John Beilein’s never been afraid to roll up his sleeves and adopt a hands-on approach to coaching college basketball. And during the past eight years, followers of Michigan hoops have witnessed his strong-minded yet comfortable style of persuasion restore prominence and prestige to the once-proud Wolverines.
Since taking over in 2007, Beilein’s done his best to make those forget about NCAA violations and transgressions committed by the Fab Five during the early 1990s. By building a Big Ten powerhouse that’s capable of winning it all, he's authored new chapters of celebrated lore.
Sure, it’s taken a little time and extreme effort in the wake of former coach Tommy Amaker, but Beilein now has a firm grip on “elite coach” status thanks to an appearance in the 2014 Elite Eight—with a supposed “down” team—and an admirable and nearly improbable showing during the 2013 national championship versus Louisville.
Of course, none of that happened over night. There was the inevitable learning curve to conquer, but the past four years have given reason to expect the real thing on a yearly basis. Beilein’s just getting started, evident by his extraordinary developmental touch that changed Trey Burke from an average-ranked recruit to a national player of the year and one of the NBA’s top rookies. That same philosophy flipped Nik Stauskas from mid-grade prospect to early first rounder.
Two years. That’s all they needed from Beilein, who, in turn, got the best of each athlete during their stays. They didn’t mail it in and wait for the draft to come calling—they became school legends while upping their stock in the process.
And really, Caris LeVert could inherit a similar fortune, just a year later. Entering his junior year, the once-overlooked prep is primed to become one of the Big Ten’s rising stars. And, at his current pace, he could pass that mark and earn first-round consideration for 2015.
These aren’t mere coincidences. These are results of a gifted architect. How does he do it?
Back in January, Shane Ryan of Grantland wrote “Old Genius, New Genius: John Beilein and Nik Stauskas Lead the Michigan Resurgence,” an appropriately titled piece that sang the praises of the tactical coach, a man whose dedication and eye for detail have done wonders for Michigan and its players.
As mentioned above, Stauskas, who shot from 192 pounds to 208, entered college as a modestly rated kid; but he leaves as a highly ranked pro prospect. In all likelihood, had he not been committed to improvement and bought into that whole "buying in" thing, he’d be talking about his plans for his junior year at Michigan.
Instead, he gets to talk about what he’ll add to an NBA roster. Conversely, Beilein gets to brag about and support his extended family.
This past season, as many do, Stauskas went through a slump and he didn’t get his regular amount of touches, nor did he sink his regular amount of baskets. However, rather than abandoning his hot-shot sophomore in February, Beilein encouraged Stauskas to do what he knew best, per MLive.com’s Brendan F. Quinn:
He can do this. (We've) just got to keep prompting him to be aggressive offensively. He needs to be aggressive. He’s a heck of a shooter and he’s got to have this mentality: It can’t be a perfect night, I’m not going to make every shot, I’m not going to make any if I don’t take them.
It would have been easy to pull the plug and ride the other underclassmen to victory. Sticking with Stauskas showed trust. It showed that Beilein had been “there” before and knew how to handle a guy who just wasn’t feeling like himself.
Now, look at Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert. Those guys are next, and if they’re as malleable, they’ll be sculpted into Association-bound athletes too. For now, Walton still has to prove that he’s indeed the man for point guard—and he is, just let him work. As for LeVert, he’s an all-conferencer in any light.
But there’s a challenge. If LeVert’s to be the player he’s meant to be, he’s going to need help from his coach. On May 12, LeVert had foot surgery, and there aren’t many guarantees on the road to recovery. But he should be ready for workouts late this the summer, giving ample time to rehab prior to another Big Ten battleground.
Sit back and watch Beilein get “Ghost” on that clay.
Respect Given, Respect Earned
When Tom Izzo, Michigan State's fiery front man, goes to bat for you, well, you've made it. There's no other way to say it. Worthy in his own right, Izzo pointed down the road to Ann Arbor when asked who he'd tab as the league's 2014 COTY, per MLive.com's Mike Griffith:
I'd vote for him. He has done a great job, and he probably deserves that accolade. He has a similar team back, other than (Mitch) McGary, but he has two bigs back that have started for a couple of years (Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford), and they lost some people.
The rivalry is there, of course, but so is the respect factor: Beilein's both enemy and colleague to Izzo, who is one of the game's greats. He's earned that distinction due to the way he conducts his program. You'd be hard-pressed to find major errors in the way Beilein operates.
Saying that Beilein's success (and those wretched NBA rumors) is a byproduct of his "do it the right way" mindset would be too easy. However, he flourished while doing so at Richmond, where he set program records with the Spiders, and while at West Virginia, where he revamped the Mountaineers.
When a coach does it above the board and genuinely cares about progress, development and harboring a family atmosphere, there usually aren't too many wrongs to worry about.
The secret is no longer secret.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81