Michigan Assistant Phil Martelli Talks Offense, Freshmen

Michigan basketball assistant Phil Martelli is entering his second season as a Michigan assistant after decades as a head coach, and he can’t wait to get started. He’s already made an impact as head coach Juwan Howard’s right-hand man, and he likes what he sees from his boss and the team in the early going.

There’s no Xavier Simpson running the show, so the offense will be different. This group will have to shine in one thing in particular to make up the difference, Martelli said Wednesday.

“The area it really has to go well is our three-point shooting has to be what we think it is,” Martelli said. “We have to make the long range shot, then count on playmaking abilities of [senior point guards] Mike Smith and Eli Brooks and [sophomore wing] Franz [Wagner].

“I don’t think any one player can make up for the amount of time X had the ball, nor his creativity, his vision. So I think it has to be a collective effort to run an efficient offense.”

Smith excelled in that area at Columbia, while Brooks has had his moments at Michigan. Wagner, however, has put himself in the equation with his improved playmaking ability from the wing.

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“His shooting was a big focus. His numbers were not what he expected nor accepted,” Martelli said. “His play off the dribble has been really extraordinary. His finishes at the rim … even though he’s very young, he has had so many basketball experiences that he is really a veteran player.

“He’s a joy to be around as a young person, and on the basketball court I marvel at where he’ll go and where I think he can take us this year. He is really an extraordinary player.”

The playbook is more expansive as a result. Martelli said Howard has been leaning on “offensive coordinator” Howard Eisley in addition to his own expertise, and that the players have been receptive.

“A salute really to John Beilein and the guys we have, the growth in in this freshman class …but the IQ is very high, so the teaching is at a pace that is aggressive,” he said. “So that would be the offensive side of the ball … a lot of looks, a lot of packages and a lot of ways that we want to score. We want to play with a particular pace.”

That’s fast … and they’ll have several guys who can bring it up the floor in transition to get them where they want to go.

Freshmen Continue To Impress

Martelli isn’t certain how much playing time each freshman will get, but he likes what he’s seen so far. Center Hunter Dickinson is the most likely to see big minutes, and he’s turned it up in the last few weeks.

“Hunter has been on a climb,” Martelli said. “A lot of times you want a kid with that kind of reputation to skyrocket, but with COVID and not being in the lab every day with Juwan, he’s climbing.”

The first thing that jumps out about him is his extraordinary passing ability, from both the high and low posts, Martelli said. He’s really started to score, too, in the last couple weeks.

“Austin Davis lays it on him every single day, physically. You’ll say, come on … Hunter is 7-2, 267, but it’s different. Austin is truly country strong, and he wears Hunter out,” Martelli said of his fifth-year senior. “I’m not saying he surprised him, but kind of presented Hunter with a real awakening.

“One of the things his is really trying to develop .. everyone knows he’s 7-2 and can dunk, but we’re really working on him scoring around the basket with his right hand and being more committed to shooting the jump shot.”

How much he plays has yet to be determined.

“Reasonable expectations for stretches of play, I don’t know that,” Martelli said. “That’s part of my point about they haven’t played a lot of hoops to be able to say he can go for this amount of time. It’s clear … in my mind, there comes a point in time to get him out.

“I will say this, knowing this — he runs better now than he did, and that’s from a heavy dose of Jon Sanderson. He is running better, but I do think with Hunter and those guys who want to make that jump, not having had that full tilt summer, there’s going to be some restriction. It’s going to be somewhat natural. But we haven’t been in a position where let’s put 40 minutes on the clock. Even when we go and have had scrimmages, it’s a 10-minute slot.”

They’ll learn more at Friday night’s scrimmage, Martelli added.

Frosh forward Terrance Williams, meanwhile, is undersized but will have a role.

“Terrance has been an old, old soul in a young man’s body. He has multiple skills, has a big heart,” Martelli continued. “He will be able to guard bigger guys because he has really good IQ. He has to get tighter with the ball; he’s a little loose with the ball.

“But he’s a better outside shooter than I thought, and I’ve known him since ninth grade. One of those guys you have to get on the court to find a way. Will he start, play 27 minutes? I’m not saying any of that. But Terrance Williams impacts winning, so he’ll have that opportunity to get out there and make some mistakes, but he doesn’t think young, act or play young.”

Combo guard Zeb Jackson was playing well before he got hurt, and he’ll be in the mix for playing time when he returns. He ran his shoulder into a defender on a pick and appeared to have something like a shoulder stinger, Martelli reported.

“He has had contact and non-contact days. He’s a fabulous athlete, working really hard at the point guard spot,” Martelli said. “He’s a streaky shooter, but like a rocket. When he’s going, he can really put the ball in the basket.

“What we’re working with is to make sure he understands a great shot, good shot, bad shot. That’s going to take a little work.”

But he loves him and that he’s a lefty, and he knows the stroke is there.

Finally, Jace Howard, Juwan’s son, is “as good a teammate as we have on this team,” Martelli praised.

“He’s a wonderful teammate. Jace is really very comfortable. He’s verbal, which is a good thing,” he said. “He’s trying to grow into a position. As a younger player he played as a forward and here he’s converting to a wing.

“Certainly, he’ll get a lot of great reps with the scout team. It’s not uncomfortable for Jace, for his teammates and not for his dad. There’s a lot of love there, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

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