- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Michigan freshman forward stood firmly, and Briante Weber had no chance. He ran right into the Wall of McGary and crumpled to the ground for a little while, unable to get up.
The hit, crushing Weber and part of VCU’s spirit in Michigan’s 78-53 win in the round of 32, harked back to a former life for McGary -- and another sport, football. A 6-foot-6, 190-pound tight end as a freshman at Chesterton High School in northwest Indiana, McGary loved playing football. Until he kept growing.
“My dad made me quit,” McGary said. “I was getting too tall.”
Michigan and coach John Beilein should be happy about that. McGary focused on basketball and a continual growth to the 6-10, 255-pound body of enthusiasm he now inhabits.
Devastating hits, such as what he did to Weber, are merely an energy point for Michigan. McGary is the Wolverines' bruiser and interior presence, something they have been waiting for in Beilein’s first five years in Ann Arbor.
McGary almost shrugged discussing the hit, with a sly smile yet insisting it was unintentional. That is part of what makes McGary a question mark for how good this Michigan team could be in the final two weeks of the season.
“Mitch, his confidence was incredible today, easy drop-offs and offensive boards that he got and he just kept going,” said Michigan redshirt freshman forward Max Bielfeldt. “He can go on a run, and he’s just very talented. When he gets his game going, he’s really, really tough to stop.
“He’s a guy, when he gets going, he’s going to keep going, and his enthusiasm keeps his game at a high level.”
This enthusiasm has been something Michigan has missed a lot of the season. Burke is a savvy, cool player who rarely displays emotion. Guard Tim Hardaway Jr. feeds off emotion, but it comes in spurts.
McGary is like a loose pinball, bouncing all over the place, lighting up bonuses and giving everyone around him added bursts of energy.
Especially if he plays the way he did Saturday, with career highs of 21 points and 14 rebounds against the Rams on 10-of-11 shooting. Michigan reinserted McGary into the starting lineup in the round of 64 against South Dakota State, and he had 13 points and nine boards.
Saturday was something different, though. It was what Michigan had hoped for all along. Although the Wolverines have multiple contributors playing well, McGary is the one who turns them into a title contender.
“He now brings another element to the table,” Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander said. “Sometimes we joke about them guys being the Justice League.
“If Trey Burke is Batman and Tim is Robin, I’ll tell you what: Mitch McGary might be Hercules.”