Sam Webb: We’re in the Crisler center, and my, it looks a whole lot different from when you first started.
Bacari Alexander: “Certainly, Sam. I mean, I’ll tell you, all our generous donors, and all the friends of the program, and people that made a project like this possible is greatly appreciated, and you know, you come into this space, and you can feel the energy, and there’s nobody in here but you and I. “
Sam Webb: I think I told you this before, you step in this building, you step on this floor, you look at the kids that are in the program now, coach, people see expectations, they hear expectation. You look at all the pundits, and they’re placing the expectations upon you. How are you guys as a staff handling that with your players?
Bacari Alexander: “Well, you know, personally, growing up in the metropolitan Detroit area, Michigan is a big-time institution, you know, regardless of the men’s basketball tradition by itself. All the sports have enjoyed great success. One of the things that we do with regards to expectations is we just concentrate on getting better every day. If we can improve each day, the cumulative effect of players improving, when you bring them all together, the team gets better. And our goal is to go after Big Ten championships, and we know that puts us in position for national championships, and even more.”
Sam Webb: Now, any success most times is predicated on the guys you have coming back, and you have a couple of pit bulls coming back in your back court. I looked at Trey Burke; he looks like a different kid. I mean, he’s the same guy, but there’s a little bit more of him out there when Trey Burke steps on the floor.
Bacari Alexander: “You know, when you think of Trey Burke, the word that comes to mind is ‘invested’. You know, he’s a young man who’s really invested in his physical makeup. You notice a few extra bicep muscles, and the shoulders are getting there. His lower body has gotten a lot stronger, and he’s trying to get himself prepared for the rigors of a challenging schedule that we have in front of us. You know, that right there sets the tone for all our young guys to come in and see, ‘wow, you can get better in a short period of time.”
Sam Webb: You know, you’re a student of the game. You played it, you coach it now. You guys were excellent with the pick and roll early in the season, and then teams started defending you different ways. One of them was just being extremely physical with Trey as he came off the pick. Now it seems like he’s going to be able to take a bump a little bit better, and power through that. Was that part of the thought process with adding 15 pounds of muscle to his frame?
Bacari Alexander: “You know what, that’s probably a small aspect of it. More important than anything, you want your players to have durability. Fans remember when we got into the NCAA tournament, you know, we were probably operating on fumes, and a lot of that has to do with the physical development of a young guy like Trey Burke, who probably didn’t hit a freshman wall until the post-season, and this year, with the added strength, I think it’s going to give him opportunities to have success in those scenarios that you described, but also it’s going to make him mature and battle-tested, you know, when he approaches those rigors again.”
Sam Webb: Now, Tim Hardaway. Challenge before him, and Coach Beilein talked about it, wanted him to work on his ball handling; wanted him to be able to handle more of the responsibilities at your two spot. What have you seen of him in the limited time that you guys have been able to work with him? Sam Webb: Both skill-wise and mentality? Because leadership base has departed, has graduated. Some of that would seem to fall on his shoulders. How have you seen him kind of take that on?
Bacari Alexander: “Tim, just like Trey, is one of our hardest workers, and I think that sets a tone more than anything. With regard to skill set, he has improved ball handling, shown ability to put pressure on the rim, get two feet in the paint, and even make others better, so one of the things we’re excited about with Tim Hardaway, as we develop all of our players, is him being a multifaceted player. Being able to slide over the three, which he’s played his first couple years; being able to stretch the defenses at the two. I think it’s going to be a real formidable attack.”
Sam Webb: There was a grand revelation in the press conference today with John Beilein. He said, ‘you know, you get offensive rebounds, you can score like that’. Coach, you have some big boys down there in the paint that can get you some offensive boards this year.
Bacari Alexander: “Without question. We have two requirements of our big guys, and as their position coach, you know, I try to keep it really simple. Go to class, and get on the glass.”
Sam Webb: Spoken like a – I’m telling you, that’s going to be on the Tweet blitz someday soon. Coach, again, you are in a position now where you have an embarrassment of riches as far as size is concerned. You can play a lot of different guys at the four or the five. When you talk about rotation, you guys have been, at times, seven, at most, eight, deep. Is there a possibility that you could expand beyond that at times this year because you have so many pieces to the puzzle now?
Bacari Alexander: “That’s a great question, Sam. I think from a player’s mindset, if they play as hard as they can, as long as they can, I think a lot of times that dictates your depth, and if we have guys come in and have a tag team approach to their positions, whether it be our big guys up front at the four and the five, traditionally, you’ve seen us kind of log jam guys at the five spot, with our four man being a little undersized and playing that small ball concept. As we evolve as a program, we’re going to look to do things in even more creative ways, which is going to speak to their ability to develop in a multi-dimensional facet. Inside, outside, but more important, play as hard as you can for as long as you can, and who knows, that may give us the luxury of going depth beyond eight, nine, even ten players, who knows?”
Sam Webb: Now, Jordan Morgan, clearly a metamorphosis a couple years ago. I mean, you transformed him, you know, and he transformed himself into a guy that not only was a physical present on the floor, but he had that mentality as well that he carried to the floor every single day. Last year he had to get used to a new point guard. There was a process in that relationship building. Where is he now? From last year, certainly to the off season, to now, what have you seen from Jordan Morgan?
Bacari Alexander: “You know, he’s developing into becoming a coach on the floor. One thing about post play and big men, they’re in the back of the defense, so they have the luxury of seeing everything that’s taking place on the perimeter, as well as being close to the man that they’re guarding, so what he’s become is more or less a traffic cop; a guy that can give out instructions while guarding his own man, calling out actions whether he’s involved in them or not, and he’s becoming a coach on the floor for us, which you expect from a fourth-year junior.”
Stay tuned to GoBlueWolverine for part two during which Alexander goes in-depth about the potential for meaningful contributions from freshmen, the impact on-court success and facility upgrades have had on recruiting and more.