Oct. 24, 2013
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Sit up, smile and be polite. Three pretty easy guidelines for media day down on the floor of Crisler Center.
With 60-plus members of the media getting their first glimpse of the 2013-14 University of Michigan men's basketball team, it was important to sit up, smile and be polite.
Question after question after question poured in: How is your health? What will the loss of Tim and Trey mean? Are the young guys ready to lead? Sit up, smile and be polite.
During the reporter roulette that is Media Day, the 14 student-athletes on John Beilein's squad sat up. They smiled. And they were polite.
But you can also be assured it is the last time they will be so courteous to visitors on their floor.
Media Day gives Beilein's guys a chance to practice their manners and part the curtain on the newest edition of Michigan men's basketball, along with answering questions about their favorite TV shows and who has the best singing voice on the team (apparently there is a limit on how many times you can ask who will play point guard this season).
This is a team that does not want to talk to the talk -- it wants to walk the walk. Beilein is preparing his squad for the exhibition opener against Concordia on Oct. 29. There are some questions about what the lineup will look like that day, but there is also a lot of optimism and good feelings surrounding the team.
And it starts at the top. The head coach walked into his press conference at Crisler Center on Thursday smiling and got in the first joke of the 2013-14 season.
"What a crowd," he remarked, looking out at the sea of reporters and cameras. "Are we giving out a free lunch?"
Check the boxscore: Coach Beilein is 1-for-1 and season just began.
There was no free lunch today for the press corps, and that is the point: Michigan basketball is not selling anything other than itself.
"At Michigan there should be high expectations," Beilein said about his young team.
The Michigan men's basketball team is a bit like a hockey player's mouth: two uppers and 12 unders. The loneliest place to be on Media Day? The picture of the upperclassmen. It features just fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan and redshirt junior Jon Horford.
"I'm the old man around here," said Morgan, only half-joking.
He slid into a waiting chair in front of a TV camera like you get into the driver's seat of your car -- the type of move you do without thinking because it has become involuntary. This is his fifth media day, and he approaches it -- and the season -- with a quiet confidence.
"If we can grow together and have some of the younger guys grow into second leadership roles, then things will be great," he said.
There are lots of younger guys to choose from. The sophomore class boasts six returners. The freshman class equals a half dozen as well.
When Lonergan saw his U-M jersey for the first time, he admits it was quite a rush.
"I turned (the jersey) around to make sure my last name was spelled correctly," he said.
Dakich says he preserved the moment he first put his jersey on for eternity with the art form pioneered by Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian: the selfie.
"I don't usually take selfies, but I had to for this one," he said.
You could tell he regretted owning up to the selfie almost as soon as he said it. But who would not want a selfie in a U-M uniform?
Sophomore Spike Albrecht was in their position a year ago, but that was before a run through the NCAA Tournament and a trip to the Final Four. Now he is answering questions like a grizzled veteran, sitting behind a white table and providing answers while reporters loom over him. With classmates like Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, he is used to looking up.
"Can you believe the number of Twitter followers you have now?" someone asked.
"It is crazy," said Albrecht. "I'm thankful and blessed."
No comment on if Twitter even existed during Morgan's first Media Day. It certainly did not during Beilein's first Media Day at U-M. The world -- and Michigan basketball -- has changed a lot during his time in Ann Arbor.
He peppered his answers to the media with references to past -- Zack and Stu, Darius and DeShawn, Trey and Tim. But his focus is solely on this team and turning this team into a group of champions.
"We want to be champions of the Puerto Rico tournament, of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, of the Big Ten season, of the conference tournament," he said. "We're worried about becoming champions one step at a time."
He talked about the team's versatility and using his players in emerging roles.
Will Nik Stauskas's role change? Someone asked.
"Oh yeah," said Beilein with a big smile on his face. "Stay tuned."
You can bet they will. Whether the proof is in the number of Spike Albrecht Twitter followers or the amount of media that turned out today, you can be sure people will be tuned in.
"Keep it simple, do what you do well and don't reinvent the wheel," said Beilein, referring to his building blocks for a successful season.
Sit up, smile and be polite. It all starts with a game plan.
By Michael Kasiborski