The Wolverine

January 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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44 THE WOLVERINE JANUARY 2017 time came for Ballard to choose, Wil- son thought for sure she'd take him. She didn't, choosing instead one of his best friends. "I ended up playing for this other coach," he recalled, summoning up the stunned sensation of the moment. "I was like, 'Mom, why didn't you pick me? You're not going to be my coach throughout the whole year?' "She said, 'That's how I wanted it to be. I wanted to coach against you, and play against you, so I can tell you what you're doing in the game and improve you.' She just thought not coaching me and seeing me from another coach's perspective, she was going to be able to help me improve my game at a different level." Wilson did improve, but there were tough gains along the way and more obstacles than many future college athletes face — a twice-frac- tured spine, for starters. In the summer leading up to his ju- nior season in high school, he sat out some of the AAU schedule with what doctors determined to be a stress fracture on the left side of his spine. He'd gone from 6-1 as a freshman to 6-6 as a sophomore, and it proved too much on a developing frame. Wilson managed to play during the regular season his junior year, along with the one playoff contest, but then hit the sidelines again, this time with a right-side spinal fracture. "They said it was just me grow- ing," Wilson recalled. "I was grow- ing at a rapid pace, and it was like a stress fracture — a lot of wear and tear. My body wasn't strong enough, and my legs weren't strong enough to hold up my upper body. "A lot of the impact of me landing caused the wear and tear in my back. In rehab, I strengthened my legs and my core. It was a big emphasis when I got here, strengthening my lower body." Getting to Michigan certainly wasn't guaranteed. Wilson feels for- tunate to have gotten into an AAU game in Milwaukee with former U-M assistant LaVall Jordan looking on. Soon after, Beilein and another former assistant, Bacari Alexander, showed up courtside for Wilson's AAU contest in Las Vegas. They saw enough to want him in maize and blue, and a process began that would — eventually — lead Wil- son to Michigan's starting lineup. The basketball skills, Beilein often reiterates, are there. The polishing process remains ongoing. "He knows how to use his athleticism right now," Beilein commented. "He is in position to be in position, so he can use this long framing. Rebounding and defense are the two things that we've seen the biggest growth with him. "He's willing to get in there and scrap for basketballs. He'll go and guard somebody. We can switch some screens or stay at home on a big guy." The issues that come with first-time starters in college are all still chal- lenges at this point, Beilein offered. "This is like a first year for him, in terms of, 'I'm tired — how do I fight through this? I just missed a shot, and I'm not coming out,' or 'I made a turnover and I'm not coming out.' Right?" explained Beilein. "These are things he has to get accustomed to. "You're going to see the normal peaks and valleys you see from a guy Wilson boasted a team-high 16 blocked shots (1.45 per contest) through 11 games this season. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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