Juwan Howard inherits question marks at Michigan
Just a month ago, shortly after losing to Texas Tech in the Sweet Sixteen, the Michigan men’s basketball team began popping up on “way too early” top-10 lists.
At that point, there was no reason to doubt that the Wolverines would be a top-level program. But that was before guard Jordan Poole and forward Ignas Brazdeikis decided to stay in the NBA Draft. That was before top recruit Jalen Wilson decommitted. That was before Hall of Fame-worthy coach John Beilein left for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But that’s why any top-10 list made in April is necessarily deemed “way too early.” Now, the program new coach Juwan Howard will inherit is just a remnant of the one near the top of such lists.
The Daily breaks down the situation Howard walks into entering the summer.
The Wolverines retain their core of point guard Zavier Simpson and center Jon Teske. Last year, the two were among the leaders of the team, defensive stalwarts who were also key components of Michigan’s ball screen-heavy offense. Simpson and Teske, both incoming seniors, are unlikely to transfer, but they were two players who were so good partly because of Beilein’s system, and under another system, they may not perform at the level they did last year — when Simpson was named to the All-Big Ten second team and Teske was an honorable mention.
Forward Isaiah Livers, who played primarily at the backup power forward and center positions last year, will also take a larger role, though he is likely to play more on the wings than he did with Brazdeikis, Matthews and Poole. Livers is currently Michigan’s only reliable returning shooter — shooting 43 percent from three, mostly in spot-up situations.
Beyond those three, the Wolverines’ roster is thin. Their returning scholarship players include guards David DeJulius, Eli Brooks and Adrien Nunez, forward Brandon Johns and centers Colin Castleton and Austin Davis. None played significant minutes last year, and any could be at risk of transferring, especially if Howard does not retain Beilein’s assistants.
Jaron Faulds, a preferred walk-on forward who transferred from Columbia, will be eligible in 2019 after sitting out last season. Other walk-ons who received playing time last season include guards Rico Ozuna-Harrison and Luke Wilson and forward CJ Baird.
When Jalen Wilson decommitted on May 16, it left Michigan with just one commitment in the class of 2019 — wing Cole Bajema. Bajema has still remained committed, though he could still decide to look elsewhere if he sees the new coaching situation as unfavorable. Wilson has also left the possibility of recommitting open, though it seems less likely after he scheduled official visits with Kansas and North Carolina, both of which have stable coaching situations.
Howard will likely look to the graduate transfer market to fill a spot or two. Jaevin Cumberland, a grad transfer from Oakland, had expressed interest in the Wolverines and still remains uncommitted, and others on the market could still decide they are interested in potentially playing under Howard.
There are also a few 2019 prospects still uncommitted that Howard could try to go after, though Beilein’s mid-May departure means there are no guarantees. Howard’s cousin is top recruit Jaden McDaniels. Some believed he could come to Michigan if Howard got the job, however, McDaniels committed to Washington on Tuesday night, making that prospect significantly less likely. Franz Wagner — the younger brother of former Michigan player Moe Wagner — also took his official visit last week, albeit while the Wolverines were without a head coach. He hasn’t completely closed the door on coming to Ann Arbor, but with an offer waiting from professional club Alba Berlin, that too seems unlikely.
With Beilein’s departure happening this late in the cycle, it is quite possible that Michigan will have to go shorthanded in the upcoming season.
The Wolverines’ lone 2020 commit is guard Zeb Jackson. Jackson has expressed concern about Howard’s lack of experience as a head coach, but he remains committed now. With plenty of time until he needs to make a final decision, Howard will have time to attempt to win him over as well as recruit new players for the cycle. He has never recruited before, but his pedigree as a member of the Fab Five and as a long-tenured NBA player and assistant could help. Howard also has family members currently on the AAU circuit, which could aid him in building connections.
Michigan’s three current assistants — DeAndre Haynes, Saddi Washington and Luke Yaklich — are all beloved by players and recruits. Howard now faces the choice to retain them or bring in his own staff. The assistants, too, have a decision to make — remain in Ann Arbor or go searching for a job with more guarantees?
Yaklich has already begun that search, with 247Sports reporting that he interviewed for a job at Texas under coach Shaka Smart. This doesn’t mean he will leave, as coaches often use such interviews as leverage to get a raise or simply decide not to move. Yaklich’s son will be a senior at Saline High School just outside Ann Arbor in the fall, and Yaklich could opt for more stability for his family.
Still, Beilein was primarily an offensive coach who was less experienced on the other side of the ball — hence Yaklich’s necessity. Howard is primarily a defensive coach and may be looking for a top offensive assistant, which could lessen the need for Yaklich. Howard also primarily worked with the big men during his tenure as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, which calls into question the role Washington — the bigs coach — would play.
The more assistants the Wolverines can retain, the less their roster will be in flux. Keeping some or all of Haynes, Washington and Yaklich around would help maintain commitments from recruits and keep players from transferring. But it’s possible that Howard will want to work with coaches who have different specialties, and it’s equally possible that the current assistants will want to go somewhere that is less of an unknown.
Coaches, like everyone else, operate under their own best interests, and those interests may not align with what’s best for the program. If so, Howard will have one more thing to worry about.