Can you update us on the start of your pro career? Where are you living? Who are you playing for? What’s the makeup of the team? What is your expected role?
I’m in Pamplona, Spain playing for Navarra Club. Team is looking good so far. We play a different style than at Michigan with two big guys in the low post (finally a seven footer I’ve always dreamed of playing with. No offense J-Mo haha). Right now just feeling out my role on the team, but obviously going in to shoot and play some spot point guard. Lotta motion or “free play” as coach calls it, so I’m very excited for that. Right now I’m just trying to get a feel for every one’s tendencies, likes, and dislikes on the court.
What has been the most difficult adjustment to living in a foreign country?
Right now the language barrier hasn’t been too bad. I know enough Spanish to get by with everyday things. I have to get used to driving a stick shift. I haven’t seen an automatic yet. I blame my dad because I have asked him for about 5 years now to teach me how to drive stick, and he never did until a week before I left so I’m a little nervous to drive around Pamplona. He’ll love I put that information out there.
How much time did you spend with the Michigan basketball program this past summer? What was your role?
The only time I spent with the team other than the period between the season ending and leaving for home was when we all came back for the Big Ten Championship ring dinner. I’ve talked to a few guys here and there, and it was great to see everyone at the dinner at coach’s house. It was also nice to get away and just be able to focus on myself and the next step in my career.
What are you going to miss the most about the college game?
The attendance and the atmosphere that the University of Michigan and Big Ten basketball in general has. I’m no longer playing in 14,000+ arenas, but that also has it’s upsides so I’m very excited to get the season going and see all the contrasts and similarities.
How satisfied are you with the body of work you produced for the Wolverines?
I’m satisfied with what I could do for the team in regards to sacrificing the things I did in order to fill a roll we needed in order to bring this program along and win a Big Ten title. I’m satisfied with the way I saw myself grow as a leader and person. On a more statistical level, I’m not really satisfied with what I did on the court offensively. At all really. I gave it my all, but I just wish I would have played better and been more prominent on the offensive end. Don’t get me wrong, there were games I was proud of my play. I just wish I could have been more consistent with my confidence. Then again, there was always some hater on twitter or facebook telling you you’re the worst player in the world, and that typically cheered me up to imagine them trying to do what I did.
Can you compare the talent level on the court for this year’s team to what you had while you wore the Maize and Blue?
Well it will be interesting. Top to bottom the raw physical talent of this team now will be better than last years, but that’s not always what’s important. It takes a lot of mental talent to understand the system both offensively and defensively. The key to this years team is to be able to mesh that physical talent and to grow the mental talent of the new guys. It will also be very important for some guys to sacrifice in areas that they won’t want to.
What areas of the game will this team instantly succeed in? Please explain.
The scoring that this team brings back is huge for them. We kind of beat the pick and roll to death last year so the guys who scored for us last year are very comfortable with that. As they expand their individual games and mesh them together as I expect they will, they should have no problem putting the ball in the basket.
What do you see as being their biggest struggle? Please explain.
An issue we had at times last year was trying to make the spectacular play or take quick shots and make up ground quickly when things weren’t going our way offensively or when we felt like we needed to match the other team if they were on a run offensively. When things aren’t going our way they’re going to need leadership to reel everybody back in and calm down. Defensively, there needs to be a lot of focus. Team defense is key in the Big Ten. There is going to be a need for guys to really take pride in the defensive end and sacrifice some things on the offensive end in order to give a needed spark defensively.
Who from the remaining roster will fill your leadership void, and why?
I really feel like Josh is coming into his own as a leader. He’s not the most outspoken guy, but he is the best teammate I’ve ever had. The kid is selfless in all regards. He’s got your back at all times, and he is starting to figure out how to be a good leader without having to play 30+ minutes, and that is crucial. He’s very cerebral as well when it comes to X’s and O’s and his teammates. Yes, coaches know a lot about basketball, but they also need input from their players in order to help the team grow. It was huge for our team’s success last year to have Zack and I be those guys that went to the coaches and challenged them on certain things and let them know how the team really feels about a certain aspect of the offense or even little things like dress code. College basketball is full of pressure and stress. It is vital to have guys talk to coaches openly in order to reach compromises on certain things to minimize stress, and I believe Josh can really be a guy to step into that roll.
With Trey Burke returning and some of the top 100 recruits in the mix now, some people see this team making a deep run into March, do you agree? Explain.
Like I said, scoring should not be a problem. As long as certain guys understand their place on the offensive hierarchy, they should be fine. Team defense will be key. Similar to last year, they’re not going to be a big team, but when there is 100% trust and effort on the defensive end that doesn’t matter as much. It is about maintaining that effort.
What’s the most lasting advice you took away from your time with John Beilein and his staff?
Advice is really too specific of a word. There are so many ways in which my views on the game of basketball have been shaped through all the coaches I’ve had at Michigan. I’ll never watch another basketball game the same again. Once you have learned at that level, the game changes completely. The number one thing I took away from my time at Michigan was learning how to be a leader and a more mature person. I grew a lot over the years. Coach and I didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, and when I finally grew up and accepted the fact that no matter how much I may disagree with him he was always going to be right. My dad is a great businessman. One of the first things he ever taught me was that the customer is ALWAYS right (even when they’re not). This approach is a great way to minimize stress, and I had to take that same approach with Coach Beilein by accepting the things that were out of my control and just focus on the things I could. After I took this approach my head was much more clear, and I was much more useful on the court without all the mental and emotional clutter. College basketball really taught me how to manage stress and notice when you just need to let it go on a holistic level.
If you could pass one ongoing message on to the team you’ve left behind in Ann Arbor, what would it be?
This has always been the toughest question for me because I’ve always been a more detail oriented person. I have regrets when it comes to how I performed statistically speaking, but I can live with that. What you can’t live down is the regret of letting your team down. You don’t want to look back and wish you had given more effort or been a better teammate or been a better example for the others. You’re going to miss a lot of shots and make a lot of defensive mistakes in your career, but selfishness by not giving your best effort is one thing you won’t be able to live down.