WICHITA, Kan. — Moe Wagner doesn’t have Twitter on his smart phone right now, because it’s logical, it’s March, and the dude doesn’t need the distractions.
Or the kitten pics. Or the Tide pod gags.
Or, frankly, this:
Moritz Wagner. Represents everything we hate about Michigan.
— Trevor Donahue (@trev_diesel) January 22, 2017
Oh, and this:
Only watched one half of Michigan basketball, and I already hate Wagner
— Daniel Shupe (@TheRealDanShupe) January 5, 2017
I really hate Wagner on Michigan
— NBA All Access (@nballaccess) February 18, 2018
And especially this:
I am not sure I hate watching any player more than Mo Wagner on Michigan. Anybody who celebrates making an and-1 layup by flexing after getting scraped by a 5’10 guard is a genuine tool.
— Tommy Baldwin (@T_Baldwin53) February 18, 2018
Oh, he knows. He already knows.
“Yeah, obviously,” Michigan’s junior German forward said with a grin at INTRUST Bank Arena on Wednesday, where his 3-seed Wolverines were preparing for their opening NCAA Tournament test against 14-seed Montana on Thursday night.
“No, they hate me everywhere. I obviously sense that. No, I know that. They hate me. That’s fine. I kind of embrace that role.
“And I’ve got to be honest: I would hate myself, too.”
See, the thing about playing at full-tilt, no-filter, all the time is that your natural reactions on the court — tongue out, fingers pointed, screaming sweet nothings at the Valkyries in the sky — tend to, shall we say, polarize the peanut gallery a bit.
One man’s fiery cult legend is another man’s pain in the tuchus.
Or, to put another way: Ever hear of Bill Laimbeer, Moe?
A pause. Then a nod.
Ever meet him?
“No, I’ve never met him, but the name sounds very familiar.”
The reaction from rival fans is kind of familiar, too.
If he’s yours, he’s adored.
And if he isn’t, well …
Moe Wagner is one of those guys that you love when he’s on your team and that I would probably completely hate if he was on any other
— Kyle Richards (@KyleJRichards) March 2, 2018
I hate Moe Wagner, that is all
— SpartanDawg101 (@SpartanDawg101) March 3, 2018
“That’s part of it,” Wagner countered. “You can’t make it good for everyone, honestly.
“A good team that beats another good team — their fans are not going to like them. They’re going to find a reason. That’s nothing I can worry about. I’ve got to worry about the next team I try to beat.”
And they’ve got to worry about him, too. Here’s some fun stats for the Montana/Houston/San Diego State crowd: Wagner comes into the Big Dance averaging 14.8 points and shooting .417 from beyond the arc and .765 from the free-throw line in 18 tilts outside of Ann Arbor this season. Those three numbers are all better than his season averages of 14.5, .396, and .700, respectively.
Moe breaks hearts, home and away.
It’s the away hearts that never forgive.
“[When] they’re guarding a big guy like that,” Michigan forward Isaiah Livers noted, “he’s going to get under your skin.”
“Wagner can knock down shots but it also effective at creating,” Turner Sports analyst and former Elite Eight coach Steve Lavin said of Michigan’s star big man. “He’s the hub of the wheel, with complimentary spokes spinning around him.”
And the faster he cranks that wheel, the more the Teutonic Tower is misunderstood.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say, ‘misunderstood,’” Wagner replied. “I’m not trying to tell everyone what I feel.
“But sometimes I feel my expressions are a little too dramatic. And I don’t even necessarily mean it the way they look. But that’s something my teammates know and my coaches know and the most important people know.”
“When he tries to talk fast, stuff doesn’t come out the right way,” Livers laughed.
“He thinks everything on social media is hilarious. Everything. Every video that anybody puts laughing emojis by, he’s going to show people. [He] laughs at it, even if it’s not funny.”
And the hate?
Man, I hate Moritz Wagner even by Michigan standards
— Sean Johnson (@SeanIn60Seconds) February 18, 2018
Congrats to Michigan on the win. But I still hate Moe Wagner…
— Blake Lynch (@BlakeLynch10) February 8, 2017
Your hate only makes him stronger.
“I’ve always been saying that,” Wagner said, grinning again. “Sometimes, that’s frustrating. But you can’t let it get into your head. Because they hate you for a reason.
“I just tell myself, ‘Hey, they hate me because I’m good.’ I just tell myself that, whether it’s true or not.”
Spoiler alert: It kinda is.
“And at the end of the day, if I leave with a W, it doesn’t matter, you know?” Wagner said. “So that’s all I care about.”
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