Michigan coach John Beilein speaks to the media on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, in Ann Arbor.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
David DeJulius stood with reporters Thursday inside Michigan basketball’s Crisler Center media room, placed in roughly the same spot Zavier Simpson was in two years ago.
Back then, Simpson was a freshman trying anything he could to get John Beilein to put him on the floor behind veteran leader Derrick Walton.
Simpson wasn’t outwardly frustrated, but he admitted things were, at times, overwhelming.
“I’ve had a few ‘wow’ moments, yeah,” Simpson said back in December of 2016. “There have been a few times where I’m thinking ‘wow.’ ”
First-year point guards in Beilein’s system are more likely to sit and watch hours of in-game basketball than they are to become the league’s freshman of the year the way Trey Burke did in 2012. Burke was the ultimate rarity. Even Walton, who started as a freshman without nearly the same level of usage, went through two full years of trying to figure out what was happening.
DeJulius, a 6-foot, 190-pound freshman from Detroit East English Village, has officially arrived at that point.
“In high school, you’re playing every minute of the game, tapping your head when you want a blow. Now, you’re on the bench for an hour and a half waiting. It’s tough,” DeJulius said in advance of U-M’s Saturday home game against Air Force (4 p.m., BTN). “When I first got here, it was a major struggle. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’ve made some major strides.
“This has all helped my game grow. Coming here, you just rely on talent. Now you’ve got to run the sets (Beilein) wants, what makes his offense go. It’s helped my game.”
Like Simpson two years ago, DeJulius has had his head-spinning moments since arriving as a freshman this summer. He’s played just 25 minutes in seven appearances this season, as he’s learning Michigan’s system.
He’s also got someone he can lean on for advice.
When Burke showed up in the fall of 2011, the closest thing he had to an on-court mentor about what it was like to be the lead guard for Beilein was senior Stu Douglass — who had only moonlighted as a point guard. Douglass and Zack Novak were great leaders and Burke’s natural ability ultimately won out.
Walton came to Michigan two years later and started right away, but he had Spike Albrecht to help with the nuance of the position. Simpson showed up three years after that and had Walton. Coaches can only hand out so much advice. Players who have been through it before are more able to give true counsel based on experience.
Now, DeJulius has Simpson.
“We actually had a conversation (about this) a couple days ago,” DeJulius said of Simpson, Michigan’s junior starting point guard. “He keeps giving me advice, telling me how he went through the same process and no matter what, stay level-headed and stay positive.”
The reality for players like DeJulius, and Simpson before him, comes from how difficult it can be for a young guard to gain Beilein’s trust when the coach already has a veteran. In this case, Beilein has Simpson and sophomore backup Eli Brooks.
He’s continued to encourage DeJulius, and fellow freshman forward Brandon Johns, as players who have grown a lot since they arrived in the summer. But minutes aren’t free on a team like this — one that’s 11-0 and ranked No. 4 in the country.
DeJulius’ in-game opportunity to prove to Beilein he’s ready may come completely out of the blue and without notice. It may only last five minutes.
But those five minutes have to be the best DeJulius has. And he knows it.
“Once this becomes second nature, I think my talent will take over. When I’m not thinking as much,” DeJulius adds. “That’s when you see guys like (Jordan Poole) and guys like that really take off. They had that talent last year, but they were second-guessing themselves. Now they’re out there performing.
“I knew this would be a process. My high school coach (Juan Rickman) knew it would be a process and he pushed me every day. I may not have known it all the way at the time, but now I do. And I’ll keep moving forward.”
Contact Nick Baumgardner: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.