The Michigan Wolverines moved to 10-0 on the season with an 82-57 win over Minnesota on Wednesday night. The blistering start to the year sees the Wolverines in a much better position to compete for a Big Ten championship than some believed was possible. It has been an all-in group effort that has led to their rise through the rankings over the last number of weeks.
Perhaps the biggest development over the last several games has been the improvements on the defensive end of the floor. Assistant Saddi Washington has largely been responsible for the work done there. Head coach Juwan Howard sang the praises of his entire staff after a stifling defensive performance on Wednesday.
“(Saddi is) more of the guy that looks at and takes care of like the defensive side of the ball. And Howard Eisley is the guy that focuses on the offensive side of the ball,” Howard said after the game. “He’s done a phenomenal job — all the staff members have done a phenomenal job in their roles, doing whatever he can to help the team, give them the best chance to win. We have this mantra around here: all hands on deck. Our managers do a phenomenal job behind the scenes. Jaaron Simmons, who’s our video coordinator, a guy that never sleeps, he’s doing a phenomenal job as well as far as getting us prepared, getting us all the video, and helping with the game plans or with assistant coaches.
“But our staff is (elite), man. And I commend them for all the hard work and effort and energy they brought since the time that we all started working together. More importantly, I love that it works. We’re all different in a lot of ways. We come with fresh ideas at times — even if we don’t agree it’s never personal. Because we know our hearts are pure and we’re trying to do whatever we can to help be the best version of ourselves.”
The coaches are in charge of keeping the players mentally ready and prepared through practices and game planning, but there is a physical development that has to take place at this level of basketball, as well. Enter strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson, who was retained from John Beilein’s staff and has been crucial in the team’s physical development in a truncated offseason and pandemic-altered landscape.
Sanderson was also a topic of discussion in the postgame media sessions. Hunter Dickinson told the media that he was heading to lift weights as soon as his press conference was done.
It was 11 p.m. on a Wednesday.
“Jon is is one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the country on the collegiate level,” Howard said. “And also he has a beautiful strength that many doesn’t talk about, but we as a staff appreciate: he played basketball before, so that is pretty elite level, how I look at it, being a guy who has played on that highest level and know how important that strength and conditioning can help give you an advantage and keep you healthy. So Hunter has embraced it. That was one of the things that he really enjoyed when he had a chance to come here for an official visit when he sat down and met with Jon Sanderson. We talked about the strength and conditioning program that we will have catered to his body to help him become the best version of himself.
“Jon Sanderson was one of my first hires when I got the job. And then it went Phil Martelli, Howard Eisley, and Saddi Washington. And like I stated earlier — and I’m sorry I didn’t mention Jon — but he’s a huge part of our team success.”
The players are connected and love playing together. That much is apparent by watching the games. But the bonds that they have created started well before arriving at Michigan. Howard linked it to the homes and families that they come from.
“I gotta give mom and dad credit,” Howard said. “And they also — it is such a selfless group that they don’t look at ‘I, I, I, me, me, me.’ But whatever that you hear from them, it comes from the heart. It’s no B.S. with this group. And it’s good to have a team that is very mature, understands what they want, and understands that it’s going to be hard getting it. But they gotta get uncomfortable, because everything that they want, it’s hard.”