Michigan leans on sons of former NBA players

michigan-robinson-hardawayAmong the biggest reasons Michigan is headed to its first Final Four in 20 years is point guard Trey Burke, a national player of the year candidate, and freshman forward Mitch McGary, whose game has blossomed in the NCAA Tournament.

But those are not the names on the roster that register loudest with basketball fans.

Instead, the Wolverines feature a threesome of Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III and Jon Horford that receives regular feedback from their retired NBA fathers. They have combined to average 28.4 points per game heading into Saturday’s matchup against Syracuse in Atlanta.

In the estimation of Michigan coach John Beilein, this team would not have reached the Final Four without them.

The two namesake sons — Hardaway, a 6-foot-6 guard, and Robinson, a 6-6 forward — have started every game they have played this season. Both are double-digit scorers. Horford, son of former NBA player Tito Horford and brother of Atlanta Hawks standout Al Horford, has averaged 2.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game as a 6-10 role player.

Hardaway, an All-Big Ten performer, said the legacy sons on the Wolverines’ roster understand and embrace the challenge of playing for the names on the front and back of their Michigan jerseys.

“It’s not hard at all to play. It actually gives you confidence to go out there and just do what you do,” said Hardway, whose father, Tim, was a five-time NBA All-Star who played in college at UT El Paso. “It’s great to play not only for yourself, but for your family and for that last name. It’s all about heart when you’re playing.”

Beilein added a couple of other traits that have helped the trio succeed: genetics and work ethic. But not in that order.

“DNA doesn’t get you there alone. You have to have a great work ethic,” Beilein said. “These kids have both. There’s great DNA… but there’s never been a shortage of them getting to the gym, I guarantee you. They’re in there, they’re working at it. And the best is yet to come for all of them.”

Hardaway, a junior, averages 14.6 points per game, second on the team to Burke (18.8). Robinson, son of former NBA and Purdue standout Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson — the first pick in the 1994 NBA Draft, who played 11 seasons in the league — has averaged 11 points and 5.5 rebounds per game as a freshman. Horford’s father spent parts of three seasons in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks (1988-90) and Washington Bullets (1993-94) after playing in college at LSU and Miami.

As Final Four participants, all three players have gone further in the NCAA Tournament than their famous fathers, a fact that did not escape Hardaway’s attention after the Wolverines ousted Florida 79-59 in Sunday’s Elite Eight matchup at Cowboys Stadium.

Asked what advice his father has given him about the NCAA Tournament, a smiling Hardaway said: “I don’t think he made it this far.… He just tells me to go out and have fun, play with heart, play within your game and don’t do anything crazy. Just trust your teammates and try to make a name for yourself. That’s what I’m going to continue to do.”

Hardaway’s father, Tim Sr., spent one season with the Dallas Mavericks (2001-02) but is best remembered for his seasons with the Golden State Warriors (1989-96) and Miami Heat (1996-2001). A 6-foot point guard, his best move was a devastating crossover dribble — a weapon that is not in the arsenal of the younger, taller Hardaway, the Wolverines’ primary shooting guard.

“Our games are not comparable,” Hardaway said. “He’s a point guard. I’m not.”

But the two inside players, Robinson and Horford, have skill sets similar to those their fathers flashed on college courts a generation ago. Both players credit their dads with helping them develop their post moves, although Robinson (6-6, 210) lacks his dad’s burlier physique. A former guard in high school, the younger Robinson is trying to become a more physical player in college. Just like dad.

“Glenn can make those tough layups around the basket. It’s an area where he continues to grow,” Beilein said. “But one of his best situations is when he is just slashing and being around the hoop and getting loose basketballs… The more he learns about the angles you can play from a forward position, the better he’s going to be and the better we’re going to be.”

Although Burke is the team’s headliner, he does not mind sharing headlines with his teammates who have NBA bloodlines. All of them, he said, are assets in the Wolverines’ up-tempo style of play.

“The athletes that we have that are sons of NBA players; what they have in common is they’re very athletic,” Burke said. “Obviously, that comes from their genes. It’s natural, really.”

It’s also natural that all three seek to earn fame outside of the accomplishments of their famous fathers. The Final Four trip is a start. But it is not the end, in Hardaway’s estimation.

“You try to leave a legacy of your own,” Hardaway said. “But it takes a long time to do that.”



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