Michigan is John Beilein’s island of misfit toys

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SAN ANTONIO — Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is at Michigan because of a man he never met.

His name is Dave Rooney. He’s in his mid-70s and spent two decades as a college coach before calling it quits and settling into a career in the real estate business. He lives in Allentown, Pa., the same hometown as Abdur-Rahkman, and hasn’t quite been able to kick his hoops addiction. He spends his free time going to high school games in the Lehigh Valley, and had seen Abdur-Rahkman play plenty.

So when he found out that the local star had yet to pick a school in April after his senior season, he made a call to old friend John Beilein. They became fast friends when Beilein was the head coach at Erie Community College and Rooney was coaching at Buffalo State, and while they had fallen out of touch in the 30-plus years between Rooney’s departure for Slippery Rock and Abdur-Rahkman’s senior night, Beilein had enough respect for Rooney to listen when he told him about the kid no one knew about.

“I was actually running track at the time,” Abdur-Rahkman, who had a handful of offers from low- and mid-major programs, said. He wasn’t really on the radar of most high-major programs. “My [high school] coach said that Coach Beilein was going to call me, and my dad said that Coach Beilein called him. I thought he was just joking around, because that’s the kind of person he is.”

They weren’t joking.

Michigan took a trip out to Allentown to watch Abdur-Rahkman work out. Then they invited the 6-foot-4 combo-guard to campus for an official visit. When he was about to head home, they finally offered him a scholarship.

“I committed on the spot,” Abdur-Rahkman said.

The whole process took roughly three weeks, and Abdur-Rahkman is hardly the only guy on this Michigan team that has an arrival story that is just as random and fortuitous as that.

Take Duncan Robinson, for example.

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He’s a Michigan Man because Joe Dumars got fired as Detroit’s GM. Back in 2014, when the Pistons decided they needed to move on, they reached into the collegiate ranks to pluck Jeff Bower off of Marist’s bench as a replacement. The Red Foxes, in turn, hired a coach from the Division III ranks, tabbing Mike Maker, who had posted a 147-32 record in six seasons as the head coach of Williams College.

That Williams team was coming off of a trip to the Division III national title game that was sparked by the 6-foot-8 Robinson, then only a freshman. You see, he was a late-bloomer, a 5-foot-6 freshman that turned into a 6-foot-5, 160-pound senior. He had a Division II offer from Merrimack College, but that was it.

So he committed to Williams, where he had a great relationship with Maker.

And Maker had his own relationships.

Specifically, he was on West Virginia’s staff with Beilein from 2005-07, the teams that had Kevin Pittsnoggle and Joe Alexander and Johannes Herber — more on him in a second — on them. He knew what that Beilein offense was all about, and he knew that Robinson, who had grown a couple of inches and packed on 20 pounds of muscle, fit that mold to perfection.

So Maker placed a call.

Then Robinson sent along some film.

“I recruited myself a little bit,” he said. “I sent him some stuff, and he watched some film and the way he came back was far more positive than I ever would have expected.”

And after visiting Davidson, and amid interest from a handful of other high-major programs, Robinson picked the Wolverines.

“I know he really took a chance on me,” Robinson said. “It’s something he completely didn’t have to do.”

Back to Herber.

He is the man responsible for getting Mo Wagner to Michigan because he told Wagner to check his spam folder.

The story goes like this: Wagner and Herber both played for Alba Berlin, a club team in Germany, and Herber is the one that tipped Beilein off to this 6-foot-10 forward that could do everything that Beilein asks of his big men. When Beilein set out to recruit Wagner, he reached out of the player through email, but the message ended up in Wagner’s junk folder.

So after waiting for two weeks to hear back, Herber tried to figure out what in the world this kid was doing.

Wagner checked his junk mail.

He saw the message from Beilein.

“Oh,” he thought. “This might be important.”

Michigan was the first big name program that had started to recruit Wagner, and it was going to take a program like Michigan to get the German star to leave his country to play in college.

“I replied,” Wagner said, his trademark grin gracing the dais. “I felt like an idiot not answering right away.”

(Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Then there’s Zavier Simpson, and his tale might be the most convoluted of them all.

He’s become the sparkplug of a Michigan defense that has carried the Wolverines to the Big Ten tournament title and a trip to the Final Four, although that marriage was never was that seemed destined to happen.

Let’s rewind a few years.

Back in the spring of 2015, Tyus Battle committed to and then decommitted from Michigan, putting Michigan in a spot where they desperately needed a point guard in the Class of 2016. The Wolverines badly wanted to land a commitment from Cassius Winston, but as time drag on, it looked like Winston was going to end up a Spartan. Simpson, whose cousin — Travis Walton — played for Michigan State, also wanted to be a Spartan initially. Then, at one point in his recruitment, he appeared to be a lock to commit to Xavier.

But then Xavier accepted a commitment from another point guard in the class, Quentin Goodin, who many viewed as Michigan’s second choice should they lose out on the race to get Winston. That left them in a bind: Keep chasing Winston even if there’s no guarantee they’ll land him, or start looking for other options.

They went with Plan B, and that ended up being Simpson. He committed in September, but after a tough freshman campaign, the Wolverines brought in a grad transfer from Ohio, Jaaron Simmons, and another freshman point guard, Eli Brooks. Simpson began the year as a starter but eventually lost out on that starting spot before he found his rhythm.

Simpson, along with assistant coach Luke Yaklich, are the two people generally credited with turning around Michigan defensively this season, and Yaklich has a story that’s fascinating in its own right.

We discussed Yaklich at length earlier this month. He’s Michigan’s defensive coordinator and in his first-year with the program after leaving Illinois State.

But he’s also just five years removed from teaching social studies as a high school coach in Illinois. His path to Illinois State is fascinating in and of itself — as documented by CBS Sports, he accepted the job, then turned down the job, then accepted it again — but perhaps the most telling part of this entire story is that Yaklich was hired by Beilein having never met the man before his interview.

The way this works in most coaching circles is that you hire from within your network. You get a job, you know who you want on staff, you know the work they’ve done and how they coach and how they recruit and whether or not you can handle spending the long, dreary hours on the road recruiting together. You hire your friends, basically.

Beilein bucked that trend.

He not only hired Yaklich, but he also hired Deandre Haynes off of that Illinois State staff, another move that is entirely uncommon.

And the results couldn’t be better.

This is who Beilein is at his core. He, too, was a teacher before matriculating into the coaching ranks. He never worked the system to get ahead. He started out as a high school coach. He won there and then got a job at a community college. From there, he coached at a Division III school, a Division II school, Canisius, Richmond and West Virginia before ending up in Ann Arbor.

He is the outlier.

And it only makes sense that he is the guy that has found the other outliers and turned them into a team that is just two wins away from cutting down the nets on the final night of the college basketball season.

“He looks for pieces that fit together,” Robinson says. “He doesn’t necessarily recruit five stars. We do, but he mostly looks for guys that will get stuff done for him and will buy into what we’re doing here. That’s what we’re all about, building a culture that will last and grow over time.”

Miles Kelly leads Ga. Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.

No. 17 Illinois rallies late, beats No. 2 Texas 85-78 in OT

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NEW YORK – Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 12 of his 16 points in overtime, including the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:34 remaining, and No. 17 Illinois rallied to hand second-ranked Texas its first loss of the season, 85-78 on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic.

Jayden Epps added 11 points, including the final five points of regulation – a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left and two tying free throws with 8 seconds remaining. Epps then blocked Marcus Carr’s jumper in the lane just before the buzzer to force overtime in an entertaining showdown at Madison Square Garden.

Matthew Mayer, who faced Texas several times at Baylor, tied a career high with 21 points as he made his first seven shots and finished 8 of 10.

Shannon, who missed eight of nine shots in regulation, took over in the extra period to help Illinois (7-2) beat a ranked foe for the second time this season. He opened overtime with a jumper after Marcus Carr was called for traveling and then hit an open 3 from the right wing over Brock Cunningham for a 73-70 lead.

Shannon then converted a reverse layup and finished off a three-point play to make it 77-70 with 2:16 left. Carr hit two free throws to get Texas within one with 1:28 remaining. Jayden Epps hit a layup, RJ Melendez sank two free throws to put Illinois ahead by five, and Shannon made two free throws with 27.7 seconds left.

Timmy Allen scored a season-high 21 points for Texas (6-1), which failed to open 7-0 for the first time since 2014-15. Tyrese Hunter added 10 points but Carr was held to nine points on 3-of-14 shooting as Texas had 12 shots blocked and shot 42%.

Texas took its only double-digit lead when Dillon Mitchell hit a layup with 8:28 left. Illinois cut the lead to 58-56 on a 3 by Melendez nearly four minutes later. After Cunningham hit an open 3 with 4:15 remaining, Si’Jabari Rice made a 3 for a 64-58 lead.

Allen found Cunningham for an open jumper that counted when officials called goaltending on Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins. That gave Texas a 65-61 lead with with 1:51 remaining.

Carr’s rainbow jumper in the lane made it 68-63 with a minute left and Illinois had a 3-pointer by Melendez waved off because it called timeout with 45.3 seconds left. After the timeout, Epps made an open corner 3 with 33 seconds remaining.

Hunter missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to set up Epps’ tying free throws.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini continued to struggle with turnovers, committing 17. But only two of them came in the final 10-plus minutes of regulation or overtime. Illinois’ 15th turnover was an offensive foul by Mayer, which sent him to the bench with four fouls with 10:42 remaining.

Texas: The Longhorns had little offense beyond Allen and Hunter. While the duo was a combined 13 of 29, the rest of the team missed 24 of 40 shots.

UP NEXT

Illinois hosts Penn State in its second Big Ten game on Saturday. The Illini lost their conference opener to No. 13 Maryland.

Texas hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the Jimmy Blacklock Classic on Saturday.

Clark, Gardner lift No. 3 Virginia past James Madison, 55-50

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Kihei Clark scored 18 points, Jayden Gardner had 14 points and eight rebounds, and No. 3 Virginia beat feisty in-state rival James Madison 55-50 on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (8-0), who lost starting guard Reece Beekman to a right leg injury early in the first half, prevented the Dukes (7-3) from winning a second straight December game in Charlottesville. James Madison beat Virginia 52-49 last Dec. 7.

Clark had seven assists while playing nearly 39 minutes with Beekman sidelined.

“Kihei gave everything he had and I had to, you know, ride him,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Sure, he missed some free throws. And I know he made some mistakes, but you could just see him, you know, how tough-minded he was.”

Dukes coach Mark Byington said he told Clark – who’s playing his fifth season for Virginia – after last year’s game that he loved watching him play.

“He’s seen everything and nothing you’re going to do is going to surprise him,” Byington said. “There’s nothing Kihei Clark hasn’t seen out there, and he’s poised. I mean, you can’t rattle him. … So I told him this time I was like, `Look, I better never see you in college basketball again.’ But he’s one of my favorite players to watch just because he’s tough, talented, and he’s a winner.”

Takal Molson scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half for James Madison, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 42-all with 7:47 to play. Gardner responded for Virginia by scoring five straight points in a 9-1 run.

The Cavaliers kept the Dukes in the game by missing eight of 13 free throws over the last six minutes.

Molson made an acrobatic layup while being fouled with 1:51 left, but he missed the free throw. He scored again with 1:01 left, pulling the Dukes within 52-50, but freshman Ryan Dunn answered with a strong move on the baseline for Virginia with 35 seconds to play.

James Madison threw the ball away on its ensuing possession.

BIG PICTURE

James Madison: The Dukes came into the game leading the nation in scoring (93.3 points per game) and having scored as many as 95 points five times. They were shooting 52.7% for the year, but made just four of their first 19 shots and finished 15 of 55 (26.9%). Vado Morse scored 11 points, the only other JMU player in double figures.

“Yeah, we knew how good they were and they showed it in spots tonight,” Gardner said. “But I think you saw a lot of resiliency tonight on the defensive end getting crucial stops.”

Virginia: The Cavaliers played the final 36 minutes without Beekman and gave extensive minutes to freshman Isaac McKneely. Virginia will hope Beekman, its third-leading scorer and a primary ballhandler and defender, recovers in time for its showdown with No. 1 Houston on Dec. 17.

UP NEXT

The Dukes return home to play Gallaudet on Saturday night.

Virginia has a 10-day break before hosting the top-ranked Cougars.

No. 25 Villanova women beat American University 83-42

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VILLANOVA, Pa. – Maddy Siegrist had 24 points and seven rebounds, Lucy Olsen added 14 points and No. 25 Villanova beat American University 83-42 on Tuesday night.

Siegrist scored 15 points in the opening 13 minutes as Villanova led 34-15. The Wildcats extended it to 46-23 by halftime before starting the second half on a 9-0 run for a 32-point lead.

Villanova added an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter for its largest lead of the game at 79-36. The Wildcats held American to 15-of-50 shooting (30%) and scored 21 points off 19 turnovers.

Christina Dalce scored 13 points for Villanova (8-2), which plays Saint Joseph’s on Saturday before taking a week off for final exams. Siegrist, who was coming off a 29-point performance on Sunday, made 10 of 17 shots as Villanova shot 56%.

Emily Johns scored 12 points for American (0-8), which hosts Marist (3-5) on Saturday.

No. 6 UConn star Azzi Fudd out 3-6 weeks with knee injury

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STORRS, Conn. — Sixth-ranked UConn’s top scorer, Azzi Fudd, is expected to be out three to six weeks because of a right knee injury she suffered during her team’s weekend loss to No. 5 Notre Dame, a university athletic spokesperson said.

The sophomore guard was injured in the first half of the game when a teammate collided into her. She returned midway through the second period to play four hobbled minutes, but sat the rest of the way.

“I think she’ll be all right,” coach Geno Auriemma said afterward.

Fudd entered the game averaging 24.0 points but finished scoreless on two shots over 13 minutes in the team’s first loss of the season.

The athletic spokesperson didn’t specify the type of knee injury Fudd sustained.

She underwent evaluation and an MRI confirmed the injury, the spokesperson said.

The Huskies host Princeton next.