Michigan basketball's Moritz Wagner having time of his life in NCAA tournament
LOS ANGELES -- The adjustment hasn't been as easy as Moritz Wagner made it look. But it has been pretty close.
Three years ago, when he was a skinny 18-year-old from Germany, Wagner flew some 4,200 miles away from home to begin the life he had been dreaming about.
"The first couple weeks (in 2015), that summer was rough," Wagner recalled. "But I got lucky. If I would have written it down when I was little as a dream, this would've been it."
Wagner's all grown up now and three years after arriving at Michigan, he has no problem calling Ann Arbor his home away from home. He misses his family in Berlin. But he believes the luck" he speaks of comes from the extended family he has found inside Michigan's basketball program.
And though Wagner dreamed about playing college basketball, nothing felt normal when he arrived at Michigan. Which is where his teammates came in.
"He was roommates with Brent Hibbitts (in 2015) and I remember he was always talking about wanting to go home and rightly so, I mean he was halfway across the world," said Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who roomed with Wagner last year. "But we always tried to make him feel like he was at home.
"Whatever we could do. We knew we couldn't make it feel exactly like Germany, but we did our best."
Wagner, averaging 14.4 points and 6.9 rebounds, is now the centerpiece of a Michigan team that can advance to the Final Four with a win over Florida State on Saturday at the Staples Center.
"He goes into the special category of a kid you love coaching no matter what," Beilein said recently.
Growing up in Germany, Wagner didn't have much of a desire to play college basketball. Not because he was against it, but he really didn't know what it was. The first college game he can remember happened April 8, 2013, when Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Michigan lost to Louisville in the national title game.
The proverbial bell went off a year later, as Wagner and his father, Axel, sat down to watch Michigan play Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Michigan lost that day, but Wagner didn't care.
He was hooked.
"My dad was like, 'This is crazy, man, the music, the band -- you've got to go there,' " Wagner recalled. " 'You have to go to college.' So now I'm playing with Michigan in the Elite Eight, so it's kind of ironic."
Wagner's journey to Michigan happened after he used some European basketball contacts and sent a self-made highlight tape to Beilein.
Beilein eventually replied, but the message went to Wagner's spam folder and sat there for nearly two weeks. The two eventually connected, and when Beilien decided to visit him in Germany, Wagner was stunned the coach he had watched in the national title game was standing in his living room.
Beilein liked Wagner's personality from the moment they met, and he was confident they were going to build a strong relationship. Which they did. And it has been unique every step of the way.
Last week in Wichita, with Wagner on the bench in foul trouble against Houston, Beilein couldn't turn around without seeing Wagner spring up from the bench to offer him coaching advice.
"It's amazing how we connected," Beilein said. "It's just a perfect fit."
Wagner has transformed himself into the type of skilled five-man Beilein always dreamed of placing in the middle of his offense. He can pass. He can shoot. He's a spark plug for the team. But he's also the same charismatic kid who showed up from Germany with broken English three years ago.
Wagner speaks much better now, though he'll admit his teammates still poke fun at him over his accent.
But ask anyone on the team to describe Wagner, and the answer is the same: There's no one else like him.
"He's a funny guy, man," Abdur-Rahkman says, with a laugh. "He loves football now, which is funny. He loves soccer, too, and I'll watch it. But just the way he talks about football now (is funny). Now he's an Eagles fan, because they won the Super Bowl.
"But when he first got here he was a Seahawks fan. Big Tom Brady fan, too."
Wagner's a pretty good basketball player, as well. One who is having the time of his life in the NCAA tournament.
"It's amazing," Wagner says. "It's been crazy."
This article is written by Nick Baumgardner from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.