The emergence of forwards Moritz Wagner and D.J. Wilson in the second half of last season helped propel Michigan basketball to the Big Ten Tournament title, two NCAA Tournament wins and nearly a spot in the Elite Eight. It also got the pair an extensive look from the NBA.
“This was not an easy decision, however, I have thought long about the next step in my career over the last few months,” said Wilson in a news release from Michigan. “After many prayers and discussions with my mom, Coach (John) Beilein and the staff, it is the right time for me to pursue my dream of playing in the NBA.”
— D.J. Wilson (@Lanky_Smoove) May 24, 2017
Losing the 6-foot-10 Wilson, who averaged 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore, takes away experienced versatility for Michigan next season. He also led the Wolverines with 57 blocked shots. But getting the 6-11 Wagner and his combination of inside-outside skills back limits the rebuild the Wolverines face. Leading scorers Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin have graduated but Wagner and G Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman provide a solid foundation for next season.
Though both players declared for the NBA draft, neither hired an agent, giving them the opportunity to withdraw their names and return to school. They went through various workouts for teams, including the NBA draft combine, and received evaluations to help them make their decisions.
“I gained a great deal of confidence from this process and I have a clearer picture of what I need to do in order to fulfill my dreams of playing professionally in the NBA,” Wagner said in a news release. “Michigan is where I need to be right now and I am really excited about coming back. I learned a lot about myself and my game at the combine. I feel like I still have a lot to prove on this level and cannot wait to compete with my brothers for another ring.”
TALK TO EM MOE WEEZY!!!!! The German Flame thrower is back. Go crazy https://t.co/Fzq38DATQM
— Andrew Dakich (@daycheck3) May 24, 2017
Wagner was the Wolverines’ third-leading scorer, averaging 12.1 points. He shot 56.0 percent from the field overall, including 39.5 percent on his 3-point attempts. Wagner scored 26 points, making 11 of 14 field goals, in a 73-69 comeback win against No. 2 seed Louisville in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
What the roster looks like
Sophomore PG Xavier Simpson and senior F Duncan Robinson are the only other returning players with significant playing experience beyond Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman.
The Wolverines will welcome Ohio University graduate transfer point guard Jaaron Simmons next season and have a three-member incoming freshman class of PG Eli Brooks, SG Jordan Poole and F Isaiah Livers. Poole (6-4) helped lead La Lumiere School (Ind.) to the Dick’s High School National Finals title in April, while Livers (6-8) was named Michigan’s 2017 Mr. Basketball at Kalamazoo Central.
Redshirt sophomore forward Charles Matthews (6-6) is eligible to play after sitting out last season as a transfer from Kentucky.
How Michigan replaces the production of Walton, who was the Most Valuable Player of the Big Ten Tournament, will be the biggest question facing the Wolverines next season. Walton averaged 15.5 points and 5.0 assists per game last season; is the only player in program history to surpass 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, and 400 assists; and led Michigan’s late-season surge.
Simmons and Simpson will work in some sort of a rotation at point guard. Simmons averaged 15.9 points last season for Ohio and was a first-team Mid-American Conference selection. But whether he can provide the scoring Walton consistently did remains to be seen.
Abdur-Rahkman averaged 9.1 points last season and will have a greater role in the offense as a wing player. Wagner, Matthews and Robinson are one possible combination to fill out the starting roles but freshmen Poole and Livers could force their way onto that conversation.
Ibi Watson (6-5 G/F), Austin Davis (6-10 F), and Jon Teske (7-0 C) played sparingly last season as freshmen. They will have a chance to increase their playing time and become part of the rotation.
That would have been the case whether or not Wagner returned. With the German native back in the fold, however, Beilein is starting from a stronger position.