Michigan players carry big expectations
by Mark Snyder , USA TODAY Sports
DETROIT— It didn’t take long for Michigan’s basketball players to learn the difference between life in the shadows and life in the spotlight.
For Mitch McGary, it got a little weird when a kid on campus asked him to sign his forehead. Then a few girls asked for kisses. (He politely declined both.)
While Spike Albrecht was recognized a little bit more walking around, he insists he’s still like anyone else — presumably unathletic at first glance.
But the most difficult challenge for the Wolverines won’t be fending off advances of fans. It’ll be living up to expectations — reaching the national title game last season sets an impossibly high bar — without some of the key pieces that got them there.
Spending last season as one of the nation’s 10 youngest teams, Michigan accomplished the improbable behind national player of the year Trey Burke and fellow NBA first-round pick Tim Hardaway Jr.
“We’re even younger this year,” McGary said Thursday at Crisler Center, of the roster that has one fifth-year senior, one fourth-year senior and the rest sophomores and freshmen. “This year, we’re not more of an underdog, we have a target on our back, but being a younger team we know we have to come out with a hot start, just like last year and not settle.”
Michigan likely is without McGary early in the season due to a lower-back condition — he’s still not practicing after being out since early September.
For years, coach John Beilein has slowly increased the expectations.
Early, the Wolverines broke the huddle with “NCAA,” when a tournament berth hardly was certain — the one in 2009 ending a decade drought. Then it became “Big Ten champs” when that became their goal.
After reaching U-M’s first Final Four in two decades, it logically should keep progressing. But Beilein is sticking with his 35 years of experience.
“What we’re going to say when we go on the floor is champions,” he said. “We have opportunities to be champions: in the Puerto Rico tournament, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the championship for our league — the Big Ten regular season, the Big Ten conference and obviously … [For more on Young Michigan players carry expectations beyond their years, click here.]