The Wolverine

November 2016

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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44 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2016 2016-17 BASKETBALL PREVIEW such performances give rise to the harshest observers calling U-M "wimpy." Beilein stressed there's been plenty of success over the past few seasons to argue against that notion, but he let the words linger out there, and his players were inevitably asked about them. Irvin pushes back against the labels and wants to see his teammates do the same. "Nobody likes to be called wimpy or soft," Irvin assured. "Personally, I don't think I am, and I don't want anybody on our team to be that. It definitely puts a chip on everyone's shoulder. "We're coming out this year with a whole new mindset, to show that we are a tough team. I think that will show as the season goes on." Part of the mindset, he stressed, has to do with Michigan's efforts on the non-shooting end of the court. "Every team knows defense wins championships," Irvin said. "Last year, we didn't play, defensively, the way we wanted to. As you saw, de- fense wasn't our strong suit." Then he went a step further. "I think our mindset last year was, we're going to go down here and play defense, but we really just want to get back on offense," Irvin shared. "I think it showed. This year, we're really going to focus on defense. "We want to play defense. We want to get stops." In doing so, they want to change an all-too-frequent knock on them over the past couple of years. "It's just a mindset," Irvin said. "People like to call us 'soft.' They think we are a wimpy basketball team. We're just working on getting better. It is a mindset to be tough. We've got to do the gritty things, and we're working on that each day." Given all the trials, Irvin has ac- complished plenty in his three years wearing a Michigan uniform, Meyer pointed out. "He's been able to establish him- self as a leading rebounder one year," the coach said. "He's been MVP, in spite of the surgery he had. His ca- reer has been one that's had some rough spots because of the injuries, but he comes every day with a great spirit about him. "He's a team leader, in terms of his voice for the team. He's an emotional leader that his teammates respond to." He's also versatile enough after three seasons to play on either side of the court as a forward in Michigan's offense, or — like he did last season — move to the backcourt to help out when LeVert succumbed in injury. Meyer seized on the word "resil- ient" in describing Irvin's sojourn through three seasons in maize and blue. Now, the assistant insisted, it's time to finish up in a resounding fashion. "Last year he had the back surgery, and he didn't have the lift he devel- oped his sophomore year," Meyer said. "I think he's back to where he can rise up and punch the ball. He's matured in his body, and there's a sense of urgency here. "It's, 'this is it.' This is the victory lap. He and Derrick both have put in good work. It's theirs to continue to lead." Irvin well remembers the attitude permeating the team his freshman season. Stauskas often set the tone, on his way to becoming a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft. "It's that swagger," Irvin said. "Nik always carried that swagger about himself and was very confident. That worked out well for him. I see sim- ilarities in that team and what we have on our team." Irvin remembers well the delicious tension of performing in the biggest Big Ten games and walking away a champion. He recalls the bright Irvin averaged a team-high 11.8 points per game in 2015-16, was second in assists (3.1 per game) and steals (0.8 per contest), and third in rebounding (4.5 an outing). PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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