ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Mitch McGary called his coach in August, delivering news that no one wants to hear from a preseason All-American.

Something's up with my back.

"The thing we pride ourselves in, and Mitch is no exception, is getting fundamentals down," Michigan coach John Beilein says. "You can't win, no matter what you draw up, you can't win without fundamentals."

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An ankle injury had derailed McGary's preseason and early-season workouts a year before.

"He missed a huge part, really, six weeks of fundamentals," Beilein says. "Then, this year he had a great summer. We worked on some fundamentals, but now we're going to use six weeks to really get him right. Then, we get the phone call. … All of sudden, he never got any of those things. We rush him into it. It's just hard to put your team together."

The 6-10 McGary played in eight early-season games, averaging 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds while playing through pain. While Beilein tried to mix and match lineups around McGary — and the uncertainty surrounding what kinds of minutes his body could handle and what impact he could have — the Wolverines struggled and lost four games in the season's first month.

On Dec. 27, after sitting out Michigan's game against Stanford completely, McGary announced he would undergo unspecified back surgery, with no specified time table for a return.

McGary spent much of his first month post-surgery lying around and resting. Now that it's been nearly two months, and McGary is checking in with the coaching staff and coming to some practices.

"Not very many," Beilein says. "That's OK. I'd rather have him in study hall working on his academics right now. He's had a major impact during home games. It's still not good for him to sit long periods of time, whether it's a plane or bus."

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McGary dresses in a suit and roams the sidelines during games, looking very much like an assistant coach. Sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III, McGary's roommate and close friend, thinks that McGary's new perspective helps both him and the team.

"He's seeing more of the game, and telling us little things in timeouts," Robinson says. "That we need to play harder. Or what cuts or what reads to make. As bad as it is when you have to sit out like that, it definitely does help you learn and understand the game from a different point of view."

Robinson says McGary is maintaining "high spirits throughout the whole thing" and "enjoying what he can."

"He's returning to rehab; that's going well," Robinson says. "I've seen him taking small steps. It's great to see."

Because few details about the extent of the injury or type of surgery have been made public, there has been speculation about how soon McGary could potentially return. Beilein says, not so fast.

"We haven't even considered or planned on that one bit," Beilein says. "I would not want to do anything to hurt his future career because he wasn't ready. If you know Mitch, Mitch is going to do if you tell him to do something 10 times, he's going to do it 20 times. He's also carefree in some areas. He may try a new dunk that he hasn't tried yet.

"It's fine. It's good if he just plans on when the season's over, I'm going to get better and work on my fundamentals."


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