Dec. 29, 2013
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public & Media Relations
Next man up.
This has been the University of Michigan men's basketball team's motto throughout the 2013-14 season. With the departure of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA after last season's run to the NCAA Final Four, the Wolverines knew that young players would have to step up their game to replace the team's top scorers.
When Mitch McGary suffered a back injury in preseason practice and was out for Michigan's exhibition games as well as the first two games of the regular season, the team carried on this motto. Following Michigan's announcement that McGary plans to undergo lower back surgery and will be out indefinitely, many wonder how the Wolverines will fare running an offense without the sophomore forward. Yet, for the team, the message remains consistent.
"To be honest, it's not really much different," said fifth year senior co-captain Jordan Morgan. "We still approach practice the same way. The game now is 'You've got to step up.' Our culture is a mentality of next man up. That's how we approach it."
One player who stepped up in a big way during Saturday night's (Dec. 28) 88-66 win over Holy Cross was sophomore Glenn Robinson III. Robinson recorded a career-high 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting while also grabbing five boards and dishing out a pair of assists.
"I had the mindset of just staying aggressive," Robinson said. "The last four games that's what I've been trying to do -- just keep the right mindset throughout the game and not let up."
Robinson and McGary have known each other since before coming to Michigan, having been teammates on the same AAU club. Robinson notes that his best friend's injury encourages him to continue to play hard.
"I'm as close with Mitch as anyone on the team," Robinson said. "He's like my brother. I know he's my number one fan, whether he's playing or not. Just to stay aggressive -- I think that will show a lot for him."
"I think everyone is rallying to it," added head coach John Beilein. "Obviously, Mitch is really good friends with our team. They are playing for him just as much as they were playing with him."
While Robinson took on the role of leading scorer for the Wolverines, co-captains Morgan and Jon Horford were called upon to directly fill McGary's position at the post.
Having been limited in their minutes over the course of this season and last season, due to both injuries and McGary's success, Morgan and McGary must take time to feel fully comfortable in their expanded roles.
"I think a couple times Jon (Horford) was really aggressive," Beilein noted. "Sometimes he still has to have a little bit better shot selection when we post him up."
Morgan, meanwhile, had to adjust to the stress on his body from more playing time.
"He didn't hedge a couple ball screens, and we took him back out of there because he just got tired," Beilein said. "He hasn't had that type of game minutes."
Yet despite being called to play more minutes than they are accustomed to, Horford and Morgan made significant contributions to Michigan's win. Together, the pair provided a combined 16 points and 10 rebounds.
"16 and 10, I'll take it," said Beilein. "If Mitch gave us 16 and 10, we'd all be talking about Mitch McGary right now."
Speaking of Morgan, Beilein added, "He sat that whole game when we beat VCU in the (NCAA) tournament (last season). He didn't play, and that was the first game he didn't play. That hit him hard. All the sudden he's out there starting again."
"It's just kind of a rhythm you get when you play a little bit more," said Morgan. "I think that as this season goes on it will get better."
Similarly, Horford is taking things one game at a time, trying to focus on playing his role and improving.
"I had ups and downs," Horford said of the game. "I treat them all the same way -- when I have success, when I don't have success. My mindset stays the same. I'm just thinking about what I can do to help the team, what I can do differently next time, staying positive and having good energy."
Yet, the mantra of next man up does not apply only to Robinson, Morgan or Horford. It is fundamentally a team mentality. For, as former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler famously stated, "No man is more important than the team."
The keys to a Michigan victory, according to its players, are found in the details of the game. Every player has to step up and grab rebounds, make good passes, and, most importantly, play defense together.
"I feel like as a unit we really want to get better defensively, because we know defense is going to be the key for us down the stretch if we want to have great success in the Big Ten and the NCAA Tournament," said Horford. "Other than that, we're just trying to finish when our guards give us the ball, do all the little things, and help out any way we can."
"We've just got to be more solid consistently and not have lapses defensively, and (work) on the small areas of the game like boxing out, getting loose balls, and things of that nature," added Morgan.
"That really is the key to this team," said Robinson of defense and rebounding.
For Michigan to execute a solid defensive game plan, grab key rebounds, and make clean passes in transition -- with or without McGary -- each player must be prepared to play his role with energy.
With the Big Ten season opening on Thursday (Jan. 2) on the road against Minnesota, every player must be ready to be the next man up.