Every year, college basketball sees more underclassmen declare for the NBA draft. Gone are the days when the majority of teams started five seniors, and the main bench contributors were generally juniors. Younger players declaring for the NBA makes recruiting even more important than it used to be. Coaches need to find players who are ready to step in and play from Day 1, not a few years down the line. Within the last few years, Michigan has become one of these programs that is hit with tons of underclassmen departing. Michigan's starting five from the 2013 National Championship all declared for the NBA draft the last two seasons, and veterans Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford are gone as well. What does this mean for John Beilein? Freshmen matter, potentially this year more than any other year in his time at Michigan. With all these departures, Beilein added 7 players to the roster. We break down the class in alphabetical order:
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rakham: Anyone who has arguably the greatest fighter ever as part of their name should have toughness as a prerequisite. MAAR brings that, and then some. A pitbull-esque Philly point guard, expect him to attack the basket with reckless abandon. His size at 6'4 is bigger than both point guards currently ahead of him on the depth chart, but he has the ability to play both point or shooting guard and might see some time at the 2 if Beilein elects to play Caris LeVert at small forward. There is nothing particularly flashy about his game, but he seems to be very mature and Coach Beilein absolutely loves his play so far. The biggest problem will be cracking the lineup. Simply based on experience and talent in the backcourt, I only expect to see MAAR for 5-10 minutes a game, but depending on how his game expands throughout the season and how Beilein chooses to tinker with the lineup, Michigan fans might be seeing their prizefighting combo guard even more.
Kameron Chatman: Michigan's highest rated recruit hails from the Pacific Northwest, a wily 6'8 combo forward from Portland, Oregon. Chatman is still pretty raw, but he has all the intangibles to be an absolute beast at Michigan. At his size, he is a nightmare matchup because of his ability to consistently make three pointers, his phenomenal ball handling and passing. Beilein will interchange Zak Irvin, Caris LeVert and Chatman on offense to make a phenomenal, interchangeable wing tandem. The biggest question with Chatman is whether he will have the size weight-wise to battle with some of the bigger bodies in the Big Ten, and the quickness to guard some of the smaller players on switches. Chatman will likely start from the beginning based on his versatility and offensive capability, but it will be interesting to see if the next recruit on our list takes Chatman's spot as the season goes on.
Aubrey Dawkins: A coach's son from Palo Alto, Dawkins could be an absolute steal for Michigan. Dawkins didn't commit until April 28th, very late in an age where players sometimes commit a full year or two before they step on campus. Dawkins fits the prototypical Beilein player: A 6'6 wing who can play anywhere from shooting guard to power forward, a phenomenal athlete and great shooter. Reports from practice show that Dawkins is progressing tremendously well, and could see time on the floor with Michigan earlier than many expected. Because of his versatility and Michigan's deep backcourt of returners (Derrick Walton Jr., Caris LeVert, Spike Albrecht), I expect Dawkins to play more at small forward or power forward. If he can give Michigan 10-15 minutes a game this year, I can only imagine how much he will progress if he stays for the full four years in Ann Arbor.
Ricky Doyle: Doyle stands at 6'9 and is a hulking big man from Fort Myers, Florida. Michigan fans can think of a less skilled version of Mitch McGary for now, but he has the ability to be a very serviceable big man for Michigan. Doyle will split time with Mark Donnal and possibly Max Bielfeldt at the center position, but none of the three are proven players. Doyle has the size to become an absolute force on the defensive end, and Beilein has said that Doyle has improved his jumper as well. If he can get up to 250 pounds, he could be called on to battle with some of the bigger players in the Big Ten on a nightly basis, and like Dawkins, I see about 10-15 minutes for Doyle as well. If Donnal is having an off night or Doyle is playing better, I think Beilein would not be afraid to give Doyle added minutes to boost his confidence and reward his play.
Austin Hatch: Hatch has gone through more in his 20 years than most individuals go through in a lifetime. He was involved in two plane crashes, taking his entire family in the process. Doctors said that Hatch would never be able to walk again, but Hatch defied the odds by not only walking, but returning to the court again and playing in a game for Michigan in Italy this summer. Coach Beilein and Michigan have honored his scholarship despite Hatch's minimal impact on the court, but Hatch will inevitably be an inspiration to his teammates and coaches. When Hatch takes the court for the first time in an official game this season, expect the Michigan student section and the entire arena to give the young man a rousing round of applause for all he has gone through.
Duncan Robinson: Last season, Duncan Robinson was playing in front of small crowds in tiny gyms scattered throughout the Northeast. Robinson was a member of the Williams College basketball team, a Division III school located in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Robinson led the Ephs to a Final Four, and had a tremendous year as a freshman. His play was enough to impress John Beilein, and on August 6th, Duncan Robinson became the newest Wolverine. Because he transferred from Williams, Robinson will sit out the 2014-15 season, but this will be incredibly beneficial. Robinson is still growing into his body, as he was 5'7 at the start of his freshman year of high school and now stands at 6'8. Robinson is a lights-out shooter, one of the reasons Michigan was so keen on him. While he will not play this year, Robinson will spend a ton of time in the gym to help bulk up his 190-pound frame so he can adjust to Big Ten play. While Robinson won't impact this year's team, look for him to be another one of Beilein's steals in the future.
D.J. Wilson: Last but certainly not least, Wilson is a 6'9 stretch forward from Sacramento, California. Wilson, like most freshmen adjusting from high school to Division I play, is lanky and very raw, but his athletic ability at his height gives insight into the type of player he can be. Wilson was mostly a finisher and shot-blocker in high school, but he has been working on a jumpshot to complement his game. He was forced to sit out on the Italy trip due to a finger injury which might have set him back a little, but he has the talent to be able to compete at either the power forward or center position from the start. Jordan Morgan had been the anchor of Michigan's defense for the last four years, and while Wilson is not physically as big, his athleticism and defensive prowess could give him some minutes early. It will be interesting to see whether Beilein pairs Wilson with either Doyle or Donnal, or whether Wilson is better suited as a center. While he is far from polished, Wilson could be the type of player that gets Michigan fans on their feet at least once a game.