ANN ARBOR -- Dating all the way back to 1979 as head coach at Erie community college, John Beilein’s approach started and ended with player development. Now in his sixth season in charge of the Michigan basketball program, that strategy doesn’t look all that different as Beilein and his coaching staff continue to work with the players, improving them, tightening their games, and molding them into effective college players.
Even Beilein himself is learning to get better at one thing or another, one of the reasons he and his family were able to celebrate after the Wolverines advanced to the Sweet 16 Saturday afternoon.
“I don’t do it well,” said Beilein Tuesday. “I really don’t.
“I’m not the one that goes out after the game and celebrates. I usually go home and just relax. I think it’s important for my family to see -- because they’ve sacrificed a lot through this whole thing -- to see dad smiling maybe and relaxing a little bit.
“Pizza and chicken wings -- it was crazy over there.”
Still digesting and enjoying the moment Sunday, Beilein gave his players the day off to join in the celebration themselves, a feeling earned through five-months of cross country travel, playing the highest level of competition college basketball has to offer.
“We said, ‘don’t go hide in your room and get on your phone,’” said Beilein. “Get out and see people and have a good time and I encouraged them to do that. Right now, given the year, there were a lot of distractions.
“It’s not too much different at this point. And when we hit the road, they’re all on our schedule. They’re in their hotel rooms, we have security -- it’s probably less distracting when we get down there than it is right now.”
All set to leave for Arlington, Texas, Wednesday, the Wolverines shift their focus from the dominant win over VCU to facing No. 1 seed and Big 12 champion, the Kansas Jayhawks.
Lead by 7-0 senior center Jeff Withey and freshman sensation, guard Ben McLemore, Kansas brings a unique blend of athletes -- four seniors and three freshmen -- to their Sweet 16 match-up this Friday at 7:37pm.
“They’re 6-4, 6-6, 6-5 on the perimeter,” said Beilein. “Point guard being 6-4. When (Naadir) Tharpe comes in they’re a little bit smaller but, and then Withey obviously -- that’s a big part of defensive field goal percentage -- a blocked shot is still a missed shot.
“Withey anchors it, getting to the basket, but the other guys -- when you play for Bill Self you learn to really play defense and if you’ve been doing it for four years you’re usually very good at it.”
Coming off career highs in points (21) and rebounds (14), freshman center Mitch McGary will be tabbed to step-up against Withey inside. Injected into the starting lineup over the past two games, McGary learned the hard way this season, coming together physically and mentally just in time for the tournament.
“I think the eight minutes at Indiana was a bit of a serious wake up call to say, ‘playing hard does not always mean playing smart,’” said Beilein. “And he had one of those fouls in the South Dakota State game that put them in the one-on-one a little earlier and he’s learning that this not only hurts my playing time, but this hurts my team.
“Guarding Withey, one of the best big men in the country, is a whole new challenge. But he’s learning how to use that big body. He’s 256 pounds right now, which is probably the lightest he’s been all year.”