Sunday, April 7, 2013
John Beilein adapts, but winning remains
By ESPN.com staff
ATLANTA -- It was the first week of the season, the halcyon days of early November, when John Beilein finally admitted it to himself: This season would have to be different.
For starters, there would be lobs. Lots and lots of lobs.
"The first week of the season, we were throwing lob dunks to one another," Beilein said. "And we were like 0-for-20."
"We actually practiced alley-oops," senior Josh Bartelstein recalled. "I'd never actually seen anyone practice alley-oops before."
For many coaches, this would have been a pretty simple development. For Beilein, who spent the better part of four decades chipping away at the coaching ranks without the kind of talent that makes "throw it to the rim" a viable strategy -- who first earned wide attention as the "gimmicky" coach that led West Virginia to the Elite Eight with Kevin Pittsnogle and Mike Gansey -- deciding to play conventionally was something like a sea change.
He had changed some in recent years, sure, but even in 2011-12, when undersized shooters such as Zack Novak and Stu Douglass played key roles in the Michigan attack, Beilein was still doing the things that got him to Michigan: The two-guard front offense. Tricky 1-3-1 zone defense.
The floor-spacing, 3-point chucking, lack-of-athleticism-compensating style that had driven Beilein's long, incremental rise from Newfane High School to Monday night's national title game -- with stops as the head coach at Erie Community College, Nazareth, Le Moyne, Canisius, Richmond and West Virginia along the way -- had served him well for almost four decades. Why change now?