For today’s player profile, we’ll take a look at Franz Wagner, a 6-foot-7, 190 pound freshman forward out of Berlin, Germany. Here’s a quick look into Wagner’s story and potential role on this year’s Michigan basketball team, as part of Maize n Brew’s preseason coverage.
The Story So Far
Prior to committing to Michigan, Wagner played for Alba Berlin, one of Germany’s more prominent basketball clubs, and was awarded the Best German Young Player Award. In the 2018-19 season, Wagner played on a dual contract with Alba Berlin in the BBL (the top German league) and SSV lok Bernau Alba in the ProB (the third-tear German league), and started several games for Alba Berlin. For reference, Alba Berlin is the same professional team that former Michigan basketball star Derrick Walton Jr. played for before signing with the Los Angeles Clippers. Wagner had an opportunity to sign a professional contract with Alba Berlin for the 2019-20 season, which he turned down to play for Michigan.
Wagner committed to the University of Michigan in July 2019 after an unusual recruitment. As the younger brother of Moritz Wagner, who played three seasons for Michigan before being selected in the first round of the 2018 NBA draft, Franz had a relatively longstanding relationship with the Michigan basketball program. In particular, he had a relationship with then-head coach John Beilein, who recruited and developed Moritz and was responsible for the majority of Franz’s recruitment.
Beilein left Michigan to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers immediately before Wagner’s official recruiting visit in May 2019, meaning that Wagner’s visit was in the hands of Michigan’s assistant coaches. It seemed like the odds that Wagner would commit to a Michigan program without Beilein may be a bit less, especially given Wagner’s positive relationship with his professional team in Germany. However, shortly after Juwan Howard was hired as Michigan basketball’s next head coach, Wagner announced his commitment, making him Howard’s first official signee.
Wagner was listed by Rivals and 247 as a four-star recruit, but as Juwan Howard said at Big Ten Media Day, “In my opinion, if Franz lived in the US, he would be equivalent to what today’s players are rated as five-star. He’s that good.”
How He Fits in 2019-20
Michigan recently announced that Wagner suffered a non-surgical wrist fracture that will cause him to miss the first four to six weeks of the season. He is expected to make a full recovery prior to conference play, but Michigan is still losing a potential starting two-guard and wing scoring option for its first several games of the season.
After his recovery, Wagner is projected to have an immediate impact on a Michigan roster that recently lost three starters in Ignas Brazdeikis, Charles Matthews, and Jordan Poole. He’s listed as a small forward, but his versatility means that he’s able to play at both the two and the three, potentially seeing time at both and even the four in certain combinations. Wagner has been praised for his shooting ability, which will be necessary after the exodus of the majority of Michigan’s offensive output. Given Michigan’s lack of depth at the two, and Isaiah Livers’ ability to play the three, it’s likely that Wagner will have more of an impact as a two-guard while also competing for time at the three.
As Zavier Simpson told Maize n Brew at Big Ten Media Day, “I definitely think Franz is capable of playing the two. He can pretty much play all of the positions. He’s a very versatile player that can do a lot of things.”
When asked if Wagner will start for Michigan, Howard said, “Franz will determine that. How he’ll keep progressing in our practices, picking up our system. He’s giving himself a great chance.”
Wagner has also been praised for his defensive skills. Per Juwan Howard, “He is an underrated defender. We all talk about his skillset offensively, the guy can defend and he wants to defend, that’s the beauty of Franz.”
When Maize n Brew asked Zavier Simpson the biggest difference between Franz and Moritz, Simpson answered, “[Franz] plays defense.” (It was mostly a joke, but also serious).
It’s too soon to tell what Wagner will contribute to Juwan Howard’s first Michigan basketball team, but it’s almost certain that big things are in his future. We wish Wagner a speedy recovery and can’t wait to watch him take the floor in four to six weeks!