History tells us it’s been a long time since a player of Mitch McGary’s stock donned the Maize and Blue, but just how big is the addition of McGary to the Michigan Wolverines?
In 1999, LaVell Blanchard was the Gatorade high school basketball player of the year. The Ann Arbor native signed with the Wolverines and was the program’s top-rated signee since the vaunted Fab Five. Blanchard is also Michigan’s most recent McDonald’s All-American.
In 2006, Ekpe Udoh was an under-the-radar recruit who arrived at Michigan without the fanfare of being a top 100 player. For two years, he didn’t average above six points and five rebounds. The Oklahoma native transferred to Baylor and magically turned into an NBA lottery pick. It would be tough for Michigan to claim him as a success story since he wasn’t even a full-time starter during his tenure with the team.
In 1999, Jamal Crawford was part of a recruiting class that featured Blanchard, shooter Gavin Groninger, point guard Kevin Gaines and big man Leland Anderson. Crawford’s troubled Michigan career ended after 17 games. However, he remains the top NBA player the program has produced since the likes of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard and Robert "Tractor" Traylor ruled the Big Ten in the 1990’s.
Enter McGary. The Chesterton, Ind., native is rated the No. 2 overall prospect in the Class of 2012 and the top-ranked power forward. He’s easily the best prospect in a decade to pick the Wolverines. Talented enough to be a McDonald’s All-American, McGary’s status as a fifth-year player will keep him from the game. However, it won’t diminish his standing as a prospect and impact on the history of Wolverines basketball recruiting.
McGary is a major feather in the cap of coach John Beilein. Lauded as one of the better program architects and teachers of the game, Beilein’s focus has always been team-centric. His recruiting record at Michigan is filled with crisp evaluations and the ability to take individual pieces and mesh them into a team. At West Virginia, he signed a sixth man in Joe Alexander, from Hargrave Military Academy and set him on a path to lottery-pick status.
At Michigan, Beilein’s had talent. He inherited Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, then recruited second-round pick Darius Morris, who exited a year too early for the Association. McGary is the first player he’s brought to Ann Arbor with this type of pedigree. The player and coach are absolutely entrenched in this journey together. It’s Beilein’s job to take this hard-playing, intense forward, make him better and figure out a way to insert the program’s best natural talent into a lineup that will benefit from his talents. McGary’s got a nice perimeter touch and Beilein will green-light him. He’ll also require the big fella to mix it up in the paint and be a force on the glass. McGary may not fully know it yet, but his hard-charging style, especially in the lane, should mesh well with the car crashes that routinely occur in the painted areas of Big Ten arenas.
On the flip side, McGary has a challenge of his own. With big hype comes big expectations. Immediately Michigan will be looked at as a program that needs to capitalize on his tenure in town. He’s got to get the team into the NCAA tournament. If he does, it’ll be a win-win for his brand and his university.
In a sense, the Wolverines are in uncharted waters here. It’s been a while since a signee attracted this much attention in Ann Arbor and didn’t play on Saturdays. The Wolverines beat Duke, Florida, North Carolina, Kentucky and Maryland for McGary, and that in itself is significant. Now they have to beat Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois and Purdue with their new All-American recruit.