Hoops: Freshmen prove themselves on Italy trip

Michigan's Italian tour and four-game exhibition swing gave a young team a chance to grow up quickly, head coach John Beilein said after a 96-76 win over Mantova Friday, and the Wolverines took full advantage. They scored 93 points or more in all four games, shot 39 percent or better from three-point range in every game but one and saw plenty to like from the freshmen.
A six-man group that otherwise wouldn't have seen competitive action in a Michigan uniform until October got its feet wet, and the results were sometimes outstanding.
"It was a great experience coming out here, especially for the freshmen to get comfortable with our offense and our defense and go out there in a game setting and do what we've been practicing," sophomore point guard Caris LeVert said. "Only a couple of guys had been over here … so for us to come overseas and play basketball and be with each other like this was a great bonding experience."
Togetherness and camaraderie is always a huge benefit on such a trip, Beilein added.
"The number one thing is that we got extra days of practice and we also got to play these four games. Close to that in importance is the relationship building we were able to do on this trip," he said. "From player-to-player, player-to-coach and coach-to-player, that was really tremendous."
Sophomore Zak Irvin was the scoring standout on the trip, averaging 20.8 points in the four games and making 12 of 18 three-pointers for an incredible 67 percent. He was 69 percent shooting overall (33-for-48) in showing an ability to get to the rim and knock down the midrange jumper.
LeVert averaged 14.3 points to finish second in scoring, while sophomore point guard Derrick Walton Jr. played set-up man throughout most of the four games, averaging 7.5 points and 3.3 assists per game.
Five freshmen - shooting guard Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, wing Aubrey Dawkins, forward Kam Chatman, center Ricky Doyle and redshirt freshman center Mark Donnal - had remarkably similar scoring numbers. Doyle led with 11.5 points over four games (high of 15), Donnal 10.3 (20), Rahkman 10 (13), Chatman 9.5 (17) and Dawkins 9.3 (14), while Doyle led all rebounders with eight per game despite being shut out in the opener.
Shooting guard Austin Hatch, still recovering from a traumatic head injury suffered two summers ago, played, but didn't score.
"It was a great experience for everyone and a lot of fun," junior point guard Spike Albrecht (5.0 points, 2.5 assists) said. "I was happy with the way the guys came over here and played and the unselfishness that I saw, especially from the freshmen; they were unbelievable. They had a really strong showing over here."
It also gave them a chance to get to know each other better, which will only help when the real competition begins.
"It's brought the team a lot closer together," Walton said. "We have a lot of young guys that we've only seen for a couple months, so being able to room with them, talk with them and learn about their personal lives, it brings us closer together on the court. It makes for better continuity out on the floor.
"Mostly, it built confidence. For the freshmen, being able to come out and play with us to get a couple of games under their belt gives us team chemistry."
It was a trip none of them will forget, Albrecht added.
"It was unbelievable - a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he said. "We got to see things most of us have never seen in our life and may never get to see again, so to be out here because someone else was willing to pay for it is special. We can't thank them enough for the opportunity. It means a lot to every one of us."
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