How Juwan Howard secured Cole Bajema's recommitment
The past week has been, as Shane Bajema puts it, quite simply “a blur.”
But at the end of it all, Cole Bajema — Shane’s son and a 2019 four-star wing — recommitted to the Wolverines on Friday night, 11 days after John Beilein left Michigan to become the Cleveland Cavaliers’ head coach.
With the decision to recommit, Bajema currently stands as new coach Juwan Howard’s only commitment in the 2019 class, making him a critical piece of Michigan’s puzzle for 2019 and beyond.
“The departure of Coach Beilein came as a big surprise,” Bajema tweeted Friday night. “Given coach Beilein recruited me, I am sad to see him go but fully support him in his new venture at the Cavaliers. I cannot thank the entire Michigan basketball staff enough for their support.
“Having patiently waited for Michigan to name its new head coach, I am very excited Juwan Howard is the new head coach. I believe he will uphold the great culture, that is Michigan basketball. I know there’s a lot of speculation out there but I am ALL IN for coach Howard and ready to report in June! Go Blue!”
The decision to recommit, though, wasn’t always so simple. Bajema has been committed to Michigan since Aug. 14 of last year, but the original commitment came to Beilein, who Shane described as having done “a great job of preparing Cole for the entire college experience.” But after 11 days of calls from Beilein and Howard, as well as athletic director Warde Manuel and the Wolverines’ assistant coaches, Bajema felt confident that the program he will be entering next season is the same one he committed to nearly a year ago.
Bajema did not respoond to a text from The Daily Saturday morning. He has yet to make any public comment outside of Twitter since Beilein announced his departure.
“The key factor in Cole coming to the University of Michigan was really a coaching compatibility decision at a great university,” Shane told The Daily. “Then, when that transition goes off and you wonder what’s gonna be next, it’s all about relationships and trust and continuity with the next coach. … But I think they made a great decision in choosing another person to carry out the legacy, of what is more than just Beilein’s legacy, but the Michigan legacy.”
Critically, Howard was not the only one to reach out to Bajema after his hiring. Amidst the blurred flurry of conversations with those inside the program, Shane doesn’t remember exactly when the first call came, but he knows it came from Manuel. And as Manuel talked, Shane’s confidence in Michigan came rushing back.
Going into the call, he wasn’t familiar with Howard as a person, but he quickly felt Manuel made a “great decision,” continuing the legacy and culture that Beilein built. Shortly thereafter, Howard, too, reached out, confirming his interest in Cole as a key player in the transition from Beilein to the future.
“Juwan and (Cole) had a conversation and basically agreed that Cole’s his first real recruit in his college coaching career,” Shane said. “The baton, basically, handed from Beilein to Juwan in recruitment of Cole and that’s what really put Cole over the edge and reassured that he could become Juwan’s guy too.
“… It was genuine, it was real, it wasn’t this recruiting talk. (Howard) is genuinely ecstatic to be the coach. And he seemed genuinely pumped to have Cole.”
And when Beilein called, telling the Bajemas that “Juwan’s gonna be a great guy,” and calling it “a perfect fit,” the comfort level only grew.
Then, Friday afternoon, the final boost came when Howard announced that Jon Sanderson would be staying on as the Wolverines’ strength and conditioning coach. Sanderson and Shane have developed a close relationship throughout the recruiting process, as he has become one of Cole’s key recruiters.
And though Cole’s workouts with Sanderson haven’t begun yet, his personal trainer back home is a friend of Sanderson’s and has helped him add 22 pounds over the past seven months.
“As a future mentor of players and our son, Cole, I can not say more good things about (Sanderson),” Shane said. “Could you ask for a more ideal person to train Cole’s physical body in the future?”
Starting a few weeks from now, when Cole reports to Ann Arbor for Michigan’s summer bridge program, Sanderson will be doing just that. Officially.