ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan sophomore center Moritz Wagner had a coming out party during the NCAA tournament last season. He’s coming into his own heading into the upcoming season.
The spotlight usually doesn’t surround a player who averaged 2.9 points and 1.6 rebounds, but Moritz “Moe” Wagner is the most popular name around Ann Arbor’s favorite basketball team. The Berlin, Germany, native didn’t see much of the court until the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, where he didn’t miss a shot in five games. He went 9-for-9 from the field, including one game where he grabbed eight rebounds in 22 minutes.
A year ago, the 6-foot-10 German arrived without an identity. He was a little too skinny for Big Ten play, and a little too raw. A year later, he’s added 10 needed pounds, and he’s in a battle with senior Mark Donnal to become the starting center.
At Michigan’s annual media day, Wagner and his teammates talked about his offseason, charisma and what he brings to this team.
An unmatched charisma
Wagner: “I don’t go into games saying I’m going to have energy, that’s just what comes out of me and my team feeds off that.”
Senior point guard Derrick Walton: “I say all of the time that he kind of has like a Mitch McGary-type of fire to him. When he’s on your team, whether he makes a mistake or makes the right play, you know he’s doing it out of pure energy and love for the game.”
Senior point guard Andrew Dakich: “We’re really good friends off the court. Moe can get crazy at times, I don’t know if I get as crazy. He’s a heck of a competitor.”
Junior shooting guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: “That confidence he had in the tournament last season really pushed him forward, and I don’t think he’s looking back.”
A continuing evolution, and desire to improve
Wagner: “It’s a lot of trusting yourself, and putting in that work. My personality and a certain type of hunger made that (tournament performance) happen. I feel more comfortable this year than last year. I know what to expect.”
Junior guard/forward Duncan Robinson: “I think he’s grown a lot since stepping on campus. Not only physically, but also from a mental standpoint. I think he knows he has a chance to make a big impact on this team, and we’re really excited about him.”
Dakich: “His weight is better, numbers in the weight room, and he is increasing his shot, being able to knock down 3-pointers. He is kind of like McGary, where he gets a rebound and moves the ball up quickly. It’s kind of hard to stop a 7-foot guy, especially at full speed.”
Walton: “He has his own personal little European style that throws guys off. He’s gotten a lot stronger, and improved his shot. But I think his biggest stride is he has gotten a lot bigger and stronger.”
Iron sharpens iron
Wagner is in an all-out battle for the starting center position with Donnal. Donnal showed flashes of greatness last season, but he was a defensive liability. The two have different styles. Donnal is a quiet guy; Wagner is the loudest on the floor. Last season, Donnal beat out Ricky Doyle for the starting job; Doyle has since transferred. This season he’ll have to beat out Wagner, who has the momentum after his strong postseason.
Wagner: “In sports, in team sports, there really is no solution for it. You go through it, and do your best. I can learn stuff from him, and he can learn from me. We’re a good team, we don’t see each other as opponents. We’re taking it day-by-day and enjoying it.”
Robinson: “Iron sharpens iron, and on top of that to have that competitive nature, and I think we have that across our roster, it just makes the pace and urgency in practice a lot higher. It encourages competitiveness, and it’s been great. It’s Mark and Moe, there’s no wrong answer, and it’s a privilege to watch those guys go at it every day.”
Dakich on Moe: “I think their competition is definitely raising the level of everyone on the team. I think it ultimately makes the team better.”
Wagner will be a focal point for fans this season. Everyone is curious as to what he will bring to the table in a new season. During a portion of practice on Monday, Wagner lined up at the 3-point line in the corner against a defender. He hit 7 of 9 shots from beyond the arc, six of them consecutively.
You can get a sneak peek of Wagner’s evolution on Nov. 7 when Michigan hosts an exhibition game against Armstrong State at 7 p.m. at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.