Juwan Howard spoke to the media on Wednesday during Big Ten Media Day in Rosemont, Illinois just after kicking off his first season at the helm of Michigan Men’s Basketball. This was our first chance to hear what he had to say in a press setting since his introduction earlier this year and how he thinks his team is coming along so far.
The way it worked on Wednesday was that Howard and the other Big Ten coaches were given about 10 minutes each to speak at the podium formally before breaking off for more informal one-on-one and roundtable discussions, which went for about an hour or so. Maize n Brew was on-site, but seeing as I was flying solo, the plan was to bounce around a bit. Below is a transcription of the 20-ish minutes we have audio of on Howard before moving on to chat with some of the players. The full transcription from his podium session will be pasted in after the roundtable discussion.
Shoutout to Joshua Henschke of The Michigan Insider for the transcription after sending audio like the gentleman I am.
Here’s the roundtable portion.
Thoughts on freshman Franz Wagner so far
Franz is talented. Franz is a huge pickup for us. In my opinion, if Franz lived in the US, he would be equivalent to what today’s players are rated as five-star. He’s that good. To be almost 6-foot-9 at the wing position, he has a high IQ, he’s tough, he’s skilled, he can put the ball on the floor, he create his own shot and he’s not afraid to dunk on you. One thing that I did not mention that I should’ve mentioned first, he is an underrated defender. We all talk about his skillset offensively, the guy can defend and he wants to defend, that’s the beauty of Franz. He’s going to be a pro. I’ve put a lot of pressure on him. How I foresee it, I don’t have all the answers, but I think he’s going to be a good pro.
On how Wagner’s shot looks so far?
He’s shooting the ball very well. Now I hope that translates into game situations. Right now, we’ve just been practicing. When we play non-conference games as well as Big Ten, that’s when I’m really going to need Franz. I see what he’s been doing in practice. He has a chance to be really, really good.
Will Wagner start?
Franz will determine that. How he’ll keep progressing in our practices, picking up our system. He’s giving himself a great chance.
On relationship with Zavier Simpson
I wish we could have Zavier more than one year. The kid is an excellent leader, he’s a great competitor, he’s a winner. In practice, he wants to win every drill. In shooting, he wants to win every drill. Those are the types of guys you want in the trenches with you. He’s a coaches dream. I know he’s a reflection of his staff. I know he’s going to be a great coach someday. If he ever decides he wanted to get into coaching, he’ll be a great coach.
One thing about me, I’m not hard to get along with. I also understand and respect players. I once was a player. The mindset is very criticial, getting guys to buy in and trust you. You have to earn their trust. With Zavier, I think he sees that. He sees that his head coach supports him and wants him to succeed. That’s great to have a guy like Zavier.
On how they stack up with Michigan State
Right now, I’m on Illinois. I do it in order of our Big Ten schedule. I haven’t gotten to Michigan State film yet. But I can tell you this, Cassius Winston will be a pro someday. I was shocked he didn’t put his name in the draft. Now that I’m the head coach at Michigan, I wish he would’ve put his name into the draft and left because the kid is a problem. I saw three games that they played Michigan in and I also saw his run in the tournament, he knows how to play. He’s going to play at the next level.
Does he need more time to get to know his team before playing?
We still have time. We still have time to get more practices under our belt. We’re 30 days away to continue to keep building our team identity offensively and defensively. With the time that we have, utilizing the best way possible to get our guys ready. We’re going to see. They’re ready to play but I’m not ready for them to play yet (laughs).
On what he sees out of Brandon Johns and where growth can come from
Brandon, the kid has a beautiful shot. Athletic. Skill-wise, he still hasn’t tapped into what he has. Once he figures that part out, whoa, this kid is interesting. That’s the beauty of working with Brandon and others like Brandon is that when I talk to him in practice, great eye-contact. He trusts and knows that I will do whatever I can to help him get better. He knows that he has an opportunity to play. We’re going to lean on him. He’ll be one of those stretch fours that will be able to guard two, three four and five. He has that ability. Now, it’s just picking up the concepts, learning the terminology. He’s going to be good.
I’m going to keep working with him, developing him and breeding more and more confidence in him. The kid has got a beautiful shot, at that size, with that athletic ability and he’s strong. He doesn’t know how strong he is. He’s very interesting. Playing against Franz every day in practice, competing against Isaiah Livers, that’s just going to help his skill level rise. They’re challenging one another each and every day at practice. I’m making sure of that. I’m holding him accountable and teaching him. The guys they’re going up against in practice, they’re going to make each other better. Isaiah Livers, Brandon, Franz and then you want to throw in a guy like Adrien who’s quicker. A guy like Cole who is very crafty. Those guys having a chance to go up against each other is helping one another getting better.
On player likenesses and pay-for-play
I really don’t know what’s happening right now with this bill. I haven’t had a chance to read about it, dive all the way in and get to know what’s happening with this new transition. Yes, I was once one of these kids that were playing on the collegiate level and now I’m coaching. Here’s a keyword: Coaching. I’ve been so caught up into our guys and what we’re trying to build as a team, my head is still spinning with all the other things that I’m managing. Making sure they’re going to class and that there’s nothing they’re going to fall behind in class. Also, locked in on recruiting. I haven’t signed a player yet, haven’t gotten a guy to commit. I haven’t had a chance to think about that. I come today to media day, and they’re going to think I’m BS’ing. I really don’t know what is happening but I will. I will do my homework but I understand and I heard this that they’re three years away. I trust our AD Warde Manuel and how he’s going to vote and his decision moving forward. We’ll figure it out.
I’ll tell you this, my family and how I grew up, we couldn’t afford a dream college. I got someone, and I don’t know who that person is and hopefully, I get to meet them someday, paid for my scholarship. Freeride at the University of Michigan. I got scholarship offers to other universities. I am forever debted to those people, whoever spent money for scholarship. That right there was a gamechanger for my life. I am very appreciative. The free ride and knowing how much college costs, paying for my daughter Skye who went to Syracuse and Newhouse, it’s not cheap at all.
On sharing stories of experiences with LeBron James and Dwayne Wade with Heat
I will share any of those stories. Anytime they want to ask, I’m an open-book policy right here. I will share how LeBron James had the best pregame routine, one of the best work ethics. A guy who invested his body like the way LeBron does, a guy who loved basketball and is passionate about the game. Watching that and seeing it every day. When I signed with the Heat I tried to pick a locker away from LeBron because I know many guys like you are always swarming his locker. I had the vet move ready. We come back from this training camp from the Army base, it was Fort Meade in Alabama. It was our first training camp. We get back to the facility and in our lockerroom I see my nameplate is not there. I’m like, damn, where’s my locker? I look over and see it’s right there next to LeBron. I’m like, ah, I see where this is going. Getting back on track to LeBron’s work ethic, I’m going to share that with my players because it’s important that you have that. If you really want to play this game and you’re serious about this game, it’s important for you to start learning how to invest in yourself and figuring out what you want to get out of this game. For a guy like LeBron, he was blessed with the talent but he also worked on it. He had an amazing work ethic, he worked on being, in my opinion, one of the best basketball players in today’s game.
On junior guard Eli Brooks
Eli, man. Wow. That kid right there, I understand why he played his freshman year. He gets it. He is a basketball mind. He picks things up so quick. You have to tell him one time and his IQ, he can apply it quickly. We all learn differently. There are some guys that are visual people. You may have to show it on film in order for them to understand. For Eli, he shoots the basketball and he’s super crafty with the basketball. Getting to the paint, whether he’s making a play for himself or for others, he’s competitive, some will say he’s undersized but that’s what really makes him edgy. I look at Eli as more of a combo guard.
His recruiting adaptation
I’ve adapted to the new generation of texting. I also had to get out of my comfort zone and be more of a communicator and talk. How I grew up, early on, when I was dating a girl, you had to go on the phone and talk to her and you had to sell yourself. Sometimes when you call her, her parents may answer the phone and you have to be respectful and introduce yourself to the parents. When you’re on the phone with the girl and you start dating her, you’d be on the phone for 40 minutes to an hour, you’d be like you hang up, no, you hang up. Now I have to get back into that. Communicating, talking on the phone. There’s guys today at this age group that don’t want to talk on the phone, that prefer texting. Some hold a good conversation. That’s a part of recruiting that’s been the challenging part of it. The other part of recruiting that’s been challenging is there are a lot of different layers. You have to talk to the head coach of the AAU team, you have to talk to the handlers, you have to talk, possibly, to a sibling. Keep in mind, I didn’t mention the high school coach first. Talk to the parents, the high school coach kind of comes in last. When I was in school, the high school coach played a major role in recruiting. It’s gotten away from the high school coach, it’s more about the AAU coaches now.
I have dived into what I would want to hear if I was a recruit. Especially a new guy like myself who hasn’t been a head coach and hasn’t seen us play before, really don’t know me and been a part of the NBA. That has been challenging but I’ve also been embracing that challenge. What kids want to know from a new coach, what my style would be like.
On positionless basketball and evolution of the game
The game has evolved. One thing about this game, you could stick to your old habits or you could adapt. I want those who want to adapt and not die. I want to get ahead. I’m always that out-of-the-box thinking kind of individual. Not saying I’m an inventor, but I want to put our guys in positions where I can utilize their strengths. Everyone can be a positionless-type of an individual. Some guys are a natural five. You can shoot the ball like Teske, you might be a stretch five. That’s something that could elevate your stock on our team and also looking forward to the future if he wants to go to the next level. The game and how it’s trending, and now in college I’m seeing it, too, is that now you’re seeing the three-man playing the five position. Small ball. You may see a four-man playing a five. You may see two smaller perimeters playing on the court at the same time. That makes you more dynamic because you have two guys that can run pick and roll’s with. I’m not going to tell you how we’re going to play but positionless basketball is here. When I see our players today, like bigs are shooting three’s. Bigs are handling the ball more. It’s not like how I first came into the game where you’re a five-man, you stay on the block. You’re a two, you have to shoot and you can’t handle the ball and bring it up the floor.
Here are his comments from the much more formal podium session, which clocked in at just under 10 minutes and did not feature as much info.
Opening statement: Good morning, everyone. Well, I’m the rookie. I’m excited about this opportunity to be here today, my first Big Ten Media Days. I’m sure there’s some people here out here in this audience that I will get a chance to meet and develop a relationship with. I’m looking forward to that. But let me get right to it.
I’m excited about this opportunity. This is a dream come true for me to have a chance to come back to my alma mater, University of Michigan, one of the most prestigious universities there is in this country. Michigan is a beautiful place that helped me develop, become a student-athlete. I got my degree at the University of Michigan, and I’m proud to call myself a Michigan man.
Now I get an opportunity to coach at the University of Michigan and help develop some of the best world-class athletes to become a student-athlete, to play at a high level, to represent an amazing university.
Q. I’m sure you’ve followed Michigan from afar over the years, but now that you’ve been around the team, now that you’ve seen them in the gym, what’s surprised you the most about this team?
JUWAN HOWARD: Well, I’ve had a chance to watch them from afar. Being an assistant coach (with the) Miami Heat organization -- and a chance to see a guy like a Zavier Simpson who I’ve watched for many years, how he’s developed as a player, now having an opportunity to coach him, I see why he’s been so special, because he’s a great person, an excellent leader, and a hard worker.
But then the list falls after Zavier. A guy like Jon Teske, another person who has improved a lot as a player. My goal is to help him get better as a player. Isaiah Livers, who’s developing day by day, high-character guys that are on our team. It’s a dream for a coach to have those guys in the trenches with you.
Q. As a graduate of Chicago Vocational and Chicago Public League, how important is it going to be for you to recruit to the city and the CPS, and will Chicago be an essential part of your recruiting strategy with the program going forward?
JUWAN HOWARD: Well, my walk has been special. Growing up here in Chicago, this city, as we’re here today, being a part of the public league was not only easy for me, but it was challenging at times. So I wouldn’t think because I had so much success that it was an easy route. It was not like that. I had to face a lot of adversity that helped me develop as a young man. Been through a lot of wars with King and Simeon High School that taught me to compete at a high level.
Chicago has amazing talent in this city, and I will continue to recruit, not only here in Chicago but in other parts of the country.
Q. Been around long enough to remember when you played, obviously, there at the University of Michigan. I’m curious as you made the transition from NBA player to the staff with the Miami Heat, when did it dawn on you that you wanted to coach and eventually you wanted to be a head coach? When did those ideas start to really foment in your mind to where you’re in this position today?
JUWAN HOWARD: Well, it started early on when I was playing, my latter years of my career. Like I would say back when I was playing for Portland before I signed with the Miami Heat in 2009 as a player under Nate McMillan, that was the time when I had conversations with Nate and Monty Williams asking them questions about what it takes to be a coach, what it’s like coaching in the NBA. I started to put my brain around, you know what, before I was more interested in like the front office, but that bug, that coaching bug, that teaching bug became like what I wanted to do for my next walk.
Signing with the Miami Heat, getting to know the Heat culture, working under Erik Spoelstra, David Fizdale, Dan Craig, those guys were teaching me how to prepare myself as a head coach. As I was an assistant with the Heat, those were the moments where I was preparing myself, like you know what, this is me, I’m embracing this opportunity. I started preparing myself as a head coach.
Erik Spoelstra started teaching me how and what to look for, how to prepare for it as a coach, how to prepare the game planning for opponents. All that information and data I started collecting, and that was helping me prepare for this day moving forward.
Q. Curious to know your thoughts on the recent California law that was passed where players are able to profit off their name and likenesses. As a former player, now a coach, a feel like a lot of coaches are kind of straddling the line on where they stand. Where do you stand?
JUWAN HOWARD: Well, I don’t know too much about it, to be honest with you. I’ve heard a little bit of some information that’s out there. I haven’t had a chance to really read about it. I’ve been more focused on our players, on practices, getting ready for the season, day-to-day stuff that I’m dealing with back at the University of Michigan, whether it’s players’ academics, practices, planning, recruiting. But I’ve heard a little bit about it, and unfortunately I haven’t read anything on it, so I can’t really comment. If it’s something I don’t know about, I would prefer not to comment about it.
Q. What are the challenges taking over a program that John Beilein obviously put in a really good position?
JUWAN HOWARD: Coach Beilein did an awesome job for this program. I don’t know if you know the story or not, but when I was working for the Miami Heat -- and I told you before earlier that I was preparing myself for a head coach for some day getting ready for if I ever had a chance to be a head coach, whether it was in the NBA or college, what -- and how I would want my team and how I would want my team to look. So every summer I used to go and visit Coach Beilein. He would pick my brain on defense, on post defense. There were times when we would have a session -- I call it a career workshop day -- where he would have his staff, coaching staff out there, and we all would talk about basketball and developing and skill development from an offensive standpoint.
I’ve always had a lot of respect for Coach Beilein and his philosophy. There were times I would ask Erik Spoelstra to reach out to Coach Beilein because I would say, hey, this guy is interesting. He’s one of the best basketball minds out there. For now he takes his staff and makes a huge jump to the NBA and becomes the Cleveland Cavaliers’ coach. Now, I’m sure a lot of people think, you have a lot of pressure on you to try to fill those shoes. All I can say is this: I’m not going to try to be like Coach Beilein. He has his philosophy, his way of doing things. I have my philosophy, and I feel that works for our team moving forward. But I do respect the gentleman who was there before me.
Q. The addition of Phil Martelli to your staff, how much have you leaned on his experience already and how much do you intend to lean on his experience going forward?
JUWAN HOWARD: His name is the Godfather. I think hiring Coach Martelli, to let you know this, that, A, I’m humbled; B, that I respect guys who have been head coaches and have a ton of experience. I would be a fool not to sit there and pick Coach’s brain or use him. He’s on the staff. He’s a guy that I’m going to lean on a lot. I think he has so much experience. 24 years as a head coach, 34 years total, that says a lot. That he knows a lot about college basketball, and that’s why -- and I’m very fortunate that I was able to get this Christmas gift early by hiring Coach Phil Martelli.
Q. Do you have to explain to your players and the guys that you’re recruiting who the Fab Five is and what your relationship is with Chris Webber, or do they know?
JUWAN HOWARD: You know what, that’s a very good question. I haven’t had a chance to even talk about the Fab Five. I think a lot of our guys do their homework. They’re very smart. They know what the Fab Five is. They understand what I’ve done at my collegiate level. They’ve seen -- I think the majority of them have seen the Fab Five documentary. Chris Webber in my opinion is a Hall of Famer, not only on the collegiate level but also on the NBA level. Keep in mind, I recruited Chris Webber to come to the University of Michigan, and at that time people said, hey, how can two guys that play the same position coexist on the floor? But we had an amazing coach like Steve Fisher who figured it out, and we’ve had a lot of success and learned a lot from Coach Fisher. But Chris is a Michigan man.