With elite players, Beilein saw possibilities

Michigan coach John Beilein built a career around recruiting and coaching up hard working, mostly overlooked, versatile basketball players to fit his unique system. Now at Michigan, on the eve of playing for a national championship, the system is still in place, the players are just on another level.

ATLANTA -- Michigan coach John Beilein might be coaching in his first national championship game Monday night at 9:23pm/EST against the Louisville Cardinals, but the 35 year coaching veteran isn’t subscribing to any theory that his plans for prep -- just a little over 40 hours worth -- should be altered in any way. Beilein was back in the film room Sunday morning after the Wolverines disposed of the Syracuse Orangemen Saturday night.

The film session, described by assistant Bacari Alexander as being, “only for the head coach,” got underway before some Michigan fans or students had even put head to pillow after the school’s first national semifinal win in 20 years.

“I started at 5:45 this morning watching them on film,” said Beilein. “Those two hours, I didn't think they were fun because they give you so many different looks. With a one-day prep, it's almost impossible to get ready for all those things.

“What you're hoping is that you've been getting ready for that since October 15th. You don't know whether you are, but just you got to dribble it strong, you got to pivot well, pass well, play with your eyes up. Those are things these guys have been working on all year long.”

The brick by brick approach to rebuilding, and in a lot of ways, reuniting, the Michigan basketball fan base is a process that’s been in construction for more than just a season’s worth of practices in the William Davidson Player Development Center -- Beilein has been laying the ground work for a team and program such as this one since way back in 1978 at Erie Community College.

No, ECC was never and will never be privy to the national stage Michigan is currently standing on, but from a basketball standpoint, it wasn’t because Beilein executed his teachings differently -- he and the Wolverines are successful because they remained the same. The difference? Well, NBA talent has a way of making life on a coach a lot easier, and there’s no shortage of it in Ann Arbor.

“When I was coaching at the lower levels with really good players, (I) said that if I could ever get to the point where I could recruit these five guys, that we would do a lot of the same things, but we just do 'em better,” said Beilein.

“We want them to be more skilled players. If their dreams are to play at a professional level afterwards, we study what people do at that level like crazy. Not as much to say, certainly it's preparing them, but we want to win.  So the better they can become, the better we're going to be. “

Admittedly and understandably, with National Player of the Year Trey Burke manning the controls at point guard, Beilein has catered certain actions of his free flowing offense to suit the unique skills of his super sophomore, allowing freedom and decision making because, after all, players play and the great ones make plays -- Burke fits that description to a ‘T.’

Add the athleticism of a Glenn Robinson III, the steady play of Tim Hardaway Jr. who always seems to hit a big shot when Michigan needs it most, and the recent insertion of freshman Mitch McGary at the center spot, averaging a double-double in five NCAA tournament wins -- the recipe for a championship is there and the potential for the Wolverines to claim four first round NBA draft picks remains a distinct possibility.

But the focus is on the here and now and the reality is Michigan sits 40 minutes from being crowned national champion. Everything else can wait.

“These young men have some really unlimited potential, and that's why we're coaching. But we don't ever have the idea, we're coaching these guys, we're going to keep telling them they're going to be great pros,” said Beilein. “No, we're saying, let's win at Michigan. Unpack your suitcase, and let's win at Michigan, then the rest will take care of itself. 

“Just like during the year, if we just take care of each game, you can be in the championship game one day. If all you talk about is the championship game, you might never get there.”