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June 27, 2014

No discounting development under Beilein

Michigan head coach John Beilein hasn't changed his approach when it comes to recruiting. He's still looking for players who are "breaking down the doors" to get to Michigan, are good students and citizens and basketball players who are as interested in being good teammates as they are getting to the next level.

Be the former, he says to his players, and you'll realize the latter.

That's only part of the formula, though, for U-M's success under Beilein in sending kids to the pros. Beilein and his staff are old school in some of the drills they do, many of which he put the media through a few years ago as part of the media day festivities.

Several of them some of us remembered doing thirty years ago at basketball camps - Mikan drills, figure eight dribbles, etc. - meant to strengthen even the most fundamentally sound players' skills.

"I've never been coached like this before," Manny Harris, who has spent time in the NBA since leaving Michigan, said after his first several weeks with Beilein.

Can it make a difference, though, in helping a kid reach his ceiling? ESPN analyst Jay Bilas is skeptical.

"You see guys come out of every system, whether it's Princeton, the Princeton offense or some team from the flex or motion. You name it. It's about the player," he said recently. "With all due respect to every college coach out there, I never really bought the idea that you can tag a college coach with the ability to develop pros.

"You have a lot of coaches out there that are really good teachers, but the idea that one coach does a better job of developing pros is absurd. That has to do more with talent than anything."

Maybe when it comes to the can't-miss elite preps who already have pro bodies. But tell that to Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway, who weren't on anyone's NBA radar coming out of high school. Their work ethics were all off the charts, but their skills developed at a remarkable pace. Put prep relative unknown Caris LeVert up there, too - he'll be U-M's next first round pick, probably next year, and he, like the others would argue Beilein and his staff are as much to thank as anyone.

Jordan Morgan is another example. The big man enjoyed great workouts for several teams and was mentioned as a potential, second round draft pick after his outstanding showing in the NCAA Tournament. Nobody would have given him a shot if they'd seen him in high school, where he was a pudgy young 17-year-old as a senior with questionable hands.

Ask him where he'd be without assistant Bacari Alexander - likewise Hardaway Jr. without Jeff Meyer, Burke without LaVall Jordan. And watch the steps LeVert, and sophomores Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin make in an offense that preaches freedom within a framework, with a huge assist to strength coach Jon Sanderson's program.

Bilas might have a point in talking about the one and dones ("how much better can you make a kid in seven months?" he asks), but for those in the program for a few years, the evidence suggests otherwise. There have been plenty of talented preps just down I-96 who didn't progress the way Michigan's have, including a number who started out as McDonald's All-Americans.

Kids are noticing.

"Michigan, the player development there is great," four-star 2015 shooting guard Jalen Coleman said recently. "With the success they've been having lately with wins, just people going to the League, they're great statistic-wise to show facts - 'this is why we are who we are.' It helps out."

Read any interview from any 2015 or 2016 kid - or their parents - and chances are you'll see the same.

"Michigan is not lacking anything I can see," Gary Battle, five-star 2016 Tyus Battle's father, said. "They've got great academics, they let their guards play and everybody shares the ball. They develop their guys. You've got five guys from the National Championship game that are either in the League or going to the League, and they seem like great citizens, just like the staff."

It takes talent, sure. But few identify it and develop it like Beilein and his staff. Morgan's father, Jim, admitted he "didn't see it" when his son was offered by Michigan and accepted. By the end of Morgan's redshirt freshman year, he marveled at the transformation.

The development in Ann Arbor is real, and it's one of the reasons Michigan basketball will be extremely competitive for the foreseeable future.

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