Oct. 15, 2012
By Alex Lozier
During the first few days of September, thousands of freshman students swarm the Ann Arbor campus to move in just before fall classes begin. Unlike the majority of their classmates, however, Michigan men's basketball newcomers Glenn Robinson III, Spike Albrecht, Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert headed to campus in June to enroll in summer term.
Their early arrival gave them a head start on working out at the William Davidson Player Development Center, getting a feel for college classes and building bonds with their teammates. This year's freshmen also saw another advantage to their summer, one that the classes before them had not received -- the ability to work out with the coaching staff.
Last January, the NCAA's board of directors approved new rules that allow Division I players who are also enrolled in summer school a total of eight weeks of weight training, conditioning and skill-related instruction by their program. The only limitations are that players may not be instructed for more than eight hours per week or receive more than two hours per week of skill-related instruction.
Now, instead of spending the summer training according to their high school standards, freshmen will be exposed right away to the expectations and style of play of their coaches, as well as the demands of Division I basketball.
"This summer, working with Coach Sanderson (strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson) in the weight room got us used to the college game and helped us get stronger," Stauskas said of the ability to work with the coaches early this year. "And just having those one-hour workouts with Coach (John) Beilein, the individuals, those were really helpful for us to get a feel for his system."
LeVert and Robinson echoed Stauskas' account but saw the benefits off the court as well. "We really got a great jump start with our classes, and now the load is a little bit easier right now," LeVert said.
And according to Robinson, one big benefit was getting used to campus right away. "I know all the buildings by heart now. I can tell everyone where to go now, but before, in the summer, we were all lost."
But despite their early access and extra time to get acclimated, the freshmen were not immune to the struggles faced, on and off the court, when transitioning from high school to college. Albrecht mentioned "the level of play and the guys you're playing against every day in practice," as some of the biggest challenges he's faced on the court so far. Robinson added, "It's a lot different from high school, a lot faster. The courts are longer. And then defense-wise, you can't take a defensive play off."
Off the court, many of the guys mentioned the time management adjustments required of becoming a Big Ten student-athlete. "Obviously, we have some busy days. We have some days where there's not a lot of time for socializing or stuff like that. But that's what we signed up for and that's what we want," said Stauskas. "Spending time in the Ross Academic Center and working with Tommy Jones (the team's academic advisor) and our tutors, that's definitely going to help us in the long run."
In addition to all of the athletic and academic resources available to assist in the players' development, all five freshmen also credited the upperclassmen for helping them transition easier. "All the guys on the team, they know that we're freshmen and we're getting used to everything, so they're helping and talking us through it all," said Albrecht.
Robinson also noted, "They're all here to help and they want to win. So I think that in order to win, they've got to help us freshmen. And that's what they've done."
Also individually recognized for showing leadership to the freshmen were seniors Josh Bartelstein and Matt Vogrich. "JBart and Vogrich. They've been some of the leaders on this team. They've been helping all of us freshmen out a lot, whether it's in school or on the court. They've just been really helpful to us," Stauskas said.
McGary also said he's received a lot of guidance on the court from a fellow forward in senior/junior Jordan Morgan. "He's helped me with a lot of skills and footwork, and with knowing where to be on the court at times in this new system. He's always teaching me tricks here and there."
The five all valued their ability to work well with the returning players and coaches, as well as receive guidance from them. But they also recognized that they are lucky to have each other to experience the transition with.
McGary, Robinson and Albrecht played AAU together with the Sports Youth Foundation Basketball Flyers and had formed a bond prior to arriving in Ann Arbor. "Having Spike, Glenn and I all from the same area has been great," said McGary. "We've been able to have that bond for the last couple of years. But Nik and Caris are just great kids and easy to get along with as well. Even off the court, when we're just hanging out, it's making that bond even stronger on the court."
It's clear that the relationships among players and coaches are one of the most important aspects of this team to the freshmen. When speaking about his observations during the recruiting process, Robinson said, "Coming in, I knew this was the place to go after seeing how [the coaches] interact -- it just felt different."
LeVert added, "The players here are really great people, as well as great basketball players. We're like a family here."
The goal each year at Michigan is to minimize the transition period for its newcomers, and these five freshmen have had a lot in their favor. It seems that all the stars are aligning for this year's freshman class with the help of their coaches, teammates, support staff and tremendous resources at Michigan. After spending the summer acclimating to life as a collegiate student-athlete, all that these five have to do now is take care of business in the classroom and on the court.