Caleb Houstan knew he would have a lot on his plate coming into college.
The freshman forward came in as the 11th overall recruit in the 2021 class, per the 247 sports composite, and was the highest rated recruit to choose Michigan since the database was created in 2003. For the Wolverines, his 38.6% 3-point shooting last year at Montverde Academy was a welcome sight after Michigan lost its three best long-range shooters after last season. The NBA chatter has also grown, as his 6-foot-8 frame and silky shooting touch make him an enticing prospect in next year’s draft.
While other talented members of the freshman class, namely forward Moussa Diabete and guard Frankie Collins, could ease their way off the bench as they developed, Houstan was not granted that same leisure.
On opening night against Buffalo, Houstan was in the starting lineup. He played 28 minutes and finished with a respectable 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting with two 3-pointers. But over the next four games, Houstan could not match that level of production as he shot just 9-for-35 from the field and only made four 3-pointers. Without Houstan’s hot hand, the Wolverines offense suffered, and they lost twice, including a game against Seton Hall in which he made only one shot.
“I just said ‘You were one for nine, so do you know what that means?’ ” associate head coach Phil Martelli said following the Seton Hall game. “I said ‘There’s a game where you’re going to be eight for nine. Somebody pays. When you’re as gifted as you are, and you work at your craft the way that you do, somewhere along the line someone will pay.’ ”
The coaching staff put their faith in Houstan to work through his struggles, and his minutes only continued to increase. Michigan coach Juwan Howard preached his ‘let it fly’ philosophy and wanted his young shooter to keep taking shots and not get discouraged.
The message sank in. After a couple of decent performances against Tarleton State and North Carolina, Houstan had a resurgence against San Diego State this past weekend. He erupted for 17 points and connected on four 3-pointers — both season highs — and the Wolverines cruised to victory as a result.
“Caleb has been doing great,” Howard said. “I know a lot has been (made) on the fact that he hasn’t been making shots. Caleb is a young guy who’s a freshman and a lot has been asked of his role and he has embraced it. It’s a long season, and you’re gonna have some times when the shot doesn’t go in.”
Howard is right that there’s a long way to go, and Houstan will likely have more hot and cold stretches as he goes through the natural freshman growing pains. But with Michigan putting so many eggs in the Houstan basket, his volatility as a shooter has an outsized impact on the team. In games when Houstan shoots above 50% from the field, the Wolverines are 4-0. When he’s under 50%, they’re 1-3. It’s still early, but it’s a trend to watch as Michigan prepares for Big Ten play to pick up.
With the Wolverines possessing fewer shooters than last year’s squad, the pressure is on Houstan to carry that weight and knock down shots consistently.
It’s a pressure that would be a lot for most freshmen to deal with, but Michigan believes he can handle it. Even if more struggles do arise, Howard’s confidence in Houstan will remain unwavering.
“Shooter’s shoot,” Howard said. “Keep shooting it.”