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Michigan coach Beilein reflects on offseason heart surgery

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — John Beilein wasn’t all that enthused about taking his annual stress test this year. The procedure already had been put off for a bit because of the Michigan coach’s busy schedule.

“I actually wasn’t going to do it, because it’s no fun,” Beilein said. “They get you on the treadmill. They run you.”

Now Beilein can vouch for the importance of such tests, after doctors discovered he needed a double-bypass heart operation. Beilein had the surgery in early August at the University of Michigan’s Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center, and he looked and sounded like his normal self when he met with reporters Tuesday before the Wolverines started practice.

The 65-year-old coach is ready for the upcoming season, and although he’s still dealing with some soreness, the lingering effects of surgery are relatively minor at this point.

“I can’t throw a chest pass. I can’t yell yet,” Beilein said. “But I expect to be able to do that.”

It already had been an eventful year for Beilein. He led Michigan to the Final Four, where the Wolverines reached the national title game before losing to Villanova. Then he was in the mix for the Detroit Pistons’ coaching opening but ended up staying at Michigan .

Then came his health issue and all that entailed.

“This has been as unique a nine months as anybody could have,” Beilein said.

Beilein described the initial shock of realizing he needed the operation — and the immediate aftermath of such a serious procedure.

“When you wake up, and you realize what just happened to you: Your heart’s been stopped, for a long period of time, and you’ve been carved open,” Beilein said. “The doctors were incredible, but you realize, that was literally life-changing.”

Beilein had surgery shortly before the Wolverines went to Spain. There was some thought that maybe he could wait and have surgery after that trip, which he skipped, but he went ahead with the operation Aug. 6, giving himself plenty of time to recover before the season.

Assistant Saddi Washington served as interim coach in Beilein’s absence. Beilein, meanwhile, had a chance to do some reading and watch baseball’s postseason races.

Beilein said he started rehab this week.

“They want to do to me what I do to my team,” he said. “My first workout was yesterday, all wired up, and that’s how they do it.”

Michigan has an exhibition game on Nov. 2, and the season opener against Norfolk State is Nov. 6. So Beilein still has plenty of time before he needs to be on the sideline for an actual game. After a jarring offseason, Beilein says he appreciates health a lot more.

“For a guy who doesn’t feel old — I hope I don’t look old — I continue to learn like crazy,” he said. “Just embracing whatever journey God plans for you.”

Late-blooming and high-rising recruit commits to Michigan

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As Cole Bajema started turning heads last month on the recruiting trail, he was waiting for one school to finally pull the trigger with an offer.

That finally came through, and Bajema will be joining John Beilein’s Michigan program.

“I am excited and blessed to announce that I will further my education and basketball career by accepting a scholarship offer to attend the University of Michigan,” Bajema, a 6-foot-7 forward in the Class of 2019, wrote on social media. “I would like to thank God, my parents, and my coaches for their help in allowing me to realize my dream of attending the greatest university in the world.”

Bajema has spent the bulk of his life living in Washington state, but lived for a few years in Michigan, where a sizable contingent of his family still resides. That has made the Wolverines Bajema’s dream school, as he detailed in a story written earlier this week on MLive.com.

His strong play in July earned him offers from Virginia, Xavier and Oregon State, but his fast rise wasn’t enough to sway him from ultimately choosing the school he wanted all along.

“He’s been upfront from the get-go that if Michigan offers, that’s his No. 1 choice,” his grassroots coach, Don Brady, told MLive.com. “They’ve been on him for the last three months, talking to him just about every week. They’ve built a relationship with him, and that ‘dream school’ still holds weight for him.”

Balema joins top-50 wing Jalen Wilson of Denton, Texas as part of Beilein’s 2019 class.

Former Michigan athletes Austin Hatch, Abby Cole tie the knot

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The life of former Michigan basketball player Austin Hatch has not been without its challenges, as during his pre-college years he survived two separate plane crashes that took the lives of his parents, a stepmother and two siblings.

Hatch’s scholarship offer to Michigan was honored by head coach John Beilein despite the impact that the crashes had on Hatch physically, and Hatch would go on to earn his degree and land a job at the corporate office for Domino’s. This past spring, Hatch was honored during the team’s Senior Day festivities.

By that point Hatch was already engaged to Abby Cole, who played volleyball at Michigan from 2013 to 2016. And over the weekend, the two tied the knot in what was a highly emotional day for all involved. Below is a video of their wedding day, which was chronicled by Derek Postma.

Congratulations and best wishes to Abby and Austin on their marriage.

Chris Webber details how expected Michigan return came to be

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Chris Webber’s lengthy estrangement from Michigan is about to come to an end thanks to his relationship with football coach Jim Harbaugh.

For years, the fellow Wolverine alums have been in contact about Webber’s potential return to Ann Arbor.

“He’s asking me maybe three years in a row to come back,” Webber said Thursday on the Dan Patrick Show.

His response, though, was always the same.

“I love the university. I’ll be back. I don’t think this is the right time,” Webber said.

But when Harbaugh asked him again recently while Webber was making a charity appearance, he committed to coming back for a football game this fall.

“I thank him for asking me,” Webber said, “and I definitely want to show up and have some fun with it.”

Webber has stayed at arm’s length from the university since his Fab Five days (which ended with an infamous timeout) and the Ed Martin booster scandal. He didn’t participate in the recent Fab Five documentary, and he said the only time he’s been back on campus was quietly for his cousin’s graduation.

“After I called the timeout, I was on a mission to right every wrong,” Webber told Patrick. “You want to win a championship. It was never a thing I wasn’t going back. It was, ‘I got business to do and when I come back holding this trophy, I got you,’ that type of thing.”

Of course, that championship never came same as the reconciliation between school, program and former star

This fall, that figures to at least start to change.

Michigan coach John Beilein: Offer from Pistons would have been tough decision

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — John Beilein said he was never offered the Detroit Pistons’ coaching job.

“I never really had to make the decision,” the Michigan coach said. “That would have been a tough one.”

Beilein is now looking ahead to another season of college basketball after briefly emerging as a candidate for the Pistons. Not long after the news broke about Beilein’s talks with Detroit, he said he would be back at Michigan. The Pistons eventually hired Dwane Casey earlier this month.

On Tuesday, Beilein held a news conference to talk about the offseason. He led Michigan to the national title game this year before falling to Villanova, so the possibility of losing Beilein to the NBA was a jolt to Wolverines fans.

“I was not offered the job by the Pistons,” Beilein said. “We certainly had some mutual interest. I think they had a great candidate in Dwane Casey.”

Beilein said he was intrigued by the possibility of coaching in the game’s top league.

“I love coaching basketball a lot, and you’re watching the NBA playoffs, and you’re seeing what guys are doing, and you’re looking, like, they’re running stuff that we run,” Beilein said. “I don’t know if they watched us or I watched them. You can see, boy, if you have really highly skilled players — [Boston Celtics coach] Brad Stevens kept telling me, ‘I’m having a blast.’ When you hear those words, and your season’s over — so that was appealing.”

With the Pistons’ search behind him, Beilein can prepare for the 2018-19 season with the Wolverines. Michigan announced Tuesday that the team will go on a tour of Spain from Aug. 17 to Aug. 26 that will include exhibition games.

The Wolverines lost star big man Moe Wagner early to the NBA, but some key players return from what was one of the best defensive teams in the nation. Charles Matthews, Zavier Simpson, Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers will be joined by what is expected to be a strong group of new recruits.

So Beilein has plenty to look forward to at the college level, and he indicated there might not be any more flirtations with the NBA.

“I think that I ran that race, and you can’t run that race too many times,” he said. “I don’t know what I would have done, but I was really impressed with everybody in that organization, and I’ll be rooting for them like I always have.”

The other intriguing bit of recent news that at least partially involved the Michigan basketball program was Chris Webber’s appearance with Wolverines football coach Jim Harbaugh on Ann Arbor’s WTKA radio last week. Harbaugh asked Webber to be an honorary captain for the football team next season, and Webber sounded amenable to the idea.

A return to Ann Arbor by Webber — even if it’s for football — would be a big deal. He led the Michigan basketball team to the Final Four in 1992 and 1993, but a federal investigation revealed that a booster gave Webber and three other players more than $600,000 while they were student-athletes, and the NCAA forced the school to dissociate from them until 2013.

“There was five or six years where I was limited what I could say about that era. Since the ban’s been off, I’ve reached out to Chris several times,” Beilein said. “I continue to do that, and we’re going to continue to try and build bridges and just really work at making sure there’s a lot of healing going forward.

“I want every player that ever played here to feel like he’s a part of that building, including Chris and anyone else.”

Who will follow Donte DiVincenzo’s breakout path to the NBA next?

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It was little surprise Thursday night Donte DiVincenzo get drafted 17th overall at the NBA draft by the MIlwaukee Bucks.

The 6-foot-5 guard has been a staple of mock drafts since he declared for the draft after earning Most Outstanding Player honors as Villanova won its second national championship in three years.

A few months ago, though, something like that would have seemed an extreme long shot after an unremarkable freshman season by the Delaware product who redshirted after a foot injury in 2015-16. A lot can change in a single season.

So who is the next player to go from fringe prospect to first-round selection? Here’s the DiVincenzo Watch List:

JORDAN POOLE, Michigan: You might remember the Michigan freshman for his game-winner against Houston to help the Wolverines on their way to the national title game, but the former top-100 recruit averaged just 12.2 minutes per game for John Beilein last year. This season, he’s in line for a lot more PT and a chance to shine for more than one moment.

NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech: The 6-foot-5 guard can really fill it up, but battled mightily with inconsistency last season. There were nights he’d go for 15-plus and follow it up with a succession of single-digit performances. His offensive game – his ability to make plays and quarterback pick-and-roll – will make him an intriguing NBA prospect. Being able to do it night-in and night-out could make him a first-rounder.

JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech: Zhaire Smith got all the NBA attention last year while Keenan Evans got the attention of Big 12 defenses, but Culver is a bona fide prospect in his own right. The Red Raiders will be his team next season, and if he shoots it a little better (converted at 38.2 percent from 3 as a freshman), it’s not inconceivable it’s his last in Lubbock.

O’SHAE BRISSETT, Syracuse: The 6-foot-8 forward quietly had a very productive freshman season, averaging  14.9 points and 8.8 rebounds per game for the Orange. He needs to be more efficient, but if he can start making shots with more regularity (he’s plenty comfortable shooting from the outside), he’ll rocket up draft boards.

AMIR COFFEY, Minnesota: Coffey looked like a blue chip recruit before an ACL tear in high school set him back, and shoulder surgery cut a promising sophomore season short. If he can get past the injuries, Coffey is an intriguing wing prospect at 6-foot-8 with plus-athleticism. His shooting has improved since getting on campus with the Gophers and if that trend continues, NBA teams will take serious notice.

ALEX O’CONNELL, Duke: A top-75 recruit in 2017, O’Connell got limited run last year for the Blue Devils, but shot 48.9 percent on 45 attempts from 3-point range. He should move up the pecking order this season for Duke and could be an impact player off the bench.

LINDELL WIGGINTON, Iowa State: The Cyclones’ leading scorer flirted with going pro after a freshman season in which he averaged 16.7 points and shot 40.1 percent from 3-point range before ultimately returning to Ames. The 6-foot-3 guard is one of the most explosive leapers in college basketball, but needs to improve his decision-making and ballhandling. If he makes even moderate gains in those areas, his physical tools and ability to score the ball could have Adam Silver announcing his name next June.

JALEN MCDANIELS, San Diego State: The 6-foot-10 forward averaged  10.5 points and 7.5 rebounds as a freshman and waited until the final hours before the deadline before announcing his decision to return to the Aztecs. He’s got a ton of upside but some concerns are a meager block rate (2.5 percent) and non-existent game at the arc (4 of 18 from 3 last year). Both of those are issues for big men in the modern NBA. He needs to improve one or both of those areas while continuing to be an above-average rebounder to explode onto the draft scene next summer.