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After forward Moussa Diabate committed to Michigan on Monday, the Wolverines added another five-star to a recruiting class that was already ranked as 2021’s best.

While that may be a crowning achievement for many coaches, for Michigan coach Juwan Howard the rankings are just a list. While he’s building a roster fit for a powerhouse program, he’s also building a family. 

“With recruiting, we try to go after guys that we feel fit our culture,” Howard told reporters on a Zoom call on Monday . “And fortunately enough last year’s class and now this upcoming class, 2021, these guys wanna be here at Michigan, we want them here, we’re looking forward to building something special, a winning, competitive group.”

Despite losing a recruiting battle with Arizona State for five-star guard Josh Christopher and seeing forward Isaiah Todd decommit from the program to pursue a career in the NBA’s G League development program in April, Howard still recruited the Big Ten’s top-ranked 2020 class. The group is made up of 4-star center Hunter Dickinson, 4-star forward Terrance Williams, 4-star Zeb Jackson, and Juwan’s son, 3-star forward Jace Howard. 

While the freshman class has impressed Howard and his staff on the court in practice, their demeanor and personalities off of it have helped to create a great deal of levity.

“Haven’t had anyone feel like they’re bigger than the team,” Howard said. “(Their) parents did a phenomenal job at raising them. …Their personalities are very unique in a lot of ways. They keep us all laughing.”

As someone who advanced to two National Championship games as a member of the Fab Five and won two NBA championships with the Miami Heat, Howard knows how important chemistry can be to a successful team, and he made sure to find time for his players to grow closer even as they found themselves isolated in quarantine. 

Howard designated every Friday during quarantine for hour long Zoom calls, where the team would check in with each other and catch up. Originally, the freshman class, along with senior forward Chaundee Brown and senior guard Mike Smith, were unable to attend the Zoom calls. Once they were cleared, though, it felt like Howard’s Michigan family was finally full.

“When we had the entire group together, it was the first day our family felt a sense of relief and comfort,” Howard said.

While the team prepared for the season in isolation, they finally received word in June that they would be permitted to return to campus to practice on June 16. 

“Being here on campus is the safest place for them because they knew that they were family,” Howard said.

As someone who has seen firsthand the impact that the school’s brotherhood can have on one’s life, he wants to ensure that his players have that same experience in addition to furthering their skills on the court.

“We’re always looking to grow,” Howard said. “Grow players inside and out as the best student athlete, the best version of themselves, so that’s the plan. When they leave this campus, first they touch us as young men and when they leave, we wanna pass them onto mom and dad as men.”

“We have a unique culture that everyone has embraced and, yes, some of them are new but they see that our culture is real,” Howard said.

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