John Beilein’s NBA fit isn’t as perfect as you think

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The Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the college basketball world on Monday morning, as they officially hired Michigan head coach John Beilein, a 66-year old that began his coaching career with Newfane High School in 1975, to a five-year deal to become their newest head coach.

It’s the ultimate rags-to-riches story, as Beilein went through every level of the sport — from high school, to junior college, to Division III then Division II and then from Canisius to Richmond and West Virginia before arriving in Ann Arbor in 2007 — before landing an NBA gig.

And in theory, he is a perfect fit at the NBA level.

In practice, however, I am not convinced that this is going to be a great fit.

Let’s start with the good: If there are any coaches at the college level that are better suited to coach offense in the NBA than John Beilein, you can probably count them on one hand.

He wants to space the floor. He wants to shoot plenty of threes. In the last seven or eight seasons, he’s turned his program into one that relies as heavily on ball-screens as anyone. And he’s done this to great success. Beilein’s Michigan teams have reached the national title game in 2013 and 2018. He advanced to the Elite Eight in 2014. He won the 2017 and 2018 Big Ten tournament titles. He won the league’s regular season title in 2012 and 2014, finished a game out of first place this past season and, four times in the last seven years, he had a team that ranked in the top 12 nationally, according to KenPom.

He’s also adaptable. Back when he was at Richmond and West Virginia, and even in the early days of his tenure at Michigan, the offense he ran was essentially the cross-breeding of the Princeton and Motion. Backcuts, plenty of screens, bigs that could shoot and guards that could post. But as the game changed and the talent in his program started to look more modern, Beilein changed. He put Trey Burke in roughly 10 million ball-screens during his Player of the Year season in 2013. He did the same with Nik Stauskas, and Caris LeVert, and Zavier Simpson. He found a way to make the pieces work, and it led to plenty of wins — and plenty of NBA players — despite the fact that Michigan wasn’t recruiting surefire pros.

Since Beilein arrived at Michigan in 2007, 13 of his players have reached the NBA. Ten of those 13 have come in the last six years, and just four of the 13 were top-40 prospects, according to Rivals. Glenn Robinson III is the only player Beilein has sent to the league that was a surefire pro regardless of where he spent his college days.

Tim Hardaway Jr. was a three-star recruit that Beilein helped turn into a guy that averaged 18.1 points in the NBA this past season. Burke was a borderline top 100 player from Columbus, Ohio, that Ohio State passed over. LeVert was committed to Ohio before going to Michigan. Hell, he turned Division III transfer Duncan Robinson into an NBA player.

“He’s always tinkering with his stuff on the day-to-day,” Robinson told me last year. “Within a season, as the year goes along, he gets a much better understanding of who he has on his team. That’s why they always play their best basketball at the end of the season. He figures out what exactly he has at his disposal.”

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Even as he hit his mid-60s, Beilein was not averse to change. He recognized the issues that he had on the defensive end of the floor, so he went out and hired Luke Yaklich to be his defensive coordinator, and that led to a national title run in 2018 and last year’s finish as a top ten team in the country.

Strictly from a basketball perspective, Beilein should be a great NBA coach.

But it’s not quite that simple.

For starters, he’s something of a micro-manager when it comes to what he wants to run. Where someone like Jay Wright or Roy Williams doesn’t really run set plays, Beilein is meticulous in calling out sets offensively. He wants his players to do exactly what he thinks up on every possession, and that’s not the way it works in the NBA. It’s a player’s league, and it’s fair to wonder how a 66-year old that has spent the last four decades working at a level where the head coach has all the power will adjust to the NBA, where the players have control. How will he handle guys talking back in practice? How will he handle players not practicing everyday? There’s going to be a big adjustment there for him.

“Can he embrace being a rookie?” one former NBA player said of his biggest concern with Beilein in the NBA. “Steve Kerr, with all his NBA experience, embraced his players calling him a rook. Brad Stevens embraced that he didn’t know [all he needed to know]. David Blatt fought it. Will John Beilein fight it?”

And that’s before we get into the whole terminology deal.

In the NBA, the language is more or less universal. Every coach essentially speaks the same language in regards to every action, every set and every call defensively. Whether you’re with the Knicks or the Warriors or whoever, it’s the same, because everyone in the NBA is learning from someone already in the NBA.

Beilein’s terminology is completely off the wall, and that’s because he invented his own basketball system. Perhaps the most impressive thing about his career is that in 44 years in the profession, he’s never been an assistant coach. He didn’t learn directly from anyone. He built it from the ground up himself, adding layers each year he’s been on the job.

“He comes up with a phrase that makes sense to him,” Jeff Neubauer, Fordham’s head coach who spent eight seasons on Beilein’s staff, told me in October. “If there was something he was trying to name and anyone would recommend a name for it, it probably wouldn’t fly. It had to be something that made sense to him.

“The classic one that he’s had in his vernacular forever is a play that’s called ‘Harry’. The reason it’s called ‘Harry’ is because the person that catches the ball at the top of the key holds the ball, and the word ‘hold’ starts with H and ‘Harry’ starts with H. So 30 years ago, ‘hold’ became ‘Harry’. Everything has a name that, in his brain, makes sense.

“It’s coded. His is exactly the opposite of what anyone in basketball would call it, and that’s the way he likes it.”

Beilein has made adjustments before, and they’ve worked out incredibly well.

He has been successful everywhere he has been in his career, and I hesitate to bet against someone that has found a way to make it work at every stop over the course of four decades.

I just think that Beilein’s move to the NBA is going to be more difficult that some will lead you to believe.

Because, at the end of the day, coaching an NBA team is about more than simply being able to scheme up new ways to get Kevin Love open.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

clemson pj hall
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

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WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.