SAN ANTONIO (WOOD) — When the Wolverines take on Villanova in Monday night’s championship, the bright lights will illuminate the maize and blue the players proudly wear. But don’t be surprised if underneath the dazzle mesh, the Wolverines have a little dirt on them.
“Get it from the mud,” Jaaron Simmons said about the term his teammates use. “It means you come from the bottom. You get it and you grind and try to get to the top.”
Michigan is now at the top, one of the best defenses in the country squaring off against one of the top offenses, Villanova. But the Wildcats are much deeper than that. Four of their five starters were on the team in 2016, the last time they won the championship.
For Michigan, many of their players weren’t given looks from high profile programs.
“No matter if you’re number one in the nation, top 200, top 100, once you get to college it’s about playing for the right coaches and the right program,” Zavier Simpson said.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was looking at non-power five conference schools before choosing Michigan. Mo Wagner only had a handful of American schools interested in him. It took a flight to Germany by John Beilein to convince Wagner to play at Michigan. Duncan Robinson, the sixth man of the year for the Wolverines played Division 3 basketball before transferring to Michigan.
“It’s such an inexact science,” Beilein said about rating players before they play in college. “I don’t think you can ever do the numbers of the three-stars and two-stars that turn out to be five-stars in four years and the five-stars that turn out to be three-stars in four years. And it happens like every day.”
Beilein has figured out the equation before. Caris LaVert, Nik Stauskas, and Spike Albrecht were in the same company as over-looked players. They too played for a National Championship under Beilein and went on to play professional.
So it should be no surprise then that the sculptor, John Beilein, has taken the mud and made a masterpiece. He has developed — instilled his patience and attention to the little things — And he’s brought them 40 minutes away from a National Championship.
“We got guys that want to work hard and be the best that they can be,” Simmons, a transfer from Ohio said. “I think that that can just bleed to the rest of the team and brings us together and makes us want to be great.”