Editor’s Note: This month, ESPN Insider’s college basketball and recruiting experts are teaming up to examine how 15 of the nation’s best recruiting classes will fit in with their teams in the 2013-14 season. Today's featured program: Michigan. Check out the Nation blog each morning for a corresponding post on the key returnee for each of the 15 teams.
Glenn Robinson Jr. was a star for the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1990s. My hometown squad picked Robinson in the 1994 NBA draft with the No. 1 pick. He did not look like a stud. He didn’t have an imposing physique, he always seemed sleepy, and he wasn’t very explosive. But he’d torch you.
Robinson was an All-American at Purdue. His son, Glenn Robinson III, has the same potential. But he’s a different player.
He’s flashier. He doesn’t have his father’s jump shot (yet), but his father didn’t have his athleticism, either. Still, he did enough in his first season at Michigan to encourage lottery chatter with regard to his draft stock. But he came back.
Mitch McGary, another kid who passed on millions of dollars for another shot at the national title, will return too. Incoming freshmen Zak Irvin, Mark Donnal and Derrick Walton are all top-100 prospects per RecruitingNation.
The Wolverines have the talent to win a Big Ten title and make a run in the NCAA tournament again. For that to materialize, however, Robinson -- the most important returning player on the roster -- must don a cape and play a starring role for the Wolverines.
Robinson’s captivating debut featured the following stat line: 11.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.0 SPG and 57 percent shooting from the field. His offensive rating of 128.4 was ranked 10th nationally per KenPom.com (regardless of possessions used).
What more could John Beilein have wanted from a first-year player?
But Robinson will be asked to lead the program now. While he is an elite talent, he also benefited from a system that featured many weapons most teams could not defend.
Trey Burke, the reigning Wooden Award winner, was the best player in America. By the end of the season, McGary was one of the nation’s top bigs. Tim Hardaway Jr. was worth 14.5 PPG and a 38 percent clip from the 3-point line.
Meanwhile, Robinson blossomed as a run-the-floor-and-score forward. He had so many pockets to impact the game because Michigan was a matchup nightmare for most teams. Plus, the Wolverines made nearly 40 percent of their 3-point attempts. Pick your poison.
Only one squad found a way to silence Michigan in the NCAA tournament: Louisville. In the national championship game.
The particulars in Ann Arbor will change next season, though. With a move to his natural small forward position, Robinson could put up tantalizing numbers. He’ll have the ball more often, which will position the sophomore to control each offensive possession. He’ll be the center of Michigan’s offensive attack and he’ll put in a lot of work off ball screens, too. Overall, Robinson should be a more unpredictable threat next season.
But offense is just one aspect of his transition.
Although Beilein is recognized for his 1-3-1 zone, his team played the bulk of its possessions in man-to-man last season. As a power forward, Robinson was often forced to defend bigger, stronger players throughout the season. His length and athleticism will be helpful as he’s assigned to smaller, quicker athletes at his new position.
He says he is ready for the challenges. Robinson recently told mlive.com: "I feel like I really haven't showed everybody what I can really do on a basketball court. Hopefully I can come back and shock some people. And maybe make some people think about what I can do."
You have to admire the confidence, but he’ll have to adapt next season. Burke won’t save the day anymore. That will be Robinson’s job and that’s not an easy adjustment for any player.
Sometimes, it’s an impossible transition for an underclassman, but it’s also intriguing. If Robinson averaged double figures despite playing an unnatural position, then what will he do when he’s more comfortable and frequently handling the ball?
The answer to that question could dictate the final destination of Michigan basketball in 2013-14.