Juwan Howard knows that one player on his own won’t win Michigan a game, let alone championships. To be a successful team, a coach needs a series of players who can build off each other and form many cohesive five-man units.
But Howard has all the ingredients — plenty of players, rather — to make those combinations, and the coach of the Michigan men’s basketball team wants to use the non-conference portion of the season to give each player a chance to show what they can do.
“Every guy on our roster, we’re gonna need them all,” Howard told reporters on a Zoom call Tuesday night. “And including Adrien Nunez, who hasn’t played yet.”
Through two games, the Wolverines have run a 10-man rotation, with freshman center Hunter Dickinson and senior forward Chaundee Brown getting heavy minutes off the bench. Both played key minutes down the stretch in an 81-71 victory over Oakland. Despite being a reserve on Michigan’s depth chart for now, Howard believes that Dickinson will prove to be a special player for the Wolverines as the season continues.
“I put more pressure on Hunter than he puts on himself,” Howard said. “He may disagree with me. I just feel that he’s one of the best bigs in college basketball. … But he knows that he has a lot of work to do but we’re not there yet. It’s great to see that game by game he’s improving.”
Brown has been a solid contributor off the bench as well for Howard. After notching 19 points and five 3-pointers in the 96-82 victory over Bowling Green, he shot 1-for-10 from deep and 2-14 from the field overall, yet still impacted the game with a solid effort on the defensive side. Brown has the ability to play the ‘2’ and the ‘3,’ and should be able to come in as a spark to replace players like senior guard Eli Brooks and sophomore wing Franz Wagner. Wagner has struggled on the offensive side of the ball, totaling just 15 points through the team’s first two games, but his defense has stood out as a major strength and Howard believes his shots will begin falling soon enough.
“Yes, every player wants to see the ball go through the net offensively,” Howard said. “But what we’ve seen from Franz and how he’s approached the game has been very special, how he gave to the team and affected the game in many ways to help us win.”
In addition to Dickinson, freshman forward Terrance Williams and freshman guard Zeb Jackson have seen extended action in the Wolverines’ first two contests. While Jackson’s time on the court has been limited to brief shifts so far, Howard believes the young guard will be a bigger piece of the puzzle down the line.
“We’re gonna need (Jackson) and you’ve seen it,” Howard said. “I’ve played him both games and I’m sure he’s very competitive, I’m sure he wants to be out there more. He’ll get his opportunity.”
Williams, meanwhile, has filled in nicely as a backup ‘4,’ with his ability to stretch the floor as well as finish even leading senior forward Isaiah Livers to compare him to a younger version of himself. One area of Williams’ game that appears to be a work in progress is his free-throw shooting, as evidenced by a 1-for-5 showing at the charity stripe on Sunday. After the game, though, he returned to the floor of Crisler Center and shot free throws, drawing the praises of his teammates and coaches. Howard made sure to note that Williams’ postgame shootaround was done at his own insistence, and believes it speaks to his character and drive to win.
“(Terrance) felt like he let his teammates down with the missed free throws,” Howard said. “But this shows how much he wants to get better and those are the type of guys, it’s not just with Terrance but each and every guy we have in that locker room are wired that way.”
With one of the toughest conference slates in the nation looming just two weeks away, Howard knows that the three remaining non-conference games will be a key time to see what he has in his rotation as well as to give his squad a chance to improve their chemistry.
“It’s great to get our second unit some reps,” Howard said. “Because we’re gonna need them. We all on this Zoom (press conference) know that we have a very competitive conference, speaking of the Big Ten. We haven’t gotten to that level yet, so I’ll take it game by game.”
Of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the availability of players, and even entire programs, is considered a question mark every day. While the Wolverines have to this point practiced safely and have taken all necessary precautions, the fact still remains that a time may come where a player may contract the virus. And if they do, Howard will have players with solid game experience that he can count on.
“This is COVID rules, fellas,” Howard said. “So game by game. All hands on deck.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.
For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.