Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary’s Returns Guarantee No Post-National Final HangoverPosted by Chris Johnson on April 19th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Compared to the gutting four-man exodus that could have been, Michigan can breathe a collective sigh relief after Thursday’s news that starting forwards Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III will extend their college basketball careers for at least one more season. The alternative – McGary and Robinson turning their March spotlights and intriguing individual games into mid-to-late first round draft picks – would have necessitated a full-blown, revamped, freshmen-buoyed rebuilding project. Instead, the Wolverines won’t be rebuilding next season. They will be challenging, and quite possibly winning, a Big Ten championship.
But, wait, didn’t Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., two starters on Michigan’s national finalist squad, the former a consensus National Player of the Year, just declare their intentions to do the very thing we are celebrating McGary and Robinson for not doing, for entering the NBA Draft? How can Michigan possibly recover from losing two hugely important perimeter stars from its roster? Those are valid questions to ask for any team who waves goodbye to two pivotal starters, let alone the unanimously considered best player in the country. Not even in Kentucky’s annually warped recruit-draft-restock business is losing a player of Burke’s caliber, and a secondary scorer with Hardaway’s athletic talents and experience, a welcome experience.
The reason(s) Michigan can is an underlying trait that inheres any team with early-entry draft players: You don’t need four returning stars to win a national championship. In fact, if you do happen to have that many, it might just be an indictment on the characterization of that distinguishing praise in the first place; in today’s game, true stars don’t stick around long enough to aggregate into dominant foursomes. They jump at potential professional stardom, fame, and guaranteed financial security. This is nothing new.
Two of Michigan’s Big Four (I know what you’re thinking and, well, the NBA playoffs are around the corner, so why not?) took the conventional route, and honestly, I fully expected the other two – McGary and Robinson – to make the very same decision. When you mix soaring NCAA Tournament momentum, flattering high school scouting reports and outwardly mouth-watering athletic and technical capabilities, you have a patented, time-tested, invitingly predictable recipe for NBA Draft admission. McGary and Robinson could have been first round picks. They could have left Michigan as two lasting collaborators in the Wolverines two-decades-overdue hoops revival in the aughts. They could have been a present day Fab Two… only not really, and with yellow highlighter threads memorializing their likenesses in Michigan hoops lore. It was the classic one-and-done cycle. A candidly obvious choice.
Their decision to defy conventional logic will allow for plenty of skepticism and harsh cynicism about the financial providence of turning down secured millions and risking a lower draft slot, and if that’s your foremost impression on the matter, I could not agree less. But this isn’t about arguing the competing motivations involved in NBA Draft decisions. It’s about Michigan, and as any Wolverines fan can attest, Thursday was a very, very good day. Instead of grimly coming to the realization that a magical national finalist-ending season would be followed up by a mediocre rebuilding year, Michigan instantly finds itself at the top of the Big Ten picture heading into next season.
It also has a dual-pronged counter-punch to brandish in wake of the equally promising news coming out of East Lansing Thursday. Point guard Gary Harris’ return makes certain the Great Lakes State will be the heated rivalry-laced battle grounds for Big Ten supremacy next season. That battle, as we learned Thursday, will include two talented teams coming off respectively successful seasons. It is only a recent luxury that we can even speak of Michigan in such prospectively positive terms. Because were it not for McGary and Robinson’s return to Ann Arbor, were Michigan stuck with Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert, Nik Stauskas, and a touted but mostly unknown new freshmen class, this would not have been a discussion.
Now Michigan is very much built for another run at Big Ten and national contention. Retaining McGary and Robinson does not fully counterbalance the unquantifiable creative intuition and pick-and-roll mastery of Burke, or the physical burden of checking a 6’5’’ guard with occasionally dangerous long-range precision. It keeps Michigan in the mix, and that’s about eight times more reassuring than what most national championship game participants can say one year after the fact.