There was a time when big things were expected from Blake McLimans. Big men who can create shots and drift to the perimeter for mid-range jumpers are coveted, especially stretched across a 6-foot-10 frame.
Fast forward three years and McLimans’ career totals at Michigan are 65 points and 34 rebounds — not exactly star quality — but he’s always looked at the big picture.
He understands the value of a degree from Michigan and playing for fellow Western New York native John Beilein. McLimans and the Wolverines have been ranked among the nation’s Top 10 all season — climbing as high as No. 1 — and there may still be time for him to tap into some of his potential.
McLimans and the No. 4 seeded Wolverines (26-7) will play Summit League champion and 13th seeded South Dakota State (25-9) at 7:15 p.m. Thursday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Auburn Hills, Mich.
“I’m grateful for my role, I know I’m not going to get that many minutes, and we have a lot of talented players on this team,” said McLimans, the Hamburg High product who also attended Worcester Academy for prep school. “Our motto is ‘The Team, The Team, The Team.’ So whatever coach wants you to do, maybe play one, two and a half or three minutes, I embrace my role.”
As Beilein added young talent such as freshmen Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary and sophomore Jon Horford to help Michigan return to the nation’s elite, McLimans’ minutes decreased in each of the last two seasons. Instead of sulking, he helps the frontcourt players prepare for games by working hard in practice.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m not playing that much as long as our team is doing well,” he said. “The best part about this team is that I’m friends with everybody on the team and I’ll continue to be friends with them after basketball. It’s special and that’s the reason why it hasn’t bothered me because I enjoy being around all my teammates. It’s a great atmosphere to be around.”
He also has a close relationship with Beilein.
“He’s a big Bills fan and I’m a big Bills fan so we always have that to talk about and it’s interesting looking forward to the next season,” McLimans said. “We talk about Buffalo Wings and the Bison Chip Dip. Whenever there’s something going around in the Buffalo area we’ll always talk about it. It’s a great relationship and since we’re from the same area we have a lot in common that way.”
It’s been an up-and-down season for Michigan, which was ranked No. 1 for a week before an 81-73 loss at No. 3 Indiana. They’ve gone 6-5 since.
“We’re not worried about our season and we’re happy to be in the tournament,” McLimans said. “We know that South Dakota State is a great team, that they have great players and we’ll spend these next couple of days preparing. We’re all extremely excited to be in the tournament and ready to play. Once you’re in the NCAA Tournament it’s kind of a new start and everyone starts 0-0.”
McLimans will graduate in the spring with an economics degree but still has a year of eligibility remaining. After the season ends, he’ll look for graduate schools and will be eligible to play immediately. Returning to Western New York is an option McLiman might choose. “Coming back home would probably be nice, and it crossed my mind what I’m going to do,” he said. “But I’m really focused on Michigan and what we’re going to do to finish the season before I put myself first.”