After an unorthodox offseason inundated with Zoom calls, the Michigan men’s basketball team is at last ready to get back to practice.
In adherence with last month’s agreement reached by the NCAA Division I Council, the Wolverines will have their first preseason practice on Oct. 14. This will mark the end of the two-week transition period, which limited activity to skills instruction and strength and conditioning so as to ease players into the season. Starting Oct. 14, practice time will be capped at 20 hours a week, up from 12 hours.
“It’s been great to get the guys in the gym,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said in a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. “They’ve been excited, looking forward to the opportunity of getting better.”
Practice can act as the breeding ground for team chemistry, both on and off the court. For Michigan, following an offseason that saw vast personnel change, its importance is magnified. The Wolverines lost five players and brought in six — four freshmen and two transfers.
Integrating so many new parts is a tall task in a normal offseason, let alone in one as atypical as this. Yet the acclamation has apparently gone smoothly thus far.
“It’s awesome to see that we have a team that’s well-connected,” Howard said. “Upperclassmen helping our freshmen out, helping them with the new terminology, the new way of how we do things here and how we play as a team. The staff, energetic and enthusiastic, working with our guys in the gym. It’s been great.”
Added sophomore forward Franz Wagner: “We’ve got some great guys that want to learn and have bought into what we do here. We really enjoy each other’s company. They’re getting the grasp of how we go about things at Michigan, and I think that’s the most important thing.”
One of the fresh faces, senior Chaundee Brown, remains in limbo. Brown, who announced his transfer from Wake Forest in May, is attempting to attain immediate eligibility for the upcoming season. Howard said that Brown’s “waiver process will be submitted very soon.”
Both Brown and Mike Smith, a graduate transfer from Columbia, are expected to help fill the leadership void left by last season’s co-captains Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske. Howard also name-dropped the senior trio of Isaiah Livers, Eli Brooks and Austin Davis when discussing potential leaders.
“We have a very… experienced group that I don’t second guess at all on (if) we will have a leader,” Howard said. “As time goes, we’ll know and be defined on who will be a true leader, once we get going in practice.”
While a return to the familiar comforts of practice is around the corner, Michigan’s schedule remains unclear. On Monday, CBS Sports reported that the Wolverines had withdrawn from the Empire Classic, a preseason tournament likely to be held in a bubble atmosphere at the Mohegan Sun casino and resort in Uncasville, Conn. Howard did not confirm or deny the report.
“Mohegan Sun, we’re still looking at a lot of the details on how the tournament will be conducted from a health and safety standpoint,” Howard said. “Health and safety is number one for any game that’s played.”
Asked about the possibility of playing in another multi-team event, or Michigan hosting its own MTE, Howard repeated the line about health and safety and said the program was working things out. For now, as they wait for the scheduling dominoes to fall into place, the Wolverines are eager to just get back on the court.
“We have a very jovial, excited group that is looking forward to playing this season,” Howard said. “I’m praying that we all have a season so we can get a chance to keep working and grinding and have a team that can give this University something to be proud of.”