There’s a sense around the Michigan basketball team that junior Tim Hardaway Jr. has grown up. At 20 years old he has become a mature, wise, and dare some say it, old man.
“As you continue to grow up and mature, you just make the next step as a person,” senior guard Eso Akunne said of Hardaway Jr. “You go through slumps. You look back and reflect and see what you could have done better to prevent that from happening again. … It takes a lot of self-reflection but it’s just a part of getting older.”
Hardaway Jr.’s sophomore season saw the types of peaks and valleys that Akunne was referring to, and while he finished the year averaging 15 points and four rebounds, it’s the stretches of unsatisfactory play that haunted Hardaway Jr.. And he’s the first to point that out.
“It was a sophomore slump -- you can say it,” he’ll offer up with a laugh if anyone looks for a synonym for disappointing, unfortunate or frustrating.
He knows that outsiders see it as a slump and it’s so easy to attribute any second-year player’s struggles to the “sophomore slump.” But a summer removed from that emotional grind, he has grown and given himself a new goal to wake up every day and live with a positive attitude, on and off the court.
He knows he can’t change last season now, so focusing on it won’t do any help.
“I could’ve taken that and just gone down the drain with it,” Hardaway Jr. said. “It’s a learning experience and you overcome it. You’ll get better and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Michigan coach John Beilein has seen that growth. He and Hardaway Jr. sat down at the beginning of the summer and talked about the junior becoming more than just a shooter. He needed to work on his rebounding skills and keep his composure no matter what, which was an issue last season.
“He’s very emotional, he’s very driven, and it’s a good thing,” Beilein said. “But channeling that in the right direction is somethin I think he has worked on. I think he has had a tremendous summer and even a better fall from what I’ve seen.”
Another aspect Hardaway Jr. brought this fall was a mature presence on the court, one that reminds Beilein of Zack Novak. The three-time captain was thrust into the spotlight early and called upon to lead before most college players ever are.
Novak was an old man even earlier than Hardaway Jr. has become one. And for Michigan basketball, that might be a very good thing this season.
“I think I see a maturity in myself,” Hardaway Jr. said. “But once your teammates and coaching staff and everybody that hangs around you can see it, then you know something is working.”