Michigan Wolverines Basketball: Is One Freshman An X-Factor This Year?
Michigan basketball started practice Sept. 29 as the favorite to win the Big Ten, and its No. 1-rated recruiting class is a big reason why. Wing Caleb Houstan is the headliner, but there’s another player who could be every bit as important to the Wolverines’ success.
Kobe Bufkin grew up in a Michigan household. His grandmother was a huge fan of Michigan coach Juwan Howard and the rest of the Fab Five, and when it came time to visit Ann Arbor, she made the trips with him and the rest of the family.
“My earliest memory of being a Michigan fan growing up … seeing my family cheer for the block ‘M’ every time they came on TV. When I got to eight, my family and me ended up going to a football game every year for my birthday,” Bufkin said on the "Defend the Block" podcast with play-by-play announcer Brian Boesch. “We made it to a couple basketball games — didn’t get to make it to any of the Trey Burke ones, but I always wanted to go when Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas were playing that year.
“I made it to a couple when I got older, but Trey was a lot of inspiration. That was probably the most electrifying year in Michigan basketball for a while. It was definitely the most entertaining Michigan basketball I’ve ever seen played.”
Much like the Fab Five era was for his grandmother.
"Ever since the Fab Five, she was locked on the Michigan wave," the 6-4 guard continued. "Football, hockey, baseball, basketball … as long as it has the block ‘M’ attached to it, she's reppin' it.
"They family atmosphere is the biggest reason I committed to the University of Michigan. Everybody, every time I came up here, made me feel like I was home. It might have been because my granny up there with me and she’s a very big Michigan fan. It’s just a good environment.”
His relationship with assistant coach Saddi Washington played a part, too.
“I felt he was someone I could hold a conversation with, was comfortable to ask him anything about the university,” he said. “It was the same when he got here. He stayed consistent; somebody I can go to if I need to know something.”
He’s learned a lot in his few months on campus. In addition to getting stronger under strength coach Jon Sanderson, widely considered one of the best in the business, and working on his off-ball defense, he’s continuing to learn the offense. Assistant coach Phil Martelli recently said his finishes at the rim were of the ‘wow’ variety, his shooting impressive, too.
But his passing is his calling card, and he’s continued open eyes there, too.
"Working on passing is something a lot of basketball players take for granted," he said. “All basketball players have some sort of knack for the game, and mine is just my vision."
The frosh could be one of the keys to the season. As our MHoops1 posted recently on The Fort, Bufkin is a big guard on a team that will start two small ones and has a back-up point guard who is small, as well. Having the option to play a big guard is important defensively, and also when it comes to finishing more easily at the rim against some opponents.
As he also noted, Bufkin is also a good perimeter shooter (not great, but with potential to be very good) on a team whose other back-up guards have always been mediocre or worse from deep. He can create with the ball, which allows him to substitute for either of the combo guards (Eli Brooks and DeVante’ Jones), and minimizes, to some extent, the fact that neither is a pure point guard.
He also would give some line-up flexibility if he can play a bit of three against certain teams and allow fellow frosh Caleb Houstan to play small-ball four in those situations.
In short, there’s a role for him if he continues to play like he has. While he’s following fifth-year senior Eli Brooks’ lead, he and the other young guys are ready to impact.
“We’ve jelled well,’ he said. “A couple of my guys, Isaiah [Barnes] and Frankie [Collins] live with me. Me and Caleb, all of us, have an awesome connection on and off the court … we’re enjoying our time together, for sure.”
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