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Beilein's preparation time never ends

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The photo on the wall of Michigan head coach John Beilein's office does more than just capture a moment of celebration.

The snapshot, of the moment Michigan was awarded an at-large bid during the 2009 NCAA tournament selection show, serves notice that the Wolverines are on the way back after an 11-year tourney drought.

For Beilein, that one framed second of unbridled euphoria sums up 31 years of coaching and reinforces his belief in the power of his analytical skills.

Throughout his career, there's been a common thread: how much Beilein prepares his team through the use of video.

In an age of fast-moving and constantly changing technology, this Michigan team is the beneficiary of Beilein's most advanced video training.

"He's obsessed with it," junior guard Manny Harris said. "We watch it every day. You come from class, walk by his office and he'll say, 'Come in; I want to show you something.' I honestly think he wakes up at 5 a.m. and looks at tape -- probably earlier than that."

Indeed, Beilein usually sets aside an hour in the morning to watch at home, so that when he comes into the office, he already has not just watched tape of a practice or a game, but also edited it down for a digestible 20- to 30-minute hit.

"I don't want any distractions, nothing; I just watch it," Beilein said. "I don't have to watch and then come tell someone to cut it. I just cut it and then I'll watch my cuts again."

Video coordinator Matt Duprey has simplified Beilein's laptop icons to make it easier for him to use. Duprey is almost like Kramer on "Seinfeld." If Beilein yells from his office for help with a program or an edit, Duprey comes bursting through the door. Maybe he's not as animated in his entrances as actor Michael Richards, but he doesn't hesitate when summoned.

"He's always here," Beilein said. "I caught him going to the bathroom once. It really pissed me off."

The computer program allows Beilein to have every practice and game on his laptop as soon as it concludes. This is nothing new to most coaches. But the difference may lie in how hands-on Beilein has become. He has one key on his laptop that starts and stops an edit, and he makes the cuts, over and over again.

"If a kid is in a shooting slump, I'll clip one of him making a shot 10 times so he goes out on the court thinking he made 10 in a row," Beilein said.

As Beilein was watching last Tuesday's practice, he was cutting a sequence in which freshman Eso Akunne moved toward the top of the key and then correctly bounced a pass toward the streaking Blake McLimans, a fellow freshman. But the timing was off. So he cut the video to show the movement first, which was correct, and then the timing of the pass, which was not. The spacing was off during the possession from other players, too, and that was made as a cut as well.

Redshirt freshman Ben Cronin was closing out on Zack Novak, who was shooting a 3-pointer. Cronin went out to guard him with his arms down. Cronin is 7 feet tall. He was playing small on the play. Click. Cut.

Cronin was also bringing the ball down when he would get a rebound before an outlet pass. So Beilein got Duprey to get him some grainy Wes Unseld video to put on the laptop. With a click of the mouse, Cronin was watching Unseld in his Washington Bullets jersey corralling rebounds and sending over-the-head, two-handed passes upcourt.

Over and over again, Beilein meticulously went through the video.

The team watched roughly 40 minutes of video before each practice last season, Beilein's second with the Wolverines. Now he's down to about 20, since this is more of a veteran group and he has refined his own video technique.

"I don't think he can live without the laptop," Harris said.

Beilein once did, but his coaching process was much more time-consuming. In 1976, shortly after the start of his career at Newfane Central High (N.Y.), Beilein began taping games and then watching them, laboriously going over each frame. Already the football, basketball and baseball coach as well as a teacher of history, English, radio and TV, his skills earned him the job as the school's de facto audio-visual director.

His next stop was at Erie Community College, where a friend would charge him $50 per game to put tape on a Super 8.

When he started at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y., he moved from Super 8 to Beta.

"I would look at that counter, writing down 0000055 to 0000-whatever and flip back and forth," Beilein said.

He continued this trend with Beta and later VHS as he moved up his coaching ladder to Le Moyne and Canisius. But for years, the technology didn't allow Beilein to break down tape until the day after a game.

His obsession with video continued at Richmond to an extreme.

"We found a way to blow two bus batteries," Beilein said. "We found a TV, put it on the front seat, tied a bungee cord around it, plugged it into the battery or boat charger battery kind of thing into a lighter or whatever the guy had. We'd watch the games on the way back from somewhere like UNC-Wilmington, and at least I'd have the game cut."

By the time he got to West Virginia in 2003, high-tech had arrived in force, allowing the laptop to become an extension of his hand when he wasn't in the gym. Gone was the time when an assistant had to write everything down that he said in cutting the tape or when he would do it in longhand.

But something else was missing: balance in his life. Sleepless nights might have been the norm because he couldn't watch a game, but at least his mind was forced to think of something other than basketball.

"I miss the days when I didn't have the computer because I could escape on a two-hour plane flight or a three-hour bus ride when I'd read a novel or do something else," Beilein said. "Now it's all-consuming. I have to do a good job with the balance of it. It's the battle we're in."

Yet Beilein doesn't dismiss all his old-school tactics. Sitting in the middle of his office is what appears to be a wooden coffee table. The tabletop is removable and has a Michigan logo with a court and even side practice hoops. The board sits on top of a round Lazy Susan turntable so Beilein can turn it around for the staff and players.

At every recent coaching stop, Beilein has had a board like this one, just with different logos. He even has wooden pieces for players, labeled with numbers, scout team, and even little wooden renderings of himself and his assistants.

"Some will learn better from this than film since they can connect to it," Beilein said. "The key is finding what buttons to push in the learning curve."

Harris said that watching himself on the computer is quicker and more tangible, but that if he wants to see a new play being diagrammed, the board is an easier way to pick it up.

Beilein, whose 1-3-1 defense was famous for disrupting West Virginia opponents, said he can't even count how many offensive plays he has in his repertoire because they aren't necessarily defined.

"It's organized motion, organized motion where one movement determines another movement," Beilein said. "One player's movement dictates another. What outsiders have told me is that everybody seems to touch the ball. Big guys might touch the ball, albeit on the perimeter, but they touch the ball."

The Wolverines are a seasoned crew now -- and a veteran Beilein team is a dangerous one. Overall, seven of the top eight players return, including all-Big Ten candidates like Harris and DeShawn Sims.

Michigan is ranked No. 15 in the ESPN/USA Today preseason poll and is likely to finish somewhere in the top 4 in the Big Ten. They have shooters and now have added some size, although inexperienced. There is depth, and a belief that playing Michigan is a bit of a pain, something that was the case wherever Beilein has coached.

See what West Virginia did under his watch with its run to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 in successive seasons. See how he succeeded with players who understood his system at Canisius and Richmond.

"We used to run a lot of plays out of the flex," Beilein said. "In the '80s, we weren't real athletic but could pass and shoot to open the court. I said if I ever get more athletic teams that we'd still like to play this way but tweak it."

He has. But Beilein is obsessed with how to prepare his team -- for a practice, a workout or a game.

And with a more versatile team, a team that can be small again or go big at times, the Wolverines should be in position to take his demanding video instruction and translate that into production on the court.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.