For years, University of Michigan basketball coaches and fans were simply worried about getting into the NCAA Tournament. Five berths in six years into March Madness, including a trip to the National Championship and Elite Eight the past two seasons, has presented new kinds of problems for the Wolverines: the early departure of talented players to the NBA.
A year after Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. left for the professional ranks, coach John Beilein announced in a press conference today at Crisler Arena that sophomores Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III will forego their last two seasons of college eligibility to declare for early entry into the 2014 NBA Draft. Together, Stauskas and Robinson were on Michigan teams that combined to win 59 games, the most over any two-year period in school history.
Stauskas’s announcement could be seen from a mile away. The 2014 Big Ten Player of the Year had a monster sophomore campaign averaging 17.5 points per game to go along with 3.3 assists per contest.
“It’s tough not to imagine coming back with all the guys here but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I didn’t even consider the NBA until after the season ended. I think I did a good job of staying focused and I’m definitely leaving the program in great hands. I spoke to Tim [Hardaway Jr.] and he told me to be two feet in and have no regrets. I’ve been looking forward to this moment my entire life.”
As for what to expect at the next level, Stauskas is a sharpshooter that can really help an offense spread the floor from a number of different angles, but what separates him from others is his ability to be able to shoot both off the catch and dribble. Unusually superb from the corner, Stauskas uses baseline screens excellently, and really knows how to fill the weak-side lane in transition. The Canadian has range that goes well beyond the NBA 3-point line, a quick release, and can take advantage of defenders that overextend by putting it on the deck and driving into the paint. He has surprising athletic ability as evidenced by his capability of dunking with authority, and he plays with a contagious swagger that can inspire his teammates and the home crowd. Where he needs to improve is his defense; he needs to get into a better defensive stance and stay in front of his man, but he’s got long arms, good hands and feet, and he reminds scouts of the way JJ Redick plays except his game has some more variety and versatility to it.
Robinson’s declaration comes as a little bit more of a surprise but not as a complete shock. A tri-captain as a sophomore, Robinson started all 76 games of his career as an invaluable wing player for the Wolverines.
“This process from last year has made this time easier. The coaching staff believed in my talents and I’m ready to take this step. I’ve become smarter, especially learning to move without the ball. Improving my overall game every day was the key. I’m looking forward to this opportunity and I feel extremely blessed.”
Robinson is an athletic specimen, 6’7, a lean 220 lbs., with soft hands and a strong frame. He possesses an NBA body much like his father, and also has the game to match with the ability to play down low on the blocks and bang around. He can make turnaround jump shots, and also is improving on his 3-point shot. Robinson is really special though at the little things: he is an unusually efficient offensive rebounder with a great second-jump ability, he can play volleyball on the backboard or convert on a put-back, he can block and alter shots on the defensive end, and he has a great motor and really loves to get better and play the game. Between his athleticism, the ability to get up and down in the open floor, and hard work, Robinson has a chance to be a player much like Danny Granger was in his prime.
Moving forward, the spotlight now shines on Mitch McGary. After an incredible 2013 NCAA Tournament which catapulted his draft stock into the 1st Round, McGary returned to Michigan and was a Preseason 1st team All-American as a sophomore. Unfortunately, a debilitating back injury, which required surgery, prematurely ended McGary’s season after just 9 games. McGary’s return would obviously make Michigan a better team in 2014-2015, but as Beilein has proved in his tenure at Michigan, the cupboard is never barren. Caris Levert, Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton, Spike Albrecht all return in addition to the debuts of redshirt freshman Mark Donnal and true freshmen DJ Wilson, Ricky Doyle, and Kameron Chatman. At the press conference, Beilein confidently mentioned, “when you’re a good program, there’s always hope.”
Michigan is a good program. And there’s plenty of hope heading into the future.