An offseason? That’s a quaint concept for college basketball.
The news was a lightning bolt on a Monday morning in May. John Beilein, 66 years old and entrenched at Michigan, had signed a five-year contract to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Have you ever noticed no NBA coach with a shred of job security ever leaves to take a college job? Fred Hoiberg was quite interested in the Chicago Bulls’ coaching position when he was at Iowa State. Had he not been fired by the Bulls during the 2018-19 season, it’s hard to imagine him even considering leaving Chicago for the Nebraska job he now has.
The fact Beilein made this move is one more reason to appreciate him. Instead of thinking about his path to retirement, he’s taking on one more challenge, adding one more life experience in a career full of them. At 66. It’s inspirational.
Only certain kinds of people who are entrenched as college basketball kings leave for the player-driven NBA. Many a college boss has flirted with the pros before backing off, perhaps knowing they would merely be coaches in the NBA instead of all-powerful towering figures.
Beilein has coached at Erie Community College, Le Moyne College, Nazareth College, Canisius, Richmond and West Virginia before going to Michigan in a hire that didn’t overwhelm Wolverines fans at the time in 2007.
That was two NCAA title-game appearances ago. That was seven NBA first-round draft picks ago. That was two Big Ten regular-season titles and two Big Ten tournament titles ago.
Michigan, a football school then, now and always, became a ferocious basketball program under Beilein.
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The last memory of Wolverines hoops under Beilein that Iowa will have is the 74-53 thrashing they gave the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals in Chicago.
Several weeks before, Michigan was ranked No. 5 when it came to Carver-Hawkeye Arena and got pounded by Iowa, 74-59. But as we saw several times over the last decade, the Wolverines of March are different animals.
Three players from Michigan’s roster are in Chicago this week for the NBA Draft Combine. The Wolverines appear headed downward for a little while. Michigan is a premier job, but the next coach has a tough act to follow.
That’s not all the college basketball news around here, of course. Isaiah Moss is doing his former team a big solid by moving out of the Big Ten and the state of Iowa.
The senior-to-be guard is transferring from Iowa. According to his father, Mike Moss, in this story by 247sports.com, seven Big Ten schools (including Beilein’s Michigan) and over 50 total reached out to Moss. One was Iowa State.
Moss has visited Arkansas and Kansas in the last few days, and says his other two finalists are Arizona State and Oregon.
“He really wanted to stay close to home,” Mike Moss said. “But he didn’t want to disrespect Iowa fans by getting back in the Big Ten. He has a fan base for life with that school. Iowa State was the same. He couldn’t go there either because of that. He also has all the respect in the world for Coach McCaffery.”
Over the last week, many a person has asked me what’s going on in Iowa City that Moss would leave. Moss was perhaps the most tight-lipped player on the Hawkeyes, but it’s clear he isn’t bad-mouthing anyone or anything connected to Fran McCaffery’s program.
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It seems safe to say if Moss saw himself as among the top two offensive options for the Hawkeyes next season, a 32-minute guy, he wouldn’t be leaving. But there’s Jordan Bohannon and Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp. Also, former, current and potential Hawkeyes see blue-chipper Patrick McCaffery coming in and gobbling minutes.
Sophomore-to-be Wieskamp, by the way, sent a pretty clear message by becoming an NBA early-entry candidate this year. Yes, he’s almost certain to withdraw and return to Iowa. But his eyes are on a bigger prize, and not in 2022.
As for Moss, sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. That so many major programs are interested in him tells you it’s a loss for the Hawkeyes. You can never have too many capable experienced players, especially the kind who can shoot.
Moss left on a high note even though it was an overtime loss to Tennessee in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He swished a tough corner 3-pointer with 4:21 left to pull the Hawkeyes within a point of the lead, and stuck a jumper with 51 seconds remaining to help push them to overtime of a game they trailed by 21 points at halftime.
A player who started 96 games for Iowa suddenly leaves. A coach who seemed like a Michigan institution suddenly leaves. If you take this stuff as something more meaningful than sheer entertainment, you may want to reevaluate.
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