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Josh Christopher, Isaiah Todd fallout: What happened, next priorities, potential transfers and more

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What happened and what comes next? Answering those questions and more.

Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

It has been a difficult day or so for the Michigan Wolverines and Juwan Howard heading into his second year at the helm of the program. A 2020-21 roster that had the promise of adding a pair of five-star recruits in Josh Christopher and Isaiah Todd to the mix sort of felt too good to be true, and then those feelings became reality.

Perhaps it should not be a huge surprise that neither player is going to join the Wolverines given what we know now, but the way it happened certainly hurts and puts a damper on things we are already going through. It may have been quick, but it was anything but painless.

So with that, here are some thoughts and hopeful answers to questions a lot of people may have coming out of a 24 hours that we will never forget.

Don’t hate the recruiter, hate the recruitments

John Beilein rarely got involved with five-star recruitments for pretty much the reasons we saw with both the Christopher and Todd situations. That does not make the way he did things or Juwan Howard is doing things the right way to do it, but each of them have different ideas for how they want to build their programs.

For Howard, it comes with the knowledge that in order for his Michigan to compete at the highest level, they want ready-made talent right out of the box. Both Christopher and Todd have lottery pick potential and their stays at Michigan would have been short. But both of those recruitments were odd in that schools like Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas never seemed like they were really all that involved.

This is not to kick a pair of prospects on their way out the door, but now that we have followed both recruitments through to the end with no shortage of migraines involved and odd outcomes, imagine what it must have been like to actually recruit them. So when Michigan came a-knockin’, the opponents you usually find yourselves up against in those battles were not really there.

Howard cast a wide net from the moment he was hired, which was late May 2019, mind you. He was out for a splash and to make a pitch to anybody that would listen and he happened to cross paths with a pair of prospects who were no doubt interested, but had their own subversive agendas, as well. I’m not really sure what else Michigan could have done to position itself better here. Neither of these players would have really played second fiddle to anyone, but perhaps would not have been fully featured as they are in their planned destinations.

Michigan might be better suited to land a few five-stars in the 2021 cycle with as many as seven scholarship spots potentially open and a much longer time to build relationships (more on that shortly). We know how hard a worker he is based on the effort it took to get into the recruitments of Todd and Christopher, among other prospects, so give it time to grow and evolve before drawing conclusions after one cycle.

The next priorities

All that Michigan can do now is worry about who is still committed to the cause. The signing period opens on Wednesday with a pair of four-stars set to join the program in center Hunter Dickinson and forward Terrance Williams. Four-star guard Zeb Jackson inked his letter of intent to the program back in the fall. After news last week surfaced that three-star wing Jace Howard was set to walk on for his dad, it would not be a surprise to see him wind up signing and grabbing one of the two open scholarship spots left, either.

From there, all eyes turn to forward Isaiah Livers, who formally entered the NBA Draft evaluation process a few weeks back. He has no plans to hire an agent and stated publicly he is fine with coming back to Michigan if he does not get the feedback he is looking for. Most sites do not have him as a draftable prospect at this point and ESPN’s board has him as the 99th-ranked player in a draft that will only see 60 players taken. All it takes is one team taking a chance onhim, but without the knowledge of what a pre-draft process even looks like right now given restrictions across the country, we will just have to wait and see what happens.

To a lesser degree, the same can be said about wing Franz Wagner. Howard said a few weeks back that he was considering the NBA Draft process as well, but we have not heard any information there, either. Livers and Wagner were arguably Michigan’s two best all-around players last season and having them return in 2020-21 would make them the favorites to be the go-to guys on the roster next year. If you asked me today if they would both be back, my gut says yes.

Transfer possibilities

Depth at guard for Michigan is now a big question mark after losing David DeJulius to the transfer portal and whiffing on Christopher. They added a grad transfer last week in Columbia star Mike Smith, but he and Eli Brooks are going to need some help there. This likely means good news for available minutes for Jackson, Adrien Nunez and Cole Bajema, but might the Wolverines look again to the transfer portal for some more proven help?

The portal is filled with talent still with Landers Nolley, D.J. Carton and Jamal Bienemy, among others, still waiting out there. Add in the fact that there might be a one-time waiver that allows players immediate eligibility in the works and the Wolverines might look to the portal once more for reinforcements. Another grad transfer is possible, but if you can land a multiple-year player that can go right away, that is not a bad option to take a look at if you think he helps you.

They really could use another proven body at guard or face a situation where players like Wagner and Bajema might be playing there without being exactly what Michigan is looking for there.

The 2020 class is going to play

This was going to be the case anyways, but now the names are just different. There are paths to early playing time and being key rotational pieces for Dickinson, Williams and Jackson. Given that all three could start in 2021-22, next year becomes another foundational year for Howard’s program that sees him get to build stock in the future with players that he primarily recruited to the program.

The 2021 recruiting class

As it was mentioned before, Michigan could have as many as seven scholarship spots open for 2021-22 depending on how things play out. They will again be in on five-star talent, as nine of their 11 offers currently go out to some of the top players in the class. The difference this time is that Howard has time to craft his pitch and develop these relationships even further. The Wolverines have a real shot at a handful of guys again and will continue to cast a wide net on the trail. Do not take the misses in this class as a sign his approach cannot work. There is a ton of talent he is in on already.

The ceiling

With Christopher and/or Todd, Michigan could have had the chance on paper to be one of the six-to-eight best teams in college basketball to start the season and someone seen as a contender to make a run. They may still be that by this time next year (if we get games on time, that is), but more question marks exist at the moment than what we thought there might be. In a lot of ways, the ceiling of next year’s group might be similar to what this year’s was in terms of being a team that had the pieces to make a run to the second weekend and see what happens, but perhaps without some of the low points they faced in Howard’s debut season. This is still a team on paper that can compete for a Big Ten Championship.

Michigan will go as far as the quality of the guard play it gets mixed with the talents of a rising Wagner and a healthy Livers, should they decide to return. If one or both leave, it increases the likelihood that next year but be similar to this one. As you build and cultivate young talent, that just creates an opportunity for someone. We want a successful and contending Michigan, but you want a healthy program long-term, as well. Again, it feels like a strong possibility they could have both back, so now we wait.

The future is still bright, even if that light at the end of the tunnel in this recruiting class wound up being a freight train speeding towards us.