Wagner's NBA Selection Part of Broader Michigan Legacy

Wagner's NBA Selection Part of Broader Michigan Legacy

Basketball

Wagner's NBA Selection Part of Broader Michigan Legacy


Why Michigan basketball head coach John Beilein is contributing more to the program than simply putting players in the NBA.


Wagner’s NBA Selection Part of Broader Michigan Legacy

It was a tense moment Thursday night.

Former Michigan forward Moe Wagner wasn’t among the green room attendees. He wasn’t in many NBA mock drafts in the first-round — despite being seen my many as a first-round talent.

A year prior, Wagner’s former teammate in Ann Arbor, DJ Wilson, declared early for the NBA Draft, and many pundits wondered if he was even ready for the big leagues. Yet, he went at 17th overall to the Milwaukee Bucks, and Wagner — the German-born star who lives for the spotlight on the court — seemed like his additional year could propel him to a similar spot in the draft.

Even as those teams spent just five minutes each deciding who to select, minutes seemed like — and turned into — hours, as Wagner squirmed in the seats of Barclays Center, waiting for his name to be called.

Finally, one team that worked him out, the Los Angeles Lakers, stepped up to the plate, armed with the 25th overall pick, and were determined to take the versatile Berlin athlete and dress him in purple and gold.

But the moments leading up to that pick were tense. Even Beilein found himself lamenting in the drama. Because what Michigan fans didn’t know at the moment was there were teams much higher up than LA who were interested in taking Wagner.

Yet, team-by-team, pick-by-pick, he remained on the board, waiting his turn, to discover his career opportunity.

Until, Wagner’s agent got the call from someone who knows what it’s like to delight fans in the friendly confines of Crisler Center — and another who knows the exact opposite.

Lakers GM Rob Pelinka was a part of the Wolverines 1989 championship team, and played with both Fab Five outfits. And he was joined on the call by stakeholder Magic Johnson, the legendary former Michigan State Spartan.

The feeling in that moment was elation, especially given the what might have been that existed for Wagner and the Michigan coaching staff in attendance in the hour before.

“We had some significant interest from some teams in the teens,” Beilein said. “It delayed – there was more drama because there was more interest from teams that were earlier than the Knicks. So when they didn’t pick him, we let down a little bit! The morale went down a little bit. We tried to pick it up. Just sitting there, and knowing the Lakers was a real possibility, if that didn’t go, then this drama just builds.

“But (Lakers GM) Rob (Pelinka) and Magic (Johnson) called Moe’s agent right behind us. As soon as I heard the phone ring, and I saw the smile and I looked at Moe and saw the tears, I knew it was happening. (Michigan assistant) Dre (Haynes) was there with me – we had five of our six coaches on staff (there). To see the camera – you know who’s getting drafted by seeing the cameras start to move in the 30 seconds before the name is announced. But we already knew, because we had him on the phone. And now the cameras start moving and there’s Moe looking at the cameras. It’s a great moment!

“I’ve been there before with Trey (Burke), with Nik (Stauskas) – and it was special to be there again. It is a culmination of a lot of work. No one knows how hard that young man has worked, and how, as a 17 year old, he left his home country, and just put all of his faith in the University of Michigan.”

It made sense to Beilein that LA was Wagner’s landing spot, given Pelinka and Magic’s presence there. Michigan has established a long-standing pipeline to the NBA, and Pelinka — a former sports agent — is a part of that, even if he didn’t have a playing career.

Beilein spoke about how Wagner’s selection to the NBA is a part of that greater Michigan legacy in the pros. He, himself, is close with former Michigan All-American Rudy Tomjanovich — who himself had a storied career in the NBA as both a player and a coach.

Beyond Rudy T., over the course of decades, the Wolverines have sent many a player to the NBA — three of the famed Fab Five thrived at the next level, as Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard all had longstanding careers in the league. Numerous from Beilein-coached teams have made it, with seven overall first-round picks, and nine Beilein-coached players making it overall.

So, when Moe got the call from Pelinka, all that Michigan history resonated with Beilein. It all made perfect sense.

And that nostalgia mixed with the here and now, further emboldening the Wolverines coach, knowing that he’s helping build a major part of that legacy that exists in Ann Arbor.

“I think it was really cool that both Magic and Rob were both on that phone call,” Beilein said. “That just speaks to what I was talking about – the success of these two programs. Throughout the league, in the NBA, there’s just so many Michigan connections for us now.

“When I going to the draft, in all the pomp and circumstance of the draft, I texted Rudy Tomjanovich and said, ‘What were you doing in 1970, when you were the No. 2 pick in the draft?’ And told me, he was eating pierogies in Hamtramck at the time of the draft! And I thought about how much that had changed over the years.

“We have so much connection with the NBA now with so many different players. I talked with Tim (Hardaway Jr.) yesterday. I’m trying to call all of my guys right now in June and just trying to get updates from them. Some of them will come back in the summer and they filter through. I want them to all come back to Camp Sanderson for six weeks, and they won’t do it! I wonder why, but they won’t come back!”

Despite whether NBA players want to subject themselves to rigorous offseason workouts at their alma mater is moot. What matters is, Beilein has tapped back into a Wolverines promise that has transcended the “Those Who Stay” mantra that emanated from the football side.

Whether it be about getting a degree and moving onto bigger things — like Pelinka did — getting selected to play in the NBA — like Wagner and the many before him — it means something to play in Ann Arbor. And Beilein is intent to continue to add to that meaning.

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