Juwan Howard has already been the Michigan basketball coach for nearly six months, and you’d still be hard-pressed to find a day that’s gone by without him mentioning confidence.
A 19-year NBA veteran himself, Howard understands the value of confidence better than most. Though he’s a first-time head coach, he saw it first-hand during his six-year stint as an assistant with the Miami Heat.
Now, he’s applying it in Ann Arbor.
Sophomore guard David DeJulius is the perfect case study. As a high school senior, the Detroit native averaged 26.3 points, 8.1 assists and 7.7 rebounds en route to a third-place finish in Michigan’s Mr. Basketball voting. Fast forward to the next year, when he played a grand total of just five minutes in the Wolverines’ eight January games and didn’t score a point.
“Last year, 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. “(It) was really, really rough for me because I really spent a lot of time devoting my life to basketball so it was really tough not playing.”
That’s no longer the case, and DeJulius has Howard to thank.
DeJulius has posted a combined 19 points and 15 rebounds on 60-percent shooting across the last two games. He hasn’t hesitated to let it fly from beyond the arc, with seven of his 10 shots during that span coming from deep. Despite barely scraping the six-foot mark, DeJulius ranks second on the team in rebounds, trailing only 7-foot-1 center Jon Teske.
So far this season, DeJulius has been visibly more comfortable with the ball in his hands, especially in transition. Though a three-game stretch is a small sample size, he’s played at least 30 more minutes than any other reserve.
“This is like giving CPR to my basketball career,” DeJulius said.
Under Howard, DeJulius’ fellow sophomores are undergoing a similar renaissance. Forwards Brandon Johns Jr. and Colin Castleton have provided a combined 82 frontcourt minutes off the bench, while sophomore guard Adrien Nunez, who saw more than five minutes of action in only one game last season, has started each of Michigan’s first three contests.
“I feel confident out there on the offensive floor,” Castleton said. “(Howard) is just saying the same things everyday, preaching the same things into our ears everyday so we hear it every single day whether it’s film, walkthroughs, practice or even (when he) sees us outside of practice, just implementing that into our heads so we can hear positive things, positive thoughts no matter what it is on the court. (He’s) telling us that he trusts us, and having a coach that trusts you gives you a lot of confidence.
For a Michigan program that could’ve easily spent the first month of the season reeling from the departures of former coach John Beilein and last year’s three leading scorers, the emergence of the sophomore class has provided a much-needed spine. Even with prized freshman wing Franz Wagner on the shelf due to a wrist fracture, the early-season confidence appears contagious.
With the Wolverines nearing a stretch of games against ranked opponents, they might just score a few resumé-building wins if the confidence Howard has instilled continues giving way to on-court results.