After a brief 10-minute presser at Big Ten Media Day earlier this week, Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball coach Juwan Howard spent 30 minutes with the media at his podium session to go more in-depth on the trip through Europe, roster management and how the offseason has been as a whole.
Howard opened up his media availability by talking about the Europe trip, where Michigan played 2.5 exhibition games (2.5 due to a power failure in the gym, per MLive’s Andrew Kahn) and got to see parts of France and Greece.
“I thought it was a great trip for us,” Howard said. “It came at the perfect time; we have a team that pretty much has one returning starter, bringing in five new freshmen, two transfers that have never played with these guys before. This was the perfect time for us to get a chance to get away, get to learn, get to know one another and grow together.
“What we have experienced for those three games, we got a chance to really recognize where we are and what areas we can improve on. I wish we could do that every year. I wish we could, because it’s some of the best experience ever as a team, to get the chance to see the world and learn and grow.”
As Howard alluded to, this team will have a LOT of new faces on it. Michigan is without seven of its 10 leading scorers from last season, so a few players are going to have to step up and take those shots.
Howard touched on that roster reconstruction, saying he loves how the guys have bonded and are getting along just fine.
“I am the guy that you’re looking at to put it together, I hope it works,” Howard said. “We haven’t played the game yet, but we’ve had a lot of practices, just trying to build that team chemistry. But overall, I feel our team is connected, not just on the court but the part that matters most with me is off the court. We all enjoy hanging out, I love how they communicate well with one another. I’ve always had people come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you have some of the best kids, they’re respectful, they represent themselves and their family name.’ And that’s what you look for, that’s what you want as a coach.”
Two of those talented guys that ended up leaving the school were last year’s five-star recruits: Caleb Houstan who’s now with the Orlando Magic, and Moussa Diabate, who is with the Los Angeles Clippers and already has a contender for Dunk of the Year.
From Michigan’s loss in the Sweet Sixteen to the deadline for declaring for the NBA Draft, Michigan was unsure whether or not these two guys would stay with the program. And when they decided to leave, Howard and company got to work on using their scholarships and retooling their roster.
“That’s what you call being uncomfortable,” Howard said with a chuckle about having to scramble late. “It was a great example of getting uncomfortable and just figuring it out, because everything is so fluid.
“The decision that they made, I was in full support, but at the time, when they decided to stay in (the draft), I had to roll up my sleeves and figure out which players that are in the portal, or players not in the portal, that I look into.”
Howard was fortunate to have some solid options, with Duke transfer Joey Baker and true freshman power forward Youssef Khayat, who Howard described as “the perfect two.”
“They have been seamless with their transition, great guys, fun to coach, want to be coached, that’s the key, and that right there is going to give you a chance,” he said.
It’s not an easy process. While Houstan and Diabate were trying to make their decision, Howard and company didn’t know if they would have scholarships available, but the head coach said he supported them through the process and waited until their decision was final to put on his recruiting hat.
“I was not trying to recruit while not knowing what’s going to happen with Caleb and Moussa,” Howard said. “I’m different, I don’t operate that way.”
Howard had a lot to say at this press conference, and we will continue to put out pieces from this media availability over the next week.