DETROIT (AP) — Nik Stauskas was already looking ahead to next season at Michigan — even though it’s by no means certain that he’ll still be a Wolverine then.
“If this whole team decides to get back together, I’m sure we could make a deep run next year in the tournament,” Stauskas said after Michigan’s loss to Kentucky in the NCAA quarterfinals.
So the waiting begins. This is now a familiar routine for Michigan, which has emerged in recent years as an elite Big Ten program while also losing several players early to the NBA. That’s just a fact of life for top college teams these days.
After Sunday’s 75-72 loss to Kentucky left the Wolverines one win short of a second straight Final Four appearance, talk quickly turned to the future — and whether Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary will leave Michigan for the NBA.
“It will be something I think about, but right now, with this loss, it’s tough to think about right now,” said Stauskas, the Big Ten player of the year. “I’m sure in the next week or so I’ll start talking and think about that.”
Stauskas, Robinson and McGary are all sophomores, and it would not be a surprise if any of them turned pro. Robinson and McGary considered it last year before deciding to come back.
It turned out to be a bit of a lost season for McGary, who was limited to eight games in 2013-14 because of a back problem. It’s hard to say how much his stock may have slipped because of the injury, but McGary turns 22 this summer and could test the NBA waters.
Robinson has started 75 games in two seasons at Michigan, and he seemed to become more aggressive late this season. Now he’ll weigh his options again.
“I’m not sure how long it will take,” Robinson said. “I know coach (John) Beilein does a great job as soon as possible. . I remember last year, he did it right after the national championship, the next morning.”
After losing in the national title game last year, Michigan’s Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. left early for the NBA. Although Robinson and McGary came back, the latter’s injury threatened to derail any hope the Wolverines had for an extended postseason run.
But Michigan rolled through the Big Ten season, winning the conference by three games. Stauskas was tremendous, and senior Jordan Morgan filled the void inside with McGary out.
Without McGary, the Wolverines were soft defensively all season, but they overcame that for the most part. Guard Caris LeVert — another talented sophomore — was one of the nation’s most improved players, and freshmen Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton contributed as well.
Those three players should all be important parts of next season’s roster — and they could be the team’s top returners, depending on how many Wolverines decide to turn pro in the coming weeks.
If nothing else, Michigan has shown it can contend even with a roster shaken up by injuries and NBA departures. Morgan was perhaps most emblematic of that. He ended up shooting 69 percent from the field this season — and he drew the offensive foul in the Sweet 16 against Tennessee that helped the Wolverines hold on to win.
“This year has been the most fun time I’ve had probably playing basketball ever,” Morgan said. “Really got close with a lot of guys, had the opportunity to grow myself as a leader and be a mentor to some of these young guys, and I just appreciate the opportunity.”