ATLANTA — On the eve of the national championship game John Beilein, Michigan’s Western New York-raised coach, talked about what a joy it is to have a player like Spike Albrecht. The freshman guard is undersized by today’s standards but performs fearlessly. Best of all, Beilein said, Albrecht will be a four-year player, someone who will go the route in his college career.
Michigan knows Albrecht will return next season to build upon the promise he showed in the first half of Monday’s loss to Louisville in the national championship game. The same can’t be said for sophomore guard Trey Burke, the national player of the year, or freshman center Mitch McGary, whose NBA stock took off throughout the NCAAs. Who knows how long Tim Hardaway Jr. or Glenn Robinson III will remain in Ann Arbor before ceding to the allure of the pros?
Michigan overcame late-season struggles and made an impressive tourney run. The Wolverines led the Cardinals by 12 late in the first half before Luke Hancock keyed Louisville’s rally to an 82-76 victory. But if Michigan’s going to make it back to the Final Four next season it’ll likely have a hole or two to fill even though it graduates no senior starters.
Beilein’s challenge from here is to sustain. He’s lifted Michigan basketball back to an elite level. The Wolverines have plucked coveted recruits, such as McGary, from the clutches of program’s with more seductive reputations. But elite talent means an increased likelihood of early departures that leave the program in a perpetual state of flux.
“Let’s just talk about every coach right now at this level,” Beilein said. “You’re recruiting. In the back of your mind is, I always got to be ready for a couple of things: A guy that is going to go to the NBA early or a guy that is going to leave early because he wants more. This is an issue we’re all trying to deal with, but it’s life as well.
“We’re always ready. We’re always thinking and keeping fires warm, the coals warm, where there could be another recruit you’re working on in the future.”
Michigan’s uptempo style makes it a desirable destination for talented players looking to play for a championship contender and showcase their skill sets. If Burke declares for the NBA Draft, he’ll do so with an impressive resume, that includes Monday’s 24-point effort.
“You know, the respect I have for Coach Beilein is at an all-time high and it will always be,” Burke said Monday night. “Throughout my college career, throughout whatever my opportunities are after college, he’s just the guy that you’ll respect, not only on the court, but off the court. He’s the guy that’s going to hold you accountable for all your actions and he’s going to help you grow up as a man.
“When I first came in here, I didn’t understand some of his philosophies. When I would get in trouble off the court, do certain things, he would run me and things like that. But I finally started to realize what his purpose was for that. It’s definitely allowed me to grow up and mature. I’ll always respect him for the rest of my life.”
Beilein maintained an upbeat outlook in the immediate aftermath of Monday’s defeat.
He arrived at Michigan six years ago and won a scant 10 games. The program was dealing with NCAA sanctions. It would to take time to recover.
“My goal and my task was, we need a basketball team that reflects this university.” Beilein said. “We do things right. We got great values with the university itself. That’s been the only mission. Let’s put a team out there that this university – and I would think Ann Arbor right now is very sad, but the people of Ann Arbor have been so good, our brand throughout the world. We made a major step toward that, of living up to what this university has provided for so many students and student athletes.”
Beilein was told that in one stretch Monday night freshman accounted for 26 straight points.
“Is that right?, he said “That’s good for the future, isn’t it?”
Truth is, in this era of abbreviated careers one can never be sure.