On April 9 of last year, Jordan Poole, Ignas Brazdeikis and Charles Matthews all decided to forgo their remaining college eligibility and declare for the NBA Draft. From that moment on, the Michigan basketball program was launched into an offseason of uncertainty and overhaul.
John Beilein jumped to the professional ranks. Nine days later, Fab Five member Juwan Howard returned to Ann Arbor as the Wolverines’ head coach. From there, assistant coaches Luke Yaklich and DeAndre Haynes moved on, while Phil Martelli and Howard Eisley moved in. On July 6, Franz Wagner committed to Michigan — giving a needed boost on the wing. And finally, just two weeks ago, Howard landed his first five-star recruit, 2020 forward Isaiah Todd.
On Friday night, the Wolverines will finally play a basketball game.
Granted, that game is an exhibition against Saginaw Valley State. But, with all that’s taken place since its Sweet Sixteen loss to Texas Tech last March, Michigan is ready to tip-off.
“We’re really excited,” said sophomore guard David DeJulius. “There was a lot of talk around us, having a new coaching staff but we were just kinda mature about it. We just stayed down, stayed humble and worked hard.”
Even freshman guard Cole Bajema, who stayed committed to the program throughout the coaching search, is itching to get his first taste of gametime at Crisler Center.
“I’m definitely a little nervous,” Bajema said. “I feel like that’s normal for a first-year player though. Overall, I’m super excited. I’ve been practicing since I got here in June, so it’s been a while. I’m ready to get out there.”
With the exception of a sparsely-attended open scrimmage last Thursday, the matchup against the Cardinals will be the first time fans get a glimpse of the new-look Wolverines under Howard. Without as many pure scorers as a season ago, they should expect a Michigan squad heavily dependent on defensive intensity, especially in the early going.
“Our identity is going to be extremely competitive,” Howard said. “We’re going to play hard-nosed basketball, where we defend… Our defense has picked up strong in practice but offensively, we still have a lot of work to do and some things to clean up.”
It will likely take some time for the Wolverines to sort out the offensive kinks with Howard’s new system. Losing Wagner, who’s been praised for his offensive skill-set, to a broken hand before the season even starts, doesn’t help that cause.
How smoothly that offensive transition goes though is not a question that will be answered tomorrow night. Michigan will undoubtedly put up a lopsided number against a team that finished 6-14 last season in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.
Still, Howard can at least glean some details from his team’s performance.
“We’re going to treat it as a regular season game,” Howard said. “I’m not looking at it as a game that doesn’t count. We’re going to compete like we’re playing against the number-one ranked team in college basketball.”
For a team loaded with new faces and revised expectations, any game is an opportunity to prove themselves.
“Am I going to have some butterflies? Of course I will,” Howard said. “But I am going to be pumped.”