BROOKLYN – Nik Stauskas, upon being drafted No. 8 by the Sacramento Kings, completed an elaborate handshake with his dad. They slapped hands three times, and both did Stauskas’ signature 3-point goggles. “It was a little pressure, but he got it right,” Stauskas would later say.
Then Stauskas poked John Beilein in the nose.
A little awkward remains as Michigan ascends back among the premier NBA-player-producing college programs under Beilein, and nobody signifies the rapid change more than Stauskas, who extended his arms a bit too quickly while hugging his coach.
Few, even just before the draft began last night, predicted Stauskas would go so high. When he committed to Michigan, it would have seemed impossible.
The six college players drafted ahead of Stauskas Thursday all ranked significantly higher in their recruiting class, according to rivals.com:
Stauskas is the fourth Michigan player drafted in the first round the last two years, joining Mitch McGary (No. 21 to the Thunder this year), Trey Burke (No. 9 to the Jazz after trade last year) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (No. 24 to the Knicks last year). No college program has produced more first rounders in that span.
Beilein is clearly doing something right.
When Michigan hired Beilein in 2007 – full disclosure, I’m a Michigan alum and was on campus at the time – one of the biggest concerns was his ability to attract top recruits. His history had been at small colleges, and he never sent anyone directly to the NBA while at West Virginia.
But Beilein has developed players better than his peers. Burke ranked No. 142 in his recruiting class, and Hardaway wasn’t rated at all. (McGary, the No. 30 recruit, was a blue-chipper unlike any Beilein had ever landed.)
Maybe Beilein has also identified players primed for development. Burke and Hardaway sure didn’t stop growing once they reached the NBA.
Burke, the No. 9 pick, finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. Hardaway, the No. 24 pick, made the All-Rookie first team.
And that should give the Kings confidence in Stauskas.
Despite his humble roots, at least relative to the quick path taken by his top-10 counterparts, Stauskas is extremely confident. He wore the lottery’s most outlandish suit this side of No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins and was asked who chose it.
“This is all me right here,” Stauskas said, grabbing the jacket.
Nobody, including Beilein, deserves more credit for Stauskas’ development than Stauskas himself.
He famously shot long-distance jumpers on his backyard hoop in his native Canada, and that earned him a college scholarship. In the last year, he’s transformed his body and gotten more athletic. Stronger and quicker, he’s expanded his game far beyond spot-up shooting.
No. 8 might have been the top of his range, but Stauskas was a bona fide lottery-level prospect.
“I always believed it,” Stauskas said. “I believed in myself, and I don’t think many other people did.”
It’s time to believe in Stauskas and, even more firmly, Beilein’s ability to send players to the NBA.
Only Kentucky and UCLA have matched Michigan’s first-round output during the last two years, but they’re accustomed to producing NBA talent like this. In the 12 prior years, Michigan had no first-round picks. Kentucky had 12, and UCLA had six.
Beilein, whose name is now being mentioned in wide NBA coaching searches, will likely return to the draft next year, making it three straight for him. Caris LeVert is pegged as a potential 2015 lottery pick, and the way things have gone, another Wolverine – Zak Irvin? – could emerge. If you’re an NBA draft fan, Michigan is a program to watch for the first time since the Fab Five and the aftershock recruiting classes the legendary five-some produced.
In addition to Stauskas and McGary, Beilein also gave a standing ovation for Glen Robinson III, picked No. 40 by the Timberwolves. Beilein even stuck around into the 50s in the hopes of Jordan Morgan – an undersized fifth-year power forward – getting drafted, even though that seemed like a huge longshot.
Beilein never stopped believing, and Stauskas has always believed.
I don’t know what will become of Stauskas in the NBA, but the Kings are getting a confident player who was taught well by a confident coach.