19 games into the season, Michigan basketball team searching for leaders
Almost begged for it, actually. Manny Harris’ one-game suspension brought another round of questions about Michigan’s leadership structure. Michigan coach John Beilein has repeated the plea all season.
He takes responsibility for the lack of leadership, too, saying it starts with him. Yet he also knows changing a player’s personality is difficult.
“Sometimes it’s natural for people, sometimes you have to grow into it. I don’t think you ever, like you take a poor shooter, you don’t make him into a great shooter,” Beilein said. “And you make a guy who is not comfortable with leadership into a leader is very hard, but he can step up and give you a little bit more. And it’s hard but we are getting that. We are getting that.”
Just not consistently, and that is the maddening part for the third-year Michigan coach.
Senior forward DeShawn Sims and Harris are fine players, pro-level talents and the main reasons Michigan was picked as the No. 15 team in the country in the preseason Associated Press poll.
Yet neither is very vocal.
“It’s been up-and-down, really,” Beilein said. “And there’s a lot of areas, consistency in practice, consistency in the locker room, consistency in clutch situations just as far as the team leadership that’s, that’s what every team searches for, and there are all kinds of teams across the country.
“We have a team now that is searching for that.”
It has shown on the court. Michigan has lost second-half leads to Indiana, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Alabama. The Wolverines (10-9, 3-4 Big Ten) enter Tuesday’s game for a 7 p.m. against No. 5 Michigan State (17-3, 7-0), a team Beilein has yet to beat. The Spartans are 12-3 in their last 15 meetings against Michigan.
Before the season, Beilein felt he had three potential leaders in Harris, Sims and sophomore Zack Novak. Novak, though, appeared as the vocal one from as far back as fall workouts.
He was the one encouraging others when they’d run as part of Beilein’s preseason conditioning regimen. And Novak is the player consistently mentioned by Beilein as a leader.
Sims is trying to speak up more. Harris is an enigma, the team’s most valuable player yet also someone who was benched last season against Iowa by Beilein and suspended Saturday for a critical road game at Purdue.
“There’s an intangible effect of just having a veteran, veteran team that we do not have, as far as veterans, you may think so, but we have two 19-year-old sophs,” Beilein said. “Guys that are veterans for us are 19-year-old sophomores who provide a lot of the veteran leadership for us.
“And then we’ve got a senior and a junior who play major, major, major minutes. There are only four guys. Everybody else is sort of trying to find themselves.”
Part of the problem, Beilein says, was the graduation of last year’s leaders - C. J. Lee and David Merritt. He mentioned them Monday when explaining his team’s current leadership “void.”
“The leadership is definitely growing,” Sims said. “I’m stepping up as far as more in saying things. The leadership is growing. You can never have enough leadership, even if you think you have the best leader in the world, a lot of guys are stepping up trying to lead.”