On Oct. 14, practices for NCAA Division I men’s basketball officially kicked off. While Michigan has been hard at work in informal scrimmages and workouts since June, last Tuesday officially marked the start of its journey.

Amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, one constant can be found inside the halls of Crisler Center: coach Juwan Howard has made sure his players are staying well-conditioned both physically and mentally. Despite losing key contributors in forward Jon Teske and guard Zavier Simpson to graduation, Michigan is prepared to reload. 

One of the most talked about acquisitions of the offseason was senior guard Mike Smith, a transfer from Columbia who should be a key contributor for the Wolverines this season. Last season, Smith ranked sixth in the nation in scoring, averaging 22.8 points per game along with 4.5 assists and shooting 33.9% from deep.

“He can really shoot the ball,” senior forward Isaiah Livers said. “He has an awareness for the game. … Obviously gotta learn the difference between Ivy League defense and Big Ten defense. He’s doing a great job (adapting so far).”

Added assistant coach Saddi Washington: “He’s done a tremendous job of really humbling himself to learn our system and our way of doing things.”

Along with Smith, the Wolverines acquired another highly touted transfer in the form of former Wake Forest wing Chaundee Brown, although it’s uncertain whether Brown will receive an NCAA waiver to be eligible to play this season. In the meantime, Brown has had an opportunity to practice with the Wolverines, where he has quickly made an impact on his teammates and coaches. 

“When he came in, you could feel his positivity,” Livers said. “He’s definitely a guy that everybody just loves.”

In addition to Smith and Brown, Michigan also welcomes a recruiting class that ranked ninth in the nation, according to ESPN. Headlining the class are hybrid forward Terrance Williams and center Hunter Dickinson, who towers in height at 7-foot-1 and possesses raw athleticism. 

“(Dickinson’s) always asking questions, always trying to get better,” said sophomore wing Franz Wagner. “He’s just looking good like everybody else I think.”

Added Livers: “We’re trying to teach (Dickinson) the ways of Jon Teske.” 

Of course, one of the largest differences between the Wolverines’ squad this year and last year is the change in leadership. With Teske and Simpson gone, Livers and senior guard Eli Brooks have stepped up to help lead a young team and help to pass on the team’s culture and values. According to Livers, the team’s new additions have made a quick transition and fit into the program’s mission seamlessly. 

“The way (the new players) just inherited our values is just, it’s great,” Livers said. “I’m excited to go to practice every day, honestly.”

With just over a month to go before the season officially tips off on Nov. 25, the Wolverines still have a great deal of work and preparation ahead of them before games officially get under way. But with new leaders emerging for a young squad, Michigan looks to be a cohesive unit both on and off the court. Perhaps most importantly, the team is taking extra precautions to make sure that they’re just as safe off the court as they are successful on it.

“Theyve been diligent about doing the right things when they’re not in our sight line in terms of following protocols, testing, washing hands and wearing masks,” Washington said. “We just want to put ourselves in a position to have a season and we know that would be more challenging if we don’t do our part.”

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