Michigan basketball coach John Beilein speaks to the media on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, in Ann Arbor.
Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
Frank Martin was reminded of the past when he and his South Carolina basketball team arrived at Crisler Center on Friday for practice.
The Gamecocks came to Ann Arbor for the second leg of their home-and-home series against Michigan on Saturday, some two years after blowing out the Wolverines in Columbia, S.C., on Nov. 23, 2016. That victory was on Martin’s mind as he watched junior point guard Zavier Simpson shooting around on Friday.
Two years ago, Simpson played seven minutes. He took one shot and missed it. He had as many fouls as points. His classmate, then-freshman center Jon Teske, didn’t fare much better in his four minutes.
Martin pulled Simpson aside on Friday and told him he had watched film from the game two years ago. Back then, Martin said, Simpson and Teske were “like two little kids.”
“It’s unbelievable how much better you guys are and how different you look,” Martin told Simpson next.
In No. 5 Michigan’s 89-78 win over South Carolina on Saturday afternoon, Simpson played 37:35 and finished with seven points, seven assists and three steals. Teske played 29 minutes, scoring 15 points while adding nine rebounds and three blocks.
The two tied for a game-high plus-minus rating of +19.
“I don’t think Coach (Beilein) gets the credit that he deserves for the way his players develop,” Martin said after Saturday’s game.
This isn’t the first time Beilein, in his 12th season at Michigan, has earned praise for his player development.
He has had nine players taken in the NBA draft. Only one, Glenn Robinson III, was ranked as a 5-star prospect. Duncan Robinson, who transferred to Michigan from Division III Williams College, signed a two-way contract with the Miami Heat this past summer after going undrafted.
Beilein is as capable as any coach in the country when it comes to developing players for the next level. It’s a long process — he has never had a player leave for the NBA after their freshman season — but Beilein has no problem with that.
“That’s what college basketball has to be more about, is kids developing more over time instead of focusing on the guys that are impact players right away and forgetting about the other guys,” Beilein said. “And that’s what these student-athletes have to embrace.”
Simpson and Teske aren’t the only players who have followed that mold. Take Jordan Poole as the next example.
Last season, Michigan’s student section held a Jordan Poole-themed celebration — called the “Poole Party” — for the team’s Feb. 3 game against Minnesota.
The Wolverines won in overtime, 76-73. Poole played 12 minutes and missed all four shots he took. After the game, Beilein jokingly commented that ‘the pool was closed.”
Michigan’s student section hosted another “Poole Party” for Saturday’s game. This time, the party’s namesake delivered a career-high 26 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
“Poole’s going to be a phenomenal player,” Martin said. “He makes the easy shots, and he makes the hard shots. Those are the guys who are hard to guard.”
The improvement that players like Poole, Simpson and Teske have made over the course of their careers is why the Wolverines are ranked fifth in the country and still unbeaten. It’s how Michigan has won 24 of its last 25 games.
And it’s why Martin said Michigan has the “element” of a championship team — a team that comes up with loose balls and hard rebounds, and plays with purpose in every movement on offense, whether it be a cut, pass or dribble.
Finding this element comes from work in the offseason and in practice. All under the watchful eye of the head coach.
It doesn’t come easy. But Michigan’s found a similar formula before, thanks to Beilein. And it appears to have done so again.
Contact Orion Sang: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang.