Nov. 13, 2013
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public & Media Relations
On Tuesday afternoon (Nov. 12), before University of Michigan men's basketball team tipped off against South Carolina State in its second game of the season, head coach John Beilein named fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan, senior/junior Jon Horford and sophomore Glenn Robinson III team captains for the 2013-14 campaign.
The story as the Wolverines faced the Bulldogs was, by now, a familiar one. The Bulldogs started two seniors (Matthew Hezekiah and Adama Adams) and a junior (Luka Radovic) -- more upperclassmen than Michigan has on its entire roster. With a tough schedule looming in the near future, beginning with a trip to Ames, Iowa, to face an energetic home crowd at Iowa State on Sunday (Nov. 17), Michigan's squad will have to play with maturity and poise despite its youth. The 93-59 win against South Carolina State provided a great opportunity for the three new captains to showcase their experience and lead their young team in what will be an ongoing process of growth throughout the season.
Testament to Michigan's youth is the naming of Robinson as one of the team's three captains. Robinson is only the fourth sophomore in the history of the Michigan men's basketball program to be named captain.
The last player to be named captain as a sophomore, former three-time captain Zack Novak, was in the stands at Crisler Center for Michigan's victory against the Bulldogs.
"He (Robinson) is one of the most experienced guys on the team," said Novak. "It is harder leading guys that are older than you, but when the other two guys who are older than you are also your co-captains, that's going to make it a lot easier."
"Being captain for this team is a great honor, especially as a sophomore," Robinson said. "You don't come across that many sophomores who are leaders for a team, but I'm one of the most experienced guys on this team. It doesn't put any pressure on myself. I just have to go out with the same mindset and continue to lead this team like I have, because I think this team needs me to step up and be a leader and a captain."
Robinson has certainly stepped up so far this season, taking on an expanded role with the departure of former stars Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Robinson has proven his ability to score the ball, netting 15 points in the first game against UMass Lowell. Against South Carolina State, he showed his ability to attack the glass as well, recording nine rebounds in addition to his 12 points.
"I have a whole different role than I had last year," Robinson said. "I'm willing to take that challenge."
"He's got everyone's ear in that locker room," Novak added. "People will listen just because of the way he carries himself. He comes in, he works really hard every day; he's in the gym, and you never see him getting flustered on the court."
Robinson's experience, skillset and work ethic will make him a crucial leader on this season's Michigan team. But even he can learn from the experience of the team's only upperclassmen, Morgan and Horford.
"They're the only seniors on our team, and they have a lot of different experience and leadership," said Robinson. "They know a lot of things that I don't know necessarily."
On Tuesday night, the two Wolverine forwards made their experience clear as they played a large role in executing Michigan's game plan against South Carolina State.
Rebounding is a key aspect of South Carolina State's game. Coming into the contest against Michigan, the Bulldogs were averaging 37.5 rebounds per game, many of which came on the offensive glass. On Tuesday, Michigan held the Bulldogs to 30 total rebounds, and just eight offensive rebounds, while collecting 43 of their own rebounds, including nine offensive boards. Twenty-one of those -- a little less than half of Michigan's total rebounds -- were picked up by Horford and Morgan.
"(Rebounding) was something we really emphasized," said Morgan. "We knew that they go to the glass recklessly, and we wanted to do a good job of setting the tone and dominating the glass so that they couldn't get second chances on offense."
Not only did Morgan and Horford play a key role in preventing the Bulldogs from getting second-chance points, but they also spent stretches of the game guarding South Carolina State's best player, Hezekiah. The 6-11 senior was named to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's preseason first team and led his team in scoring in the Bulldogs' previous two contests. In 2012-13, he averaged 12.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. At halftime against Michigan, Hezekiah had scored only two points.
"They (Morgan and Horford) brought intensity to our defense, and they crashed the boards hard and got rebounds," said Robinson.
Morgan and Horford's success on defense led the way for their teammates. At halftime, the Bulldogs had been kept to 23 points. In turn, this defensive effort allowed Michigan to get off in transition, leading to open shots for the Wolverines, who recorded 15 three-pointers on the night, led by sophomores Caris LeVert and Nik Stauskas.
"Most of the time in that first half we were in transition offense because of clean rebounds and a fast break," said Beilein.
"We played our basketball," Robinson added. "We like to get rebounds, get out and go. That wouldn't have happened without those two guys (Morgan and Horford)."
But being a captain isn't so much about being in the spotlight as it is about paving the way for others.
"Those guys (Morgan and Horford) have played so many games at this point that they know what's expected of them," said Novak. "They not only know what they're supposed to be doing, but they're going to be able to direct other people and tell the young guys, (Zak) Irvin and (Derrick) Walton, what they should be doing on the defensive end. If they can do that and make sure everyone's in the right place, then the team's going to be much better defensively than otherwise."
While Morgan and Horford made clear contributions to the team's rebounding and defense, Michigan's success in both these areas was a true team effort.
"We know, with our schedule, if we're going to have success we have to be tougher as a team, and everyone has to be able to rebound," Horford said. "(Robinson) was all over the glass, (Morgan) was all over the glass, Caris (LeVert) was all over the glass. Everyone was attacking. Nik (Stauskas) had six. When you get a team effort like that, that's what you're going to need to have great success throughout the year."
Horford also noted that Michigan's guards were as critical as its big men in stopping Hezekiah.
"We were getting him outside of his comfort zone," Horford said. "We were either getting him too low to score or getting him too far out to where he couldn't get a comfortable shot. The guards did a great job of denying the passer. They're up on the passer, hands up, following the ball, mirroring the ball and not allowing them to pass it into the post. That was key for us, because he gets them (South Carolina State) going, and if you cut off their water, then you can help to shut down the team."
Robinson, Morgan and Horford demonstrated through their performances against the Bulldogs that they each have the ability to make big plays and to involve their teammates as well.
"I think once you establish credibility, which is what these guys (Robinson, Morgan and Horford) will have to do now that they've just been named, then it's just a matter of leading both by your actions and by leading verbally," Novak said. "I think that's where the guys separate themselves. There are a lot of guys who can do one. I think, when you're named captain, you're expected to do both."
If Tuesday night's success is any indication, the three new captains are ready to embrace these roles.
"I think that those guys are definitely capable of doing that," Novak said. "I think they're going to do a great job."