On Thursday, freshly-minted Michigan coach Juwan Howard sauntered into the room full of reporters at Crisler Center. Greeting the crowd and recognizing some familiar faces, the 19-year NBA veteran sat down in the Ron and Eileen Weiser Family Club — an exclusive area of the arena shrouded in maize and blue — and looked like a man who’s been doing the job for years.
Answering questions about the state of the team, the development of his roster, the city of Ann Arbor and more, Howard gave a glimpse into what the men’s basketball program is going to look like under his tenure.
Blending key aspects of the program’s identity under former coach John Beilien and a new scheme and value set under Howard, a few key aspects of the team appear to be making their way into the limelight: work ethic, coachability and athleticism.
Going one by one, detailing his players’ strengths, a few key words kept making their way to the forefront. Chief among those was dedication.
Junior forward Isaiah Livers? He’s in the best shape of his life after hitting the weight room hard all off-season. Sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr.? He’s been hustling in practice attempting to gain confidence in his position. Senior guard Zavier Simpson? He was working so hard his coach had to tell him to ease off the three-a-day practices.
Howard lent further insight into this mentality through a story of one of his first weeks on the job this summer.
He was in his office late, around 10:30 p.m., when he heard music blaring from the gym at the Player Development Center. Startled and a bit confused, Howard made his way to the floor, where he saw a group of his guys putting up shots and getting in a workout.
“I enjoy it,” Howard said. “Guys were in there working out. Whatever it takes for you to get into that zone, get comfortable, come into the gym and get a workout. You can blast your music or whatever music it is. I don’t care. At 10:30 I heard music playing, and there’s always one or two guys in there working out, and it’s not policed by me, I don’t see it. They do what they want to do.”
In the summer, these late-night music-blaring workouts became a staple of the off-season regimen. Especially for sophomores Colin Castleton and David DeJulius, junior guard Eli Brooks, and Johns — the usual suspects for late-night shenanigans.
Howard also noted that his players are inherently coachable, always striving to get better — a skill perhaps most embodied by Johns.
The sophomore struggled to find the floor in his first year with the Wolverines. Confidence problems, difficulties adjusting to a new position and a complicated offensive scheme were used as reasons for his benching. This offseason, the name of the game has been building up confidence and getting ready to take a larger role in a team that saw its top three offensive producers take off for the NBA.
“Brandon is a very athletic guy who has a beautiful stroke in his jump shot,” Howard said. “I’m just instilling more and more confidence in Brandon. He’s competing hard in practice. He’s grasping a lot of the new responsibilities in teaching what is asked of him. He’s a joy to work with.
“I see that he’s gonna have his chance to play a lot this year, but as he knows, it starts in practice. You gotta earn your minutes.”
Straying away from basketball, Howard also delved into what made Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor such a great place — especially for any top recruits who may be making their college decisions soon.
Discussing the diverse food scene, the Art Fair and the unparalleled academics, Howard provided a snapshot into his recruiting toolkit. After all, basketball is only one of many factors going into a recruit’s decision of where to spend their lives for the next one to five years.
But his larger-than-life personality and sense of humor snuck into his description of the city, too.
So when he added, “And we have me,” when listing off what makes Michigan the place to be as a student athlete, he seemed right at home.