Big men are aiming to play bigger roles for UM

October 26, 2017 GMT

Ann Arbor — Michigan sophomore center Jon Teske couldn’t help but laugh when asked if he remembered his outing against Wisconsin on Feb. 16.

During a two-minute stretch against the Badgers, Teske was worked by Wisconsin big man Ethan Happ — a difficult assignment for anyone — and committed two fouls and one turnover as Michigan watched a six-point lead evaporate within the blink of an eye.

“Yeah, I remember that vividly,” Teske said Wednesday during Michigan’s media day at Crisler Center. “We won that game so that’s all that matters. But all the guys kind of jokingly say, ‘You remember that minute stretch, Jon?’ It’s just kind of something that I know happens to everyone.

“I just look at it and learn from it knowing all those guys are good and just realizing what it takes to play in the Big Ten.”

It was a rather forgettable moment for Teske (7-foot-1, 255 pounds), who was quickly yanked out of the game and only made two more brief appearances the rest of the season.

But it also served as a wake-up call and showed Teske how much work he still had to do heading into this season when he and redshirt freshman Austin Davis will be called upon to back up Moritz Wagner at center.

“His confidence was not great last year. He is much improved in that area,” Michigan coach John Beilein said of Teske. “He’s not walking out there as Swaggy Jon right now, I’m telling you that. He’s going out there but he’s much better. He can shoot the ball, he’s got the hook shot, he’s still reacting a little bit slowly to some of the stuff that he has to do as far as being quicker on his feet and using that 7-1. But very skilled player and he and Austin are very similar and they’re very comfortable being comfortable.

“We want them to be comfortable being uncomfortable and just continue to play as hard as you can. It’s not high school anymore where the coach is saying don’t get in foul trouble, save yourself. You got to go out and do everything...They don’t know yet how to play really hard and that’s our job to teach that in practice and in games.”

According to assistant Saddi Washington, Teske and Davis are progressing at a steady pace and who has the edge over the other fluctuates from practice to practice.

“We really challenge them to not run at the same pace,” Washington said. “Somebody is going to have to try to separate themselves from the other one in terms of just trying to have that playing time but I think that’s a good challenge for them and a good mindset for them to be in because at the end of the day it’ll probably be some combination of them early and then as the year goes along we’ll see what happens.”

Washington added he renamed Teske from ‘Big Sleep’ to ‘Big Nasty’ in the hopes that he embraces a nasty side that will allow him to take his game to the next level.

“I think really both of those guys have to embrace some form of alter ego when they’re out there on the floor because they’re really good kids, quiet kids by nature but we need them to really play with a more physical nature for them to really be productive for us,” Washington said.

Bringing a “stronger toughness” – along with rebounding prowess – is an area Davis (6-10, 240) said he can help make the biggest impact with the team.

In addition to the increased reps he received as a scout team member last season, Davis slimmed down and lost roughly 10 pounds, something he hopes will pay off and help optimize his performance.

“Physically, I feel much better than last year. I feel like I’m a lot quicker and able to get up and down the court better running wise and I’m able to move my feet a little bit better defensively,” he said. “It adds another part to my game that I feel much more confident running and being able to keep up with people now.”

While Beilein has yet to settle on his bench rotation, he said he’s hoping Davis will be one of the three bigs he uses this season but added Teske has outperformed him at this point of the preseason.

“Last year the scout team would score 16 points and he (Davis) might score 12 of them,” Beilein said. “Now accountability and defense and all these other things he’s got to get better at. He’s a guy whose body has really changed. He’s got to change like his body has really changed and I know he will.

“But there’s another level. He’s one of those guys that when he gets to 212 degrees, when he’s boiling, he’s going to be really good but he’s got to get there first. He’s shown that in just stages. He’s going to be very good once we get that little bit more intensity from him.”