Franz Wagner joining Michigan basketball over the summer drew a natural comparison to his brother, Moritz Wagner, who was a standout with the program for three seasons before making the jump to the NBA in 2018.
Like his older brother, Wagner is seen as another potential future star for the Wolverines, and point guard Zavier Simpson already sees a major difference between the two brothers.
“He plays defense,” Simpson told Maize n Brew at Big Ten Media Day with a smile. “That’s the first thing. He plays defense. Great defense. His personality is the same...literally. Both (he and his brother are) extremely competitive.”
Head coach Juwan Howard was not quite as reserved, gushing about the addition to the team as a star player to build around as he gets his program going in his first year at the helm.
“Franz is talented. Franz is a huge pickup for us,” Howard said on Wednesday. “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. To be almost 6-foot-9 at the wing position, he has a high IQ, he’s tough, he’s skilled, he can put the ball on the floor, he create his own shot and he’s not afraid to dunk on you.
“One thing that I did not mention that I should’ve mentioned first, 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. He’s going to be a pro. I’ve put a lot of pressure on him. How I foresee it, I don’t have all the answers, but I think he’s going to be a good pro.”
Defense is all fine and good, but the Wolverines need offense badly on the perimeter after losing the trio of Jordan Poole, Ignas Brazdeikis and Charles Matthews after last season. Howard seems confident that Wagner can provide that with his shooting ability.
“He’s shooting the ball very well,” Howard said. “Now I hope that translates into game situations. Right now, we’ve just been practicing. When we play non-conference games as well as Big Ten, that’s when I’m really going to need Franz. I see what he’s been doing in practice. He has a chance to be really, really good.”
That sure seems like a lot of open praise for a true freshman, but does not necessarily mean he is already penciled into the starting lineup. Howard says his progress over the next few weeks will determine whether or not that winds up being the case.
“Franz will determine that,” he said. “How he’ll keep progressing in our practices, picking up our system. He’s giving himself a great chance.”
Where does Wagner fit into the grand scheme of the Michigan lineup? Howard says that positionless basketball has arrived in Ann Arbor, meaning in any given lineup, a player could have multiple responsibilities.
Wagner has the look of a small forward, but the Wolverines envision scenarios where he might be able to play the two-guard spot. Simpson believes it’s certainly possible.
“I definitely think Franz is capable of playing the two,” Simpson said. “He can pretty much play all of the positions. He’s a very versatile player that can do a lot of things.”
Michigan hoops will practice over the next month or so before an exhibition game against Saginaw Valley State on Nov. 1 and the season opener at Crisler on Nov. 5 against Appalachian State.