After the Michigan men’s basketball team upset No. 16 Michigan State on Saturday, 77-68, a photograph started to pop up all over social media.
In it, as the jubilant Maize Rage in the background celebrates the Wolverines’ statement defeat of the Spartans, sophomore guard David DeJulius embraces Michigan coach Juwan Howard. DeJulius’ eyes are closed in some mixture of gratitude and exhaustion while Howard soaks up his surroundings in awe and relief.
Both men pause amidst the triumphant chaos around them, each taking in the moment, stopping to acknowledge their appreciation for each other.
“I saw David walking, heading toward the tunnel to go walk to the locker room,” Howard said. “I looked over to my right, and I just recalled throughout the game that David had affected the game in a lot of ways.
“… David was a guy who gave us a big spark in the first half. I was just so proud of how he competed, and I wanted to acknowledge him, and let him know that, as a team and a coach, thank you for all the hard work. That hug was an embrace of — he knows it. I love him. That’s what that energy and what that hug meant.”
The shadow of Zavier Simpson is not an easy place to live. But that’s where David DeJulius has spent the last two years.
Watching. Learning. Growing.
It wasn’t always easy.
“You might get a few minutes at a time, so you’re trying to make sure that you make a basket or something,” DeJulius said in November. “(It) was really, really rough for me (last year), because I really spent a lot of time devoting my life to basketball, so it was really tough not playing.”
But the star senior point guard’s remaining days in Ann Arbor are numbered, and the specter of graduation has served as a reminder of the fact that one day in the not-so-distant future, Michigan will need to replace Simpson.
This season has made one thing clear: David DeJulius will be key in doing that.
After a freshman season spent largely on the bench, in his sophomore season, DeJulius has shown his worth off it. He’s averaging a little over seven points and two rebounds and seeing around 20 minutes a game. When the team traveled to Lincoln to take on Nebraska without the suspended Simpson, DeJulius started and played 34 minutes.
“To have a guy like David DeJulius step up and be more vocal, especially during times where the team was making a run, or we may have had a turnover, or we may have given up a shot, he came in,” Howard said after the Nebraska game. “At timeouts, holding guys accountable, holding himself accountable, it was good. It was good to see that.”
But even with Simpson in the lineup, DeJulius has been far from quiet. He’s had nine double-digit scoring nights this season, including a career-high 14 against Oregon in December and — perhaps most excitingly for a kid out of Detroit — 10 on Saturday against Michigan State.
“David has been rock-solid all year,” Howard said Tuesday. “Yes, someone will look at the stats, look at the points. I don’t look at it from that point of view. I look at it as far as what he’s doing out there on the floor to help the team and affect the game in any kind of way to give us the best chance to win.
“I recognize in practice each and every day that David has that approach. He comes in with the right attitude to work, to improve.”
It’s a conversation DeJulius and Howard have often, a conversation they had Monday. Before practice, DeJulius called Howard, saying “I’m all in. You can never ever second-guess or think that I’m not all-in.”
Howard’s response: “David, I have not once been afraid or have guessed or assumed that you’re not.”
As he gets more minutes, he’s growing more, playing better. He’s taking every chance to make sure he gives himself more chances. He’s getting his shot, and he’s running with it.
With energy like that, it’s looking more and more likely his chances aren’t going to be running out anytime soon.
“David hasn’t once walked in the door and not competed, has not came in practice and bring that effort and that attitude of how can he improve,” Howard said. “So, if he continues with that type of mindset, which I know he will, I just see years to come — he has two more years, and we have two more years to teach him and develop him — that I see some really great things happening for David at the University of Michigan, and I know a big goal of his is to play on the next level.
“I would do everything I can to help him get to that dream.”