Cazzie Russell and Glen Rice, along with Jalen Rose and the Fab Five, have each earned their rightful places within Michigan basketball history.
But who’s next? Could coach John Beilein have the Wolverines’ hero of tomorrow on his roster today? Or what about the prospects? Could an upcoming recruit end up as the second coming of Rice or Juwan Howard?
If the past seven years under Beilein have been of any indication, be prepared to see someone, at any given moment, emerge as the No. 1 threat on the court and vault himself to superstar status. In just a short time, Beilein’s already coached a pair of program legends who essentially came from out of nowhere: Nik Stauskas, a potential lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft, and Trey Burke, who is on the fast track to professional stardom with the Utah Jazz.
Imagine what they could have done if they played out their remaining two years of eligibility—we could have been talking about one of the university’s figurehead athletes, not just recent standouts. However, the fact that each needed just two seasons in college before hopping to the Association speaks volumes to Beilein’s ability to prepare players for the next level.
With that being said, let’s peruse the current roster for the next Stauskas and/or Burke. And while we’re at it, we might as well peek at upcoming recruits, as one in particular comes to mind as a potential Beilein-era definer.
Safe and Secure
As it stands now, Michigan has two candidates for “next great” status: Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin.
Entering his junior year, LeVert, who is coming off foot surgery and expects to return by August, is the obvious front-runner. If he’s not on your short list of dark horses for Big Ten Player of the Year, it may be time to edit that thing. This past year, the 6’6,” 185-pound winger averaged 12.9 points and 32 minutes per game within an offense that was, for the most part, structured to feature—or at least rely upon—Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III.
Granted, he’ll need to put on a few pounds and become more aggressive if he’s looking to become the next Rice, who was a more physical, 6’7,” 215-pound shooting forward. At this juncture, LeVert plays as more of a traditional 2-guard, but he’s adding more to his repertoire and could easily evolve into a paint-trading 3.
Like Rice was back in the day, LeVert is a threat to score from just about anywhere on the floor. And with any luck, he’ll further develop his high- and low-post games while also grooming his long-range jumper. In 2013-14, he hit better than 40 percent from deep and showcased a no-fear attitude along the baseline.
Those are star qualities, aren’t they? Be sure to get your “Caris for POTY” T-shirt while they’re still available.
Now, moving onto Irvin, a 6’6,” 200-pound shooting guard who averaged nearly seven points and 15 minutes per game as a freshman. Sure, his stat line doesn’t jump out and scream “this kid’s jersey is bound for the rafters”—but consider the following: In 2013, 247Sports rated the former Mr. Basketball, Indiana as the nation’s No. 7-ranked shooting guard of the class, making him one of the highest-rated recruits of Beilein’s tenure.
Needless to say, expectations are high for this one, as they were for Rose, who was an elite 2 of the 1991 class. However, he started off hot from the get-go, averaging an astonishing 17.6 points per as a freshman and 15.4 as a sophomore as the Wolverines marched to consecutive national championships in 1992 (lost to Duke) and 1993 (lost to North Carolina).
Of course, Rose was also part of one of college basketball’s all-time recruiting classes—his team was loaded with Chris Webber, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson and Howard. Since then, Michigan—not to mention everyone else in the NCAA—hasn’t quite managed to duplicate that haul.
These aren’t your Fab Five Wolverines, but they’re maturing—and Irvin has plenty of time to grow alongside his teammates. Think about it: This past season, the Wolverines were supposed to be doomed without Burke, only for Stauskas to step in, along with LeVert and Irvin, and lead them to the Elite Eight.
Is there more pressure this year? Now that Stauskas (and Mitch McGary, John Horford and Jordan Morgan) is gone? If so, does that mean that Beilein’s players will once again kick up the intensity? LeVert and Irvin have each shown immense promise and could charge a shocking run through the tourney this spring.
Stranger things have happened.
Irvin may not set the world ablaze with his scoring, but he’s certainly due for more than a handful of points each game. In a perfect scenario, he’s a guy who could pile 15 on per night without issue while perfectly complementing LeVert.
En Route to Crisler
Speaking of Glen Rice and other greats, let’s toss Kameron Chatman into the discussion. Of course, Rice was a once-a-generation player, so the chances of anyone reaching his level (or the aforementioned's) are very slim. However, at nearly 6’7” and 200 pounds, Chatman, the No. 27-ranked athlete of 2015 per 247Sports, could eventually come close.
Flaunting a bit of everything, the combo forward should immediately step into a prominent role. Beilein absolutely hit the jackpot with this kid. Hops, defense, offense and transition—his game is quite polished for someone of his age.
For coaches, the object is to get the most out of each man on the roster. Furthermore, it’s also their job to evaluate and promote talent. Beilein has a proven ability to identify skill and nurture it to no end. Stauskas and Burke are proof positive of that.
Look, they would have been solid players had they not chosen Michigan. But it’d take a whole lot of persuasion to convince someone that they would have been better off under someone other than Beilein.
And you better believe that he has more of those types on the way.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.