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Thank You, Michigan

Apr 14 2018
Photo by
Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire
Photo by
Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire
Apr 14 2018
A

lle träume klingen verrückt. Bis sie wahr werden.

This is what it says on the poster that I have on my wall. I’m looking at it now, in my apartment in Ann Arbor, as I’m telling you this story. It’s German, which you probably guessed, and it means: All dreams are crazy. Until they come true. (Good saying, right?) And then beside these words is a picture of Dirk Nowitzki — who is basically my idol.

I’ve had this poster since 2011, the year the Mavericks won the NBA title. I was 14 years old at the time, and just beginning to figure out who I was as an athlete and a person. And to see this big German dude, with this unique game, beating this stacked Miami team with LeBron and D-Wade and Bosh and all of those guys? Man, it was something else. It was the first time in my life that I realized what winning can actually mean to people. I had Dirk Fever, you know? So I got this poster.`

Courtesy Moe Wagner

I put it on my bedroom wall in Berlin — and every day, I would see it, and it would be this reminder. Of how, like, O.K., Moe, it’s this guy from your country, and here he is making NBA All-Star, and winning MVP, and leading his team to the championship … and it’s crazy, because he was just a teenage kid in Germany, like me, not so long ago. But now he’s doing all of these amazing things on the basketball court. That was inspiring.

When I moved to Ann Arbor a few years ago, I knew I had to travel pretty light — but there was no chance I wasn’t bringing my Dirk poster with me. So I carefully folded it up … packed it in my suitcase … and then, once I got to campus, one of the first things I did was put it right back on my bedroom wall.

And now it’s 2018 — which means that poster has been with me for almost seven whole years. For almost every step along the way of my basketball journey. And I’m excited to tell you that, today, it’s time for me to fold it up again, and take my next big step.

Alle träume klingen verrückt. Bis sie wahr werden.

I’ve decided to sign with an agent and enter the 2018 NBA draft.


This wasn’t an easy decision for me. I know people always say that, and maybe it sounds like they don’t 100% mean it. But I’m telling you guys — the idea of leaving Michigan, of leaving this community, is really tough. This place has really started to feel like home.

There’s so many things about Michigan that I love, and that I’m going to miss.

I’ll miss the unbelievable fans. When I was in Germany, I thought I had some sense of how big a deal the Michigan fan-base was — but the truth is I had no idea. Michigan fans … they’re everywhere, man. That’s what’s so unique about this place. Like, not just at the Crisler Center. I’m talking everywhere. Like, when we made it to the Sweet Sixteen, in Los Angeles? I couldn’t believe it — but the building was maybe 80% Michigan fans. Our fans are the best, and the most passionate, and the most loyal that I’ve ever seen. When you’re wearing maize and blue, I’m telling you, it’s like every game is a home game. And I just want to let everyone know how thankful I am for their support. Because — as much as anything else — I think it was playing for these fans that really gave me the confidence I needed to grow as a player.

I’ll miss my teammates, for sure. Like, I can’t even tell you — all of the guys who have been there for me over the last few years.

There’s Dak (even though he’s technically a Buckeye now), who believed in me and helped me out from Day One — and when I say Day One, I’m not exaggerating: My very first day at Michigan, Dak comes up to me and teaches me how to hold the ball. (Thanks, Dak.) He’s a special guy, like a brother. And this is the only nice thing I’ll ever say about Ohio State.

There’s Caris, who was a senior when I was a freshman, and really showed me the way, as far as, like — O.K., this is the kind of dominant player, and leadership presence, that you can someday grow into. (Or at least try.) When Caris was a freshman, he was supposed to redshirt, but then he played his way out of it. And I was supposed to redshirt, too — but getting advice from Caris really gave me the courage to play my first year. One good talk with him and suddenly I was like, Heck no, I’m not tryna redshirt. His success in the NBA has surprised some people, but it doesn’t surprise me.

And there’s a lot of other guys that I’ve looked up to, from those older classes. Like Nik Stauskas — one of my first days in Ann Arbor, Brent and I saw Nik shooting around for like 45 minutes … and he only missed two shots. But he still got so mad after those two misses that he punched the dummy and threw the ball against the wall. It was on another level. There’s Jordan Morgan (J Mo!), a great guy. I never got to play on the same team with J Mo, but he always watched our games and made a point to reach out to me. Usually he’d text me a compliment, or some words of encouragement … but then there was the time during the tournament this year, when he texted me, “Stop f*cking fouling.” (Appreciate the honesty, J Mo.) And then there’s Spike Albrecht — one of the toughest guys you’ll ever meet. Spike always had my back, whether it was talking me up to the coaches or firing me up about my ability to go pro one day. To this day he’s one of my best friends.

And then, finally, there’s this year’s team, which … man … was just unreal. I’ll never forget it. From Zavier (emotional and intense, just like me) … to Duncan (we’d get in these “fights,” you know, like little kids, where you’re so worked up that you’re not even talking — but in the end it’s family) … to Charles (the guy already approaches the game like a pro) … to Muhammad (our silent assassin — this guy does not care about his own agenda, at all) … to Brent (my freshman roommate — I’ll get sensitive when people will make fun of my struggle-English, but with Brent, we’ve been through so much that he gets a pass #3357) … to Jon (my roommate on the road — shoutout Big Sleep!) … to our head manager, Nolan (no one on earth is more committed to this program — such a smart guy, such a hard worker, so much admiration for this dude) … man, I could keep going forever. I just love our team. No doubt, many years from now when I’m Old Guy Moe, I’ll look back on this season as one of the best years of my life.

Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

I’m also going to miss so many great people — and places — in the Michigan community, that had nothing to do with basketball.

Ann Arbor will always be the first American city that I ever really knew. In my opinion, it’s the perfect place to live — not too big, not too small. You get all four seasons, great sports, and some of the nicest and most genuine people I have met. I’ll miss Ann Arbor a ton and come back as much as I can.

I’ll also miss just all the little things about being a student. I’ll miss the friends that I made in my classes, like my all-star group-project team in Sports Management last spring. And I’ll miss my roommates a lot. It’s this great group of guys — and most of them weren’t even on the basketball team. There’s not any one big memory that comes to mind, that I’ll miss. But it’s more just, like, the down time where we’re all hanging out in the living room, and watching The Bachelor or playing Fortnite or whatever. Man, those guys even drove all the way from Ann Arbor to San Antonio to watch us in the Final Four — that’s the kind of brotherhood we have. Shoutout to Jay, Harry and Tell.

And then you know I’ll miss the heck out of Coach Beilein, one of the best coaches in the country and also an incredible teacher. What makes Coach Beilein so great? O.K., so, the short answer is: an insane focus on preparation. The slightly longer answer is: our second-round game against Houston. There’s four seconds left and Houston’s at the line, up two. Not great. And at first, to be honest, I’m thinking, Oh no, this might be over. But then all of a sudden, it’s like — it hits me. I realize, Wait … I’ve been here before. I’ve already done this play, this EXACT SAME play, countless times. Every single one of us had. We’d all practiced it so much that it felt like habit. And when I say “this play,” I’m not even just talking about the final inbounds sequence where Jordan hit the buzzer beater. I’m also talking about everything before that — everything else that Coach Beilein had prepared us for. Coach B would have us practice our body language. He’d have us practice walking into and out of the huddle. He’d even have managers practice acting like fans who would be heckling us — to test our focus during timeouts. It’s wild, right? The highest-stakes moment of any of our lives … and the truth is, I think we mostly all just felt super calm and prepared. Jordan will be the hero forever for that shot against Houston, and he deserves it. But I’m telling you: Without the little things that Coach B had prepared us for all year, the season is over. That play never happens.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Oh — so, a few things from college that I won’t miss, just to keep things balanced: I absolutely won’t miss having to play against all of the incredible fours and fives in the Big Ten. And of course I mean that as a compliment. Ethan Happ, Jaren Jackson Jr., the list goes on … man, I have so much respect for those guys. They’re great players, and I think we all made ourselves better by playing against each other. Is there such a thing as “conference pride”? Because I think I have that. I’ll always be grateful that I got to play in such a competitive league, and against such awesome schools.

I definitely won’t miss the scooter that I rode around campus for a couple of months last year. O.K. so quick note to my parents: I rode a scooter around campus for a couple of months last year. I had this baseball helmet and it looked goofy. I remember how some random person on the street told me to stop riding that scooter because it didn’t look safe. And I have to agree, it was far from safe. Not to mention all these parking tickets I’ve collected.

And then the last thing on this list — it’s gotta be the college basketball seedings and rankings. I for sure won’t miss those. Like, can I just say that seedings and rankings are stupid? Last year, we kept getting called a “Cinderella story,” I guess because we were the 7 seed … even though we’d just won the Big Ten tourney?? And then before this season, we weren’t in the Top 25 … even though we’d just made the Sweet 16?? Also, people were saying the Big Ten was going to be weak … and it ended up being like one of the best conferences in the country!! So I’m not a big rankings or seedings guy. They’re dumb — and now I can say that and not worry about the reaction.

And that actually reminds me of one more thing I’m going to miss.

Nick Wass/AP Images

Man, as weird as this might sound, and maybe even as much as I’m going to miss the games themselves — I’m really going to miss our scrimmages. Especially those players-only, closed-door scrimmages that we held back in September. It’s funny: In September, we were all so aware of the outside expectations for our team. Or the lack of them, I should say. I remember us trying to ignore it all — but you can’t, not really. Like, even if you truly don’t care what everyone else thinks … when no one picks you to do well in your conference, even though you won your conference tournament the year before? It’s hard not to feel like you’re being overlooked.

But anyway, back in September, it was just basketball. Just pick-up in an empty gym. No fans, no coaches, no nothing. And it only took a few scrimmages for me to see that this team was going to be special. There was this feeling out there, I can’t even describe it. Like, things got so physical — way more physical than I’d ever seen a Michigan team get. I remember coming home all bruised and scratched from those scrimmages. We were battling in the key, throwing elbows, chirping nonstop. The season hadn’t even started yet … and still guys are boxing out like it’s the national championship game. Obviously none of us had any idea that, just a few months later, we’d be playing in the actual national championship game. But to be honest? In a way, in the backs of our minds, I do think we always knew what we were capable of.

And that right there, I think that’s what I’ll miss the most about Michigan. I know this school means a lot of different things to a lot of different people … and maybe this is going to sound corny. But to me, Michigan will always be this place where, if you work hard enough, and you work together enough — you can become your best self.


Of course … this isn’t yet the finish line for me, you guys. It’s not even close. I know there’s still a long way for me to go to make it to the league, and to become the player that I want to be. Just saying, “I declare for the draft” — it doesn’t promise you anything. You still have to put in all the work, and you still have to prove it to the teams that you belong.

But I’ll tell you this: I’m ready. I feel like this is the right time for me. I feel like I’m ready to move onto this new challenge in life — to give it my best, and to do whatever it takes to make it at the next level.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I wasn’t on social media much during our run in March, so I’ve missed a lot of news — but there was one recent headline that definitely caught my eye. It said: Dirk Nowitzki Announces He Will Return for 21st NBA Season.

I’m a big-time basketball fan, so I read a lot about NBA history. And I remember reading this story on Dirk, from the time when Michael Jordan announced he was coming back with the Wizards. It was about how Dirk and all of these guys in his draft class, like Paul Pierce and Vince Carter, they grew up idolizing MJ … but they had just missed their window of getting to play against him. So then when MJ came back — for those players, it was this extra-big deal. It was like, Wow, nuts. I get to play against my idol now.

Anyway, that’s all just a way of saying, you know, how Dirk — he’s my MJ. Dirk’s my idol, and hero, and one of the biggest reasons I’m in this position to declare for the draft in the first place. And you all know I’m an honest guy, and I say what’s on my mind, so I’m just going to say it and hopefully it happens: Getting to share an NBA court with Dirk Nowitzki? I gotta smile when I think about that one. That would be the best thing ever, man.

And yeah, I know, it’s a little crazy. Maybe make it to Draft Night first, Moe, you’re probably thinking. And you’re probably right.

But I’m still going to keep dreaming about it.

Because you know what they say about crazy dreams.