as a senior. "If there's an emotional leader to this group, it's Zak Irvin," Meyer said. "He's got a voice that his team- mates respond to. He's got an aware- ness that we as a coaching staff want and expect. Every day we come to practice you hear Zak Irvin. He is the voice and the emotional leader of the group." Irvin insists both he and Walton want to be — and are — heard by a roster looking for leadership. "It starts with us," Irvin said. "When Derrick or I say something, everyone stops and listens. We've earned that, to be able to say the things we do say. "Derrick and I have to do that, and hold the rest of our team accountable. I've been harping on 'defense wins championships,' and we have to be able to play de- fense to win games in the Big Ten." "These are guys who are now four- year guys, they're experienced play- ers," Meyer added. "They've been through this league several times. It's very obvious to me that there is a sense of urgency with both of them in how they've prepared for the sea- son. Their leadership is going to be essential, if not critical, to our season and the success we have." TOUGH ROAD AHEAD Michigan head coach John Beilein stressed defense at the Wolverines' Media Day Oct. 3. He underscored the fact that his team didn't play it very well last year and added that THE VOICE OF THE WOLVERINES Two-Time Team MVP Zak Irvin Wants To Help Lead Michigan Back To The NCAA Tournament In His Final Season Assistant Coach Jeff Meyer "Every day we come to practice you hear Zak Irvin. He is the voice and the emotional leader of the group."

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