ANN ARBOR (AP) – The season opener is six weeks away, and Michigan already has an injury concern.
Mitch McGary, who was so instrumental in the Wolverines’ Final Four run last season, is dealing with an unspecified lower back condition that is limiting him in practice. Coach John Beilein said Friday that McGary is day to day.
“It’s been day to day pretty much all fall,” Beilein said. “I’m very hopeful that it’s gone before too long.”
McGary’s stock took off during the NCAA tournament, when he emerged as a force inside to help the Wolverines to their first Final Four since 1993. Michigan lost to Louisville in the national title game.
The 6-foot-10 McGary averaged only 7.5 points per game last season, but in the NCAA tournament he averaged 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. He considered a jump to the NBA but decided to return to Michigan for his sophomore year.
McGary was on the court at Friday’s practice but did not participate fully. If he’s limited for any extended period of time, other members of Michigan’s frontcourt will have to pick up the slack. Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford, both of whom have had injury problems of their own in the past, are hoping for a healthy season this time around — and McGary’s issues aren’t causing much of a distraction at this point.
“I think we will be able to just focus every day on getting better and kind of letting that situation take care of itself,” Morgan said. “You’ve always got to have somebody ready to step up.”
Michigan is hoping for a big season from McGary after losing two standout guards to the NBA. National player of the year Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. will be tough to replace, although forward Glenn Robinson III decided to stay in school along with McGary.
Freshman Derrick Walton Jr. should compete right away for playing time at point guard along with Final Four sensation Spike Albrecht. A lot is also expected from incoming freshman Zak Irvin, who was named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball.
Of course, that raises the question of how quickly Walton — or any freshman — can learn Michigan’s system.
“I trust them all — just make sure we’re on the same page,” Beilein said. “This young man, in everything I’ve seen so far, has the ability to pick up things pretty quickly.”
The Wolverines would love a repeat of Burke’s transition — he became a star almost immediately after arriving at Michigan. He had to play right away in 2011 after point guard Darius Morris left early for the NBA.
After winning a share of the Big Ten title in 2012 and going to the Final Four last season, Michigan has brought a bit of basketball glamour back to Ann Arbor — and that’s been noticeable for the players.
“With basketball in the Final Four — it’s kind of hard to miss tall people like us,” Horford said. “We go places and people recognize us more and people come up to us more.”
But McGary’s injury serves as a bit of a wakeup call. Nothing will be handed to the Wolverines, especially in a Big Ten that seemed to wear Michigan down at times last season.
Beilein’s modest, no-nonsense approach seems particularly appropriate now. Michigan has enough talent to make another run at the Final Four, but a lot of things will have to go right. The coach said he barely noticed all the extra hoopla around the program after last season’s success.
“I don’t look for a lot of those things. I probably should enjoy it a little bit more,” Beilein said. “I do know the recognition of our program and what we’re trying to accomplish is 100 percent, 200 percent, 300 percent more than it was when we first got here.”
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