Franz Wagner briefly considered declaring for the NBA draft this offseason.
But in the end, Wagner said, "it really wasn't that big of a decision." He felt it would be best if he returned to play another season for the Wolverines.
“You get that sheet of paper that you’re supposed to send in to the NBA and you get some feedback, where they rank you right now," Wagner said Tuesday morning during a Zoom call with reporters. "That’s really all I wanted — I knew I wasn’t a lottery pick or anything like that, so once I got that back, it was motivation, but at the same time, it was also being grateful that I’m in the right spot and going in the right direction.”
As a freshman, Wagner was a complementary option in U-M's offense — and a very good one. He averaged 11.6 points and 5.6 rebounds and led the team with 34 steals. And as the season continued, Wagner improved over the season, scoring 15.8 points per game over the final eight contests.
Still, there were clear areas for improvement needed. Despite having a reputation as a top shooter, Wagner shot just 31.1% from 3-point range. His jumper was erratic all season, and Wagner mostly scored at the rim, shooting 61% on 2s.
Then there was Wagner's role on offense. The Wolverines relied heavily upon point guard Zavier Simpson to create shots — both for himself and others — off of ball-screen action. Simpson is gone now, which leaves the door open for a player like Wagner to become more of a play-maker.
“Yeah, I just wanna make the next step as a player," Wagner said. "I think part of that is being more vocal and kinda stepping into a leader role. I think I had a good freshman season, and I want to build on that."
According to Wagner, he spent much of his freshman season simply adjusting to his new surroundings. He had to get comfortable with living in a foreign country. He had to cultivate relationships with teammates and coaches that he had only known in passing before his enrollment.
There was also the on-court adjustment. While Wagner excelled for a teenager in Germany's top professional league, college basketball featured a different pace and style of play. Then, he had to recover from a fractured right wrist suffered last October, shortly before the beginning of the season.
“I think I had just kinda gotten out of my rhythm that I had going in those practices, in those scrimmages and practice," Wagner said. "Always when you come back from an injury, you kinda have to readjust and get back to that rhythm that you had when you played.
"You can work out individually all you want, but playing 5-on-5 is always a lot different. And then adding to that, like I said, I had never played a college game before. I think those two things together caused me a little bit to struggle at the start."
Wagner averaged just six points over his first four games, shooting 36% (9 of 25) from the field. But Wagner was OK with his early struggles — he had anticipated the difficult transition, and knew the only way to get used to college basketball was to simply play. And as he grew more experienced with the style of play, he developed more confidence.
"Coming into the college season, I kinda knew that were a lot of different things that I had to adjust to," Wagner said, "and I was willing to kinda have some games where I won’t have the best game individually but still trying to figure out some ways I can help the team win. For the first couple games, I think that was really the most important thing, when my shot wasn’t falling or when I’m not having the best game offensively, which normally isn’t my game, I can still help the team win.
"I think I found a couple ways to do that and really proud that I did that. Throughout the season, I got more comfortable, shots started falling more, then I got more confident I think. That was a huge part of those last couple games that I played.”
Now, Wagner has the benefit of hindsight. He can look back on last season and learn from it. And he no longer has to adjust to living and playing in a new country.
"Last year was a lot of things I had to adjust to, and now I already did that," Wagner said. "I feel good where I am, I feel good with where I am in quarantine from a physical standpoint and in terms of getting better as a player, and I’m just ready to take the next step and help the team even more than last year.”
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Why Michigan's Franz Wagner believes he will 'make the next step'