Michigan has begun practice in anticipation of an August trip to Europe in which the Wolverines will play four games in four days. Head coach John Beilein has already started to get a bit of a feel for how his team is coming together.
Only four days in, Beilein has seen several positives.
"It's been exciting just to see the development of the guys from last year and get a good look at our young guys," said Beilein. "There have been some good things, then some things where we have a lot of work to do.
"You have this rare opportunity to do this every four years, like leap year. We can see what we have, work at what we have and give these guys some great experience for basketball and a wonderful cultural experience."
Some of the early positives … redshirt freshman big man Blake McLimans' and sophomore guard Matt Vogrich's conditioning, sophomore point guard Darius Morris' improved shot and leadership and freshman wing Tim Hardaway's early play.
"Tim Hardaway has come in here with a great attitude … focus is the word I use," said Beilein. "It's yes sir, no sir, and he appears to be picking things up as quickly as [freshman] Evan [Smotrycz]. You can tell he's really been well coached and studied the game.
"[Vogrich's] body has changed. It looks like his shot is much more consistent from what we've seen. He's going to get a chance over there to now adjust between whether he plays small forward or off guard. He's trying to learn both. I've seen improvement, but it's three days of drills.
"Blake was 240 pounds when we weighed him the other day [up from 200 in high school]. That's been a big change for him. Because of Jordan [Morgan's shoulder] injury and Jon [Horford] is just learning, Blake is the one that knows the most about what he's doing. He went in where DeShawn was playing and he's right there, right now. I've been pleased … you'll see a different body out there."
Morris has developed much better rotation on his shot, and the results have been obvious.
"Going into his senior year, he missed that whole summer … I think he came out of there compensating for a bad back and we saw some things where he was not balanced," said Beilein. "He was on his toes the whole time. You do not want to shoot on your toes the whole time … you want to finish off your toes, but it's like running only on your toes. We saw that, filmed it in the spring … he's worked hard on it and he's shot the ball very well so far.
"I've really been pleased with number one, his leadership right now … he's really put in a lot of time. If what he tells me is true, he's shot thousands and thousands of shots. I have no reason to believe he hasn't."
Other notes from Wednesday's presser and practice:
• Smotrycz broke his toe playing wiffle ball about a week before he came, and he is still not cleared to go full court and all out. He seemed tentative at times Wednesday.
"We have run options in the offense, drills, shooting … I sense he is a guy that's going to pick things up very quickly," said Beilein.
Horford is working on learning the offense, while Colton Christian showed some athleticism and knocked down some jumpers Wednesday.
"Jon Horford … I look at his long body that has got a ton of athleticism to it. He's long and learning the game, just wants to be coached. In a limited time you've seen some very good things.
"Colton Christian pulled his hamstring in the first few weeks and has still not been cleared. He's been limited to half court activity, but he's got great bounce. You can see already he may be a defensive not enforcer yet, but a physical defensive presence we've been missing at the 4/3 position. Zack Novak, we measured him at under 6-4. We were really undersized there, but Colton will help us there."
• Redshirt freshman big man Jordan Morgan will be cleared soon following a six-month shutdown following shoulder surgery, but he participated in every event and looked solid and healthy.
• The Wolverines didn't play much 1-3-1 defense last year and won't experiment much in Europe with such a young team, though they have the pieces to run it better. Beilein speculated on some of the possible combinations.
"What's essential to the 1-3-1 is length, which we have not had for some time," said Beilein. "Having a big center, a guy on top that can really touch the ball … the percentage is only about 20 percent less, like 60-40 [that we've played it compared to man]. Last year was probably 80/20, maybe 90/10.
"We haven't even talked about it yet. The 10 days of practice with a young team … we'll get into it, just so we can teach from it. The last time we did that with an experienced team we went and played the Czech Republic, guys that were all 30 years old, and they ripped it apart because we hadn't practiced it a lot. We had a pretty experienced team, but when you have smart, cerebral passers and shooters, and they really understand the angles and geometry of the game, it's tough to play."
Novak isn't the tallest, but he could see some time on the top.
"Novak isn't long but he anticipates very well. That first year he was a freshman, when we had the great win the The Garden (over UCLA) and the great win against Duke, he was on the top for that," Beilein added. "We may go back there. But he rebounds so well from the wing, he may play underneath sometimes because he's a candidate to play forward or guard now."
• Playing with a 24-second shot clock proved tough at times in Wednesday's practice. Beilein expects it will be similar overseas.
"The 24-second clock is going to have a huge effect on their ticker when they get over there. You have eight seconds to get it over, and guess what? Now you have 16 seconds to run things … then still get something as the clock gets to five, four, three …," he said.
"I was watching tape from last year, and at least the tape I had we played at a speed that was a little too slow for us. We need to pop the ball more, move the ball quicker. They are going to watch that today, and then we're going to try to do that. We'll have a lot of shot clock violations over there."
• Beilein is already getting a sense of what his freshmen can do.
"I'm pretty sure where Evan will fit, Tim Hardaway, what is his best position," he said. "He is at 190 now … Manny [Harris] got a lot of rebounds and did a lot of great things in the paint and never got to 190 the whole time. Tim being 190 at 18 years is pretty good for where he's going. You'll enjoy his progress over the next four years. The early indications are he is a guy that's good, that has the attitude to really improve."
• Walk-on Eso Akunne should get significant run in Europe.
"He's got some point guard vision, more of a big guard body … especially over there with the 24-second clock, he's going to be playing," said Beilein. "We'll play people and see how they do. We're going to try to keep our offense very simple to the automatics that we've always run.
"I really like the way he's shooting. He used to have a little sidespin on his shot, but he's been shooting the ball well these three days. He's worked hard."