On the first night of Michigan's Open Practice, one player stood out above the rest. It wasn't anything spectacular with shooting, dribbling or passing, but his demeanor. He yelled the entire time, clapping his hands, screaming out "Good job!" to his teammates. This is Moritz Wagner, one of the new additions on Michigan's basketball team, who seems to have won over the Michigan coaching staff, the players and fans that have gotten a first glimpse at this German behemoth.
Generally speaking, the Germans are an incredibly tough group, especially in the sports world. Their most famous team, their national football (soccer) team, won the last World Cup with players that are tough, brutish and incredibly skilled at their positions. The Germans fans affectionately call their team Die Mannschaft , which refers to their "creativity, strength, respect, fair play as well as unity and solidarity."
And that's where Wagner comes in. It's still early, but the reason that John Beilein made a secret trip to Berlin to see this kid play was the fundamental understanding that in some form or another, this kid had all of those desirable traits that help elevate a sports team to the next level.
As for his play, it's hard to tell whether Wagner has any real value this season, or whether he could surprise Michigan fans. In the first game, he finished with four points, three rebounds and a disappointing three fouls in 11 minutes. Both of his field goal attempts came from 3-point range, a skill Wagner has that could help differentiate himself from the other big men in Michigan's rotation.
However, the biggest issue facing Wagner right now is the guys playing in front of him. When Zak Irvin comes back healthy from injury, Aubrey Dawkins projects to be the game one starter at power forward. Behind him, D.J. Wilson has played extremely well so far and will likely be the first guy to give Dawkins a break. Duncan Robinson's shooting means Beilein has to give him minutes at either the 3 or 4 spot.
And then there's Wagner. There are so many areas where he could be a vital piece this season, but potentially an equal number of pitfalls where his talents might be suited a year or two away.
Beilein clearly understands this, with a very highly touted recruiting class coming to campus next season, including a point guard, shooting guard and two centers. Only Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht are set to depart next season, and Michigan appears to be building for the future every year since that 2013 Final Four appearance.
For now, Wagner is just another face in the crowd. Like every other freshman, Wagner has to deal with a full class load and a busy schedule. But Wagner has to take these classes in English and juggle it with being a Division I basketball player at one of the top-25 teams in the country. Sounds daunting? It could be, but if anyone can handle it, it's Moe.